Epic/Legacy reissued the Clash's
classic third album, London Calling, in 2000, remastering the album
and restoring the original artwork, much of which didn't make the
original CD issue. No bonus material was added to this or any of the
other Clash reissues of 2000, largely because nearly all of the
B-sides and useable rare material had already appeared on compilations
ranging from Super Black Market Clash to the box set Clash on
Broadway. Over the next few years, expanded double-disc reissues of
classic albums came into vogue among reissue labels, and eventually
the Clash became a candidate for such a reissue, but it seemed like
their vaults were empty. Then, a couple of extraordinary discoveries
occurred. As he was moving to a new home in the spring of 2004, Mick
Jones happened upon a box of tapes that included the long-rumored,
long-thought-lost Vanilla Tapes — rough rehearsal sessions for "London
Calling" named after the London studio where they were recorded.
Around the same time, legendary Clash associate Kosmo Vinyl sent
bassist Paul Simonon old video tapes that contained grimy
black-and-white footage of the Clash cutting "London Calling" at
Wessex Studios with producer Guy Stevens. These two historic
discoveries were more than enough material to justify a new
special-edition reissue, so Epic/Legacy prepared a triple-disc set —
containing a CD with the original LP, a CD with The Vanilla Tapes, and
a DVD containing a documentary, promo videos, and that newly
discovered raw footage — as part of their acclaimed Legacy Edition
series, just in time for the 25th anniversary of the album's release.
Simply put, this reissue, while not boasting anything shockingly
revelatory, is nevertheless an illuminating glimpse at how the album
was made and is essential for any true fan of the Clash. This is
particularly true because it has been so long since any unreleased
material has surfaced, even on bootleg, so it would have been a
delight to hear something, anything, new. Fortunately, The Vanilla
Tapes are very good, at least when judged against the standards of
rough rehearsal tapes. Keeping in mind that these are low-fidelity
recordings mainly consisting of the band working out new songs, this
is very enjoyable stuff. What's interesting about these rehearsals —
and, excluding a stab at "Remote Control," all but five of the 21
tracks on The Vanilla Tapes are rehearsals of songs that wound up on
the finished LP (some of these boast different titles: "Paul's Tune"
is "The Guns of Brixton," "Up-Toon" is "The Right Profile," "Koka
Kola" is expanded to "Koka Kola Advertising & Cocaine") — is that the
Clash began with arrangements that were quite similar to the finished
versions; they were a little ragged, sometimes a little slower,
sometimes with slightly different lyrics (as on "London Calling"
itself), but their sinewy musicality is as apparent here as it is on
the vinyl. While it may disappoint some listeners that there are no
forgotten classics among these five previously unheard songs, that
doesn't mean they're not enjoyable. "Lonesome Me" has an appealing
country bounce; given time, "Where You Gonna Go (Soweto)" could have
been worked into a fine piece of white reggae, as could their
reinterpretation of Bob Dylan's "The Man in Me"; "Heart & Mind" is a
pretty impassioned, catchy piece of punk-pop that's distinguished by
Joe Strummer breaking into the One O Oners greatest hit "Keys to Your
Heart" in the coda. None of these songs are better than what wound up
on London Calling, but they're all excellent outtakes on a CD that
does qualify as a major historic find for rock historians. The video
on the DVD is nearly as noteworthy, particularly those 13 minutes of
home movies of the Clash and Guy Stevens in the studio. The
accompanying 30-minute documentary takes highlights from this video,
threading them between interviews conducted for the long-form Westway
to the World documentary, winding up as an effective look at the
making of the album (as are the fine liner notes in the lengthy
36-page book). Still, there's nothing quite like eavesdropping on a
great band working with a madman producer. Stevens steals the show, as
he storms around the studio, throwing ladders, throwing plastic
chairs, banging chairs against his head, motivating Strummer during a
vocal session, and conducting the band during a rehearsal. Throughout
it all, the Clash are cool and unflappable, never letting Stevens'
shenanigans affect them. It's a rather amazing piece of archival
footage, and it's just the icing on the cake on this splendid reissue.
It's fitting that an album that truly deserves an expanded edition not
only gets the deluxe edition it deserves, but one that makes a
convincing argument that the sometimes ridiculous practice of
expanded, multi-disc editions has a purpose after all.
by Billy Altman, Amazon.com
Amazon.com essential recording
Bursting at the seams with creative energy, the Clash's stunning 1979
double album more than made up for the artistic and commercial
disappointment of its predecessor, 1978's tried-too-hard Give 'Em
Enough Rope. With ex-Mott the Hoople producer Guy Stevens harnessing
their sound as never before, the band yielded what proved to be the
best work of their career. Bouncing from hard rock (the apocalyptic
vision of the title track) to rockabilly ("Brand New Cadillac") to
reggae ("Rudy Can't Fail") to pop (the Top 40 hit "Train in Vain"),
the Clash knocked down all musical walls and, in the process, ended
the argument over punk's viability in the U.S..
Digitally remastered from the original production master tapes, this a
reissue of the 1979 & third album by 'the only band that matters'.
Features the original artwork and all 19 of the original tracks,
including the hidden hit 'Train In Vain (Stand By Me)', their first
U.S. single to chart (it reached #23 at the time). Also contains
reproductions of the original LP sleeves, including the lyrics. 1999
release. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition
of this title.
by Louis Pattison, Amazon.co.uk
Punk's death knell had already
been called, but London Calling found The Clash fighting a heroic rear
guard battle. Having shelved the no-frills heads-down thunder of The
Clash and Give 'Em Enough Rope, London Calling was an extravagant
benchmark. Ostensibly about the ideological and real struggles that
rent British society asunder at the end of the 1970s, London Calling
was couched in the language of revolutionary desperadoes. Influenced
by reggae and ska, and augmented by the Irish Horns, the result was
one of the most heady, celebratory rock & roll records to have come
out of the punk movement. For every traditional rabble-rouser like "Rudie
Can't Fail" or "Revolution Rock", though, there was a starker truth to
London Calling found in "Guns Of Brixton", or a shred of poignancy in
"Lost In The Supermarket" that confirmed The Clash's ideological
importance to a generation. Seldom, if ever, had punk sounded so
gloriously righteous, but so damn right.
by Mark Sutherland, BBC, September
If music-loving aliens land and
you find yourself, at laser-point, searching for one single example of
how rock is supposed to be rolled, then you are strongly advised to
recommend London Calling. Because this epic double album, from its
iconic sleeve to its wildly eclectic mash-up of styles, is surely the
quintessential rock album.
So good in fact that Rolling Stone magazine voted it the best album of
the 1980s, even though it actually came out in 1979. This was when The
Clash came of age, progressing from the brilliant-but-limited punk
rock ire of their first two albums to the stage where they could turn
their hand to reggae, ska, rockabilly and pretty much anything else
Yet the record never lacks focus and Strummer and Jones' willingness
to experiment is never let down by a lack of great songs. Pick from
straight-up punk like "Death Or Glory", sweet pop like "Lost In The
Supermarket" or dub like the Paul Simenon-penned "Guns of Brixton".
They're even confident enough to leave possibly the best song of all,
"Train In Vain", un-credited on the sleeve when any other band would
be screaming its presence from the rooftops.
Truly, a record so brilliant you'd have to be from another planet not
to love it.
Also available in a 3-pack with
THE CLASH and COMBAT ROCK.
Also Available as LONDON CALLING - THE LEGACY EDITION: includes a
bonus DVD featuring an exclusive 45 minute documentary on the making
of the album.
The Clash: Joe Strummer, Mick Jones (vocals, guitar); Paul Simonon
(vocals, bass); Topper Headon (drums, percussion).
Recording information: Wessex Studios, England (07/1979 - 08/1979).
Digitally remastered by Ray Staff & Bob Whitney (Whitfield Street
Studios, London, England).
If punk rejected pop history, LONDON CALLING reclaimed it, albeit with
a knowing perspective. The scope of this double set is breaktaking,
encompassing reggae, rockabilly and the group's own furious mettle.
Where such a combination might have proved over-ambitious, the Clash
accomplish it with swaggering panache. Guy Stevens, who produced the
group's first demos, returns to the helm to provide a confident,
cohesive sound equal to the set's brilliant array of material. Boldly
assertive and superbly focused, London Calling contains many of the
quartet's finest songs and is, by extension, virtually faultless.
by Christopher Gray, Austin
Chronicle, April 13, 2007
London Calling: 25th Anniversary
Legacy Edition (Epic)
When it comes to crafting a career-making, era-defining rock
masterpiece, an album Rolling Stone called the best of the Eighties
despite its November 1979 release, it helps to hire a complete maniac
as producer. Such was the case when the Clash, at loose ends after the
tight but stiff Give 'Em Enough Rope, stumbled across Guy Stevens, Who
consort, London scenester, and certified raving lunatic. Stevens'
preferred method of producing, as seen on the DVD's The Last Testament
documentary, was flinging ladders, destroying chairs, raving
incoherently, and otherwise intimidating these four neighborhood kids
into making the album of their lives. First, they spent the summer
holed up in a room above a former rubber factory called, of all
things, Vanilla Studios. Then, London's enduring legacy of class
frustration and musical miscegenation came pouring out, spawning
well-sculpted screeds "Hateful," "Rudie Can't Fail," "Clampdown,"
"Death or Glory," and "I'm Not Down," to name but a few. Amazingly,
out of 19 songs, only two or three feel less than whole. That wasn't
always true. "The Vanilla Tapes," disc two of Sony's lavish three-disc
repackaging (London Calling was already reissued once, in 2000), plots
the album's genesis via instrumentals, rough drafts, and toss-offs
like Hank Williams homage "Lonesome Me." Sketchy sound quality, to be
sure, but its rawness makes the final product that much more
impressive. "Lost in the Supermarket" and "Koka Kola" are stinging
critiques of the swelling tide of consumerism. "Wrong 'Em Boyo"
demonstrates the durability of the Stagger Lee myth, "Spanish Bombs"
and "The Card Cheat" the group's grasp of rock grandeur, and "Train in
Vain" that Mick Jones could write a great, rootsy pop song. If, as Joe
Strummer sings, "He who fucks nuns will later join the church," London
Calling takes the Clash from fornicators to clergy in about 65
by Adam Sweeting, The Guardian,
Friday September 10, 2004
It took a while for London
Calling to be recognised as one of the seminal British rock albums,
but this 25th anniversary bumper pack leaves you in no doubt that
you're clutching a slab of history. You get the original album,
remastered by regular Clash engineer Bill Price, and a DVD making-of
film, The Last Testament, by punk's in-house documentarist, Don Letts.
In addition there's a CD of the Vanilla Tapes, crude but fascinating
rehearsal versions of the London Calling songs in various states of
The star of Letts's documentary is former Clash consigliere Kosmo
Vinyl, who rants and gesticulates like a miniature Malcolm McLaren -
in contrast to the more reserved Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, while
ancient footage of producer Guy Stevens throwing chairs and ladders
round the studio suggests he should have been under sedation in a
But London Calling itself stands tall as the band's masterpiece, the
showcase for all their musical tastes and inclinations, from reggae to
rockabilly, rock'n'roll to ska and soul. It was an album they had to
make if they were to survive, abandoning the dated cliches the
so-called "punk police" thought they should still be peddling and
looking to all points of the compass, not least the US, for
by Jesse Fahnestock, Ink Blot Magazine
Here The Clash shake off punk's
straightjacket and try on every musical zoot suit they take a fancy
to; yet despite the manic ambition, it's all wound tight as a golf
ball. Nineteen tracks, 66 minutes and it never blinks. Where many
double albums sprawl and stumble, London Calling gets more focused
with every track, until the ferocious hidden kiss-off "Train In Vain"
sends you back to side one.
Jones and Strummer's lyrics (and Simonon's, on the fantastic skank
"The Guns of Brixton") certainly do, not least because you can't make
out what they're saying most of the time. But muddle through the
cockney thug vocals and you'll find sharp characterizations, funny
storytelling and righteous enthusiasm. Like most pop lyricists, their
politics are really shallow sloganeering, but here they're so
interesting. Andalucian revolutionaries, washed-up movie stars,
Yardies and Welsh gangsters - London Calling invites them all to the
Of course, the soundtrack is even more extraordinary. The title track
is rock pounding on reggae's door, and "The Guns of Brixton" is what
happens when it breaks down. "Rudie Can't Fail" and "Hateful" are
joyous blasts of Bo Diddley gone ska, while "Clampdown" and "Death or
Glory" are pure anthems on the flip side of "Jimmy Jazz" and its
low-key year-zero rock.
London Calling does so much, so well, it's really required listening.
If you don't like this album, you probably don't like rock 'n' roll.
With the release of the first
(legal) Clash live album comes all of their other albums being
reissued and getting the remastering treatment. Long overdue as far as
I'm concerned. As I was growing up, stuck in the skateboarding scene
in the 1980's, we would always have the Clash playing at the halfpipe.
Not only is it great music but it is happy feeling too. It gives off a
great vibe that people get right into. Were the Sex Pistols had the
whole punk superstar pose down, the Clash were just everyday guys
putting out the best music they were capable of. And if I had to
choose I would pick London Calling as my second favorite album,
trailing slightly from the first self titled album. Thank you Clash
for giving rock the kick in the ass it needed.
by Andria Lisle, Paste Magazine,
December 1, 2004
25th Anniversary Legacy Edition:
Spring, 1984: I’d just turned fifteen years old, and, as a burgeoning
punk rocker, I was determined to make a black mark on the suburban
landscape. My ninth-grade friends and I were so “bored, bored, bored
with the U.S.A.” that we spent our free time watching episodes of The
Young Ones, giving each other bad haircuts and escaping to downtown
Atlanta. Our parents were blithely unaware of the life we led once the
sun went down—drinking bottles of Boone’s Farm behind the Metroplex,
conning our way into shows at the Buckhead Cinema & Drafthouse and
pogo-ing until dawn at 688 Club.
When local college station WRAS announced The Clash concert at the Fox
Theatre, we were undoubtedly going. Although “Rock The Casbah” had
been co-opted by the jocks and preps at our high school, we still
owned The Clash. My friend Lynn had liberated a copy of London Calling
from the local Turtle’s record store just before Christmas, and, by
the time the new year rolled around, we were speaking in Rude Boy
lingo, calling each other “boyo” and “Jimmy Jazz.”
I painted anti-war logos—heralding the Spanish Revolution of 1939, a
subject I’d ignored in my history class—on a white T-shirt, clamped a
black felt hat on my asymmetric bob, and marched down to Turtle’s to
buy tickets. The concert was scheduled for April 3, which fell over
spring break; my folks would drop us off at the show, then,
afterwards, Lynn’s parents would pick us up on Peachtree Street. For
the hours in between, we were free—or, at least, as free as two
underage middle class kids could be.
Our first Clash concert was actually the band’s third Atlanta
appearance. In 1979, they played the tiny Agora Ballroom; three years
later, on the strength of Combat Rock, they graduated to The Fox. A
photograph from that first, seminal show was prominently featured on
the back cover of London Calling—we’d studied it, looking for faces we
knew—and we hoped this show would prove to be a similarly historic
event. Outside the Fox, it looked like Piccadilly Circus—hundreds of
punks, many sporting elaborately coiffed Mohawks and heavy eyeliner,
crowded under the marquee, ignoring the redneck cops trying to keep
order. My dad rolled his eyes when he stopped the car, but before he
could embarrass me, Lynn and I hopped out and joined the throng
entering the theater.
We missed the opening band, but it didn’t matter. After saying hi to
our downtown friends, we found our seats as the lights dimmed, and The
Clash—minus Mick Jones, who’d quit the group a few months earlier—took
the stage. Suddenly, the rumbling bass line of “London Calling” came
pouring out of the amplifiers, and Joe Strummer paced the floor,
inciting the audience with his incendiary lyrics. “Come out of the
cupboard, all you boys and girls,” he sang, and we all roared. The
four walls of the theater melted as we were magically transported to
the streets of London.
There was just one problem—Strummer was wearing a tailored white suit,
a la Bryan Ferry, and he’d combed his Mohawk into a slick pompadour.
What about the leather jackets and blue jeans? This was “The Clash Go
Back To Basics Tour,” right? In my mind, punk rock had a uniform, as
surely as any other career.
While I mused over these questions, the band ripped through “Safe
European Tour,” off Give ‘Em Enough Rope, and a new song called “Are
You Ready For War?” Then Strummer and company tore into “Rock The
Casbah” and “This Is Radio Clash,” followed by “Guns of Brixton,” and
all their sins were forgotten. Wearing our army surplus combat
boots—mine were a clunky size 10—we climbed onto the backs of our
chairs and danced. “You can crush us / You can bruise us,” we shouted,
“but you’ll have to answer to the guns of Brixton!”
Twenty years later—after Cut The Crap somewhat diminished my
enthusiasm for The Clash, after the band splintered into groups like
Big Audio Dynamite and Havana 3 A.M., after such films as Mystery
Train and Straight To Hell and, sadly, after Strummer’s untimely death
in December 2002—the tracks on London Calling still hold up. Today,
I’m less struck by the take-no-prisoners politics of the lyrics—it’s
the music that catches my ears, the Rock & Roll Trio riffs of “Brand
New Cadillac” and the dancehall rhythms of “Rudie Can’t Fail.” Now, I
recognize the Jamaican foundation anchoring the anthemic “Guns of
Brixton,” the straightforward rock lines on “Death Or Glory,” the
bluesy chords running through “Train In Vain,” and the Phil Spector-inspired
melodies of “The Card Cheat.” Without consciously studying any
lessons, I now realize The Clash taught me the vocabulary of modern
rock ’n’ roll.
With the 25th anniversary edition of London Calling, Epic/Legacy has
outdone itself: Disc one combines the two vinyl records comprising the
original album, while a second CD, entitled the Vanilla Tapes,
features 21 rehearsal tracks, circa 1979. A 36-page booklet and a DVD
documentary, The Last Testament: The Making of London Calling,
complete the package.
Scaled down to CD size, this box nevertheless has heft. It makes me
want to head out to the suburbs and hail some unsuspecting
fifteen-year-old. I want to tell her about the night of April 3, 1984,
and explain the joy we felt while dancing on our seats. Even though
I’m 35, I want to say, “I know about rebellion and bourgeois families,
and walking down the block after a concert so no one sees my folks
I want to commandeer her stereo for a few minutes—turn off Audioslave
or Evanescence or whatever’s passing for good music these days, and
give her an earful of The Clash. She’ll probably stand around,
petulant and confused, but I’ll make her listen ’til the end of the
song. “London calling / Yeah I was there too / An’ you know what they
said / Well some of it was true!” Of course, I still know the words by
Amanda Petrusich, Pitchfork Media, September 21, 2004
The 25th anniversary reissue of
The Clash's London Calling is satisfyingly thick and protected by a
thin plastic sleeve. The package sits fat at three stories high; the
spine is broad, smooth and silver. Pennie Smith's unfocused,
emblematic cover shot remains intact, with Paul Simonon's bass
hovering, vertical and doomed, between Elvis-baiting pink and green
text. Stacked inside are three separate discs: the original 19-song
album, a 21-track disc containing rehearsal sessions for the record
("the long lost Vanilla Tapes"), and a DVD of The Last Testament, Don
Letts' 30-minute, after-the-fact documentary about the making of
London Calling. Here, neatly lined up: preparation, realization,
hindsight. Finally. This is how they did it.
For those who came of age in the late 80s and early 90s, calling The
Clash a punk band was (and remains) more a matter of affect than
honesty-- in 2004, wholly and completely divorced from a context that
never fully resonated with a global audience, The Clash are a rock
band, and 1979's London Calling is their creative apex, a booming,
infallible tribute to throbbing guitars and spacious ideology. By the
late 70s, "punk" was more specifically linked with rusted safety pins,
shit-covered Doc Martens, and tight pink sneers than any steadfast,
organized philosophy; The Clash insisted on forefronting their
politics. This album tackles topical issues with impressive gusto--
the band cocks their cowboy hats, assumes full outlaw position, and
pillages the world market for sonic fodder and lyric-ready injustice.
A quarter-century after its first release, London Calling is still the
concentrate essence of The Clash's unparalleled fervor.
As always, London Calling's title track holds steady as the record's
cosmic lynchpin: Horrifyingly apocalyptic, "London Calling" is riddled
with weird werewolf howls and big, prophetic hollers, Mick Jones'
punchy guitar bursts tapping little nails into our skulls, pushing
hard for total lunacy. Empowered and unafraid, Strummer reveals
self-skewering prophecies, panting hard about nuclear errors and
impending ice ages. He also spitefully lodges some of the most
unpleasantly convincing calls to arms ever committed to tape,
commanding his followers-- now, then, future-- to storm the streets at
full, leg-flailing sprints. Even if The Clash were more blatantly
inspired by the musical tenets of dub and reggae, "London Calling"
unapologetically cops the fury of punk's blind-and-obliterate
full-body windmilling, bypassing the cerebral cortex to sink deep into
our muscles. From "London Calling" on, The Clash do not let go; each
track builds on the last, pummeling and laughing and slapping us into
And now, we get to watch how it fell together: Using only a Teac
four-track tape recorder linked up to a portastudio, The Clash
inadvertently immortalized their London Calling rehearsal sessions at
Vanilla Studios (a former rubber factory-gone-rehearsal-space in
Pimlico, London) in the summer of 1979, several weeks before the album
sessions officially opened at Wessex Studios. One set of tapes got
left on the Tube. Another got crammed into a box.
The intricate (and generally convoluted) mythology of the "long lost
recording" is embarrassingly familiar to rock fans-- even non-completists
are awkwardly prone to chasing down bits of buried tape with insane,
eye-bulging intensity. With precious few exceptions, the anticipation
of a hidden, indefinitely concealed secret generally supercedes the
impact of the actual artifact. Still, the possibility of stumbling
into transcendence keeps the search heated, and sometimes stupidly
dramatic. Earlier this month, Mick Jones bravely explained to Mojo's
Pat Gilbert exactly how he uncovered the tapes: "I sensed where they
were and that took me to the right box. I opened it up and found
them... It was pretty amazing."
Snicker all you want at the supernatural, sixth-sense implications, or
at the idea of Jones' third eye blazing hot for misplaced Clash
recordings-- the 21 tracks that the constitute The Vanilla Tapes are
just revealing enough to justify all the smoky mysticism. The tapes
feature five previously unheard cuts-- "Heart and Mind", "Where You
Gonna Go (Soweto)", "Lonesome Me", the instrumental "Walking the
Slidewalk", and a cover of Matumbi's version of Bob Dylan's "The Man
in Me", plucked from Dylan's 1970 album New Morning and reproduced in
full reggae glory-- and together they reveal producer Guy Stevens'
influence on the final sound of London Calling: muddy, raw, and
insistently vague, The Vanilla Tapes see The Clash working hard, but
also grasping for a muse.
Professionally, Guy Stevens was best known for "discovering" The Who
and producing a handful of Mott the Hoople records, but it was his
recreational exploits that carved the deepest cut into Britain's
collective pop memory. With a frenzied halo of tightly curled brown
hair and a penchant for destroying property, Stevens came to rule
Wessex Studios, hurling chairs and ladders, wrestling with engineers,
and famously dumping a bottle of red wine into Strummer's Steinway
piano. Fortunately, Guy was far more concerned with encouraging "real,
honest emotion" than with achieving technical perfection (true to
form, London Calling has its fair share of slipped fingers), and
consequently, the band's determination at Vanilla, coupled with
Stevens' shitstorming, led to London Calling's odd and glorious
balance of studied dedication and absurd inspiration.
And if The Vanilla Tapes aren't enough to satisfy your voyeuristic
tendencies, there's more. For The Last Testament, documentarian/DJ Don
Letts (also responsible for Clash on Broadway and Westway to the
World) weaves together bits of live footage, interviews with punk
pundits and band members (they spout tiny clarifications between
snickers and cigarette huffs), promotional videos, and a few small,
grainy glimpses of the band recording at Wessex. The studio shots were
culled from footage that, like The Vanilla Tapes, had been unknowingly
cardboard boxed for years-- in early 2004, former manager Kosmo Vinyl
up a crate containing 84 minutes of hand-held footage of the London
Calling sessions. Most of the film turned out to be unusable, but
Letts salvaged some revealing shots of Stevens in fine form, wrestling
with ladders and banging around chairs, in a curious reversal of
classic producer/band hijinx.
As an instruction manual, the 25th anniversary edition of London
Calling offers up bits of helpful, ordinary wisdom (he who fucks nuns
will later join the church, no one gets their shit for free-- and
"Balls to you, big daddy!" is an infallible exit line), but the
album's biggest lesson is still spiritual. Like a bit of good gossip
or a dog-eared copy of On the Road, Clash tapes tend to get passed
around, and wind up forming countless intimate, enduring, and
cathartic bonds. That Joe Strummer's handwritten lyrics and modest
scribblings have finally been tucked into the liner notes is only
appropriate: London Calling is just as precious.
by Sal Ciolfi,
PopMatters.com, March 10, 2004
Around the time I discovered
London Calling, I tried living in England, hoping vaguely for a sort
of youthful writing career. And having spent my time collecting
memories from odds jobs, (I seem to remember a mail room in the London
Cable company, a toy store specializing in wood (as if kids really
want to play with wood), a website that sold "art", and an aluminium
publishing company, whatever that means), London Calling always
signified unity to me; an idea that among different people and
lifestyles, points of view, experiences and tastes, we were all in it
It's all there in a big, loud, beautiful collection of hurt, anger,
restless thought, and above all hope; one that if released tomorrow
would still seem relevant and vibrant.
It's there in the brilliant burst of the first minute, sounding like
everything the punks must have had in mind, like a challenge, a threat
and a prayer all at once. Loud, angry, spacey, forceful, and
inventive, the song is a glimpse of fierce individualism among a
self-imposed apocalyptic sight. "The Ice age is coming, the sun
zooming in, engine's stop running and the wheat is growing thing, a
nuclear error but I have no fear, London is drowning -- and I live by
No time before or since has Joe Strummer been more pointed lyrically,
or more vocally persuasive, more rebellious in his individualism,
howling as it were because he really meant it; a sincerity that makes
his shout, "forget it brother, and go it alone", sound like the
easiest solution to being let down and left out by the masses.
And as if they knew topping it would be impossible, the song acts as
an umbrella, shielding and uniting the subsequent retreat through a
maze of urban tales and types; the Jimmy Jazz's and Monty Cliffs of
the world, those snorting cocaine in the 51st floor of Manhattan
advertising companies, or Strummer's taunts that "young people shoot
their days away, I've seen talent thrown away."
And yet surviving among these stories are more common and almost
personal fare, incidents of sex, depression, identity crisis, and of
all things a sweeping history of the Spanish civil war.
And maybe the sheer drunk and joyful vitality of the album is why I
love it so much. As while much of the subject matter is dark and
angry, it's all covered in a hopeful veneer of action, of wanting to
sing among shit for Christ sake's. You could even hear Joe urging
Jones to, "Sing Michael SING."
And after you've heard the sing-along anger and aggression of
"Hateful", or the horn fuelled "Rudie Can't Fail", the brilliant
arrangement of "Clampdown", or the monster of a white man reggae song
in Paul Simonon's "Guns of Brixton, you realize this is a supposed
punk band attacking everything they saw wrong with the world and their
lives with all the weapons they saw fit to exploit.
And after the soulful jam-like struggle of the mistreated female lover
in "Lover's Rock", the album's side-B moves almost seamlessly into
"I'm Not Down", one of many Mick Jones-led highlights And as if to
further drive home any point of solidarity he sings, "I've been beat
up, I've been thrown out but I'm not down, I've been shown up, but
I've grown up, and I'm not down." Of course, followed by Strummer's
brilliant breakdown "Revolution Rock", the message is clear. How could
you be anything but alive when there's music to believe in'
Add to this a cover paying homage to an old Elvis album, complete with
a picture of Simonon destroying his bass in concert and it could seem
to be the definition of punk … about being angry at the failed
handling of the promise of music, of the promise of new ideas and rock
And then, like an afterthought comes "Train in Vain", an infectious
pop tune about lack of loyalty within a relationship. Though in this
setting the song could be about anything, about not standing up for
what you believe in, and most especially for what you say you love.
Sounding almost hurt after the declarations of independence, angry
even that you really could be left alone.
And though I think all this, I can't shake the idea you had to be
alive at the time to understand the sheer joy of hearing someone
proudly ugly scream, "1, 2, 3, 4!" before every song. And in that
case, you would be right for wondering what a 24-year-old Italian
flavoured Canadian could know about Punk music or the Clash. It's a
question I would ask too, as I, like you, care too much about music to
see it sullied in any way, to see it mishandled, most brutally after
But if you take away all the labels and tiny classifications we
impose, all you're left with is the music on London Calling, a lasting
testament and tonic to everything that can seem hopeless.
And it's probably idealistic and naïve and whether or not I can
articulate it with justice, some of us still want to believe music can
change the world. Some of us still need to believe that; a thought
which makes me think that maybe the son of a bitch was right, that if
given the chance, "This here music mash up the nation, this here music
cause a sensation! Tell your ma, tell your pa, everything's gonna be
by Tom Carson, Rolling Stone,
Issue 314, posted January 22, 1997
"By now, our expectations of
the Clash might seem to have become inflated beyond any possibility of
fulfillment. It's not simply that they're the greatest rock & roll
band in the world–indeed, after years of watching too many superstars
compromise, blow chances and sell out, being the greatest is just
about synonymous with being the music's last hope. While the group
itself resists such labels, they do tell you exactly how high the
stakes are, and how urgent the need. The Clash got their start on the
crest of what looked like a revolution, only to see the punk movement
either smash up on its own violent momentum or be absorbed into the
same corporate-rock machinery it had meant to destroy. Now, almost
against their will, they're the only ones left.
Give 'Em Enough Rope, the band's last recording, railed against the
notion that being rock & roll heroes meant martyrdom. Yet the album
also presented itself so flamboyantly as a last stand that it created
a near-insoluble problem: after you've already brought the apocalypse
crashing down on your head, how can you possibly go on' On the Clash's
new LP, London Calling, there's a composition called "Death or Glory"
that seems to disavow the struggle completely. Over a harsh and stormy
guitar riff, lead singer Joe Strummer offers a grim litany of failure.
Then his cohort, Mick Jones, steps forward to drive what appears to be
the final nail into the coffin. "Death or glory," he bitterly
announces, "become just another story."
But "Death or Glory" – in many ways, the pivotal song on London
Calling – reverses itself midway. After Jones' last, anguished cry
drops off into silence, the music seems to scatter from the echo of
his words. Strummer reenters, quiet and undramatic, talking almost to
himself at first and not much caring if anyone else is listening.
"We're gonna march a long way," he whispers. "Gonna fight – a long
time." The guitars, distant as bugles on some faraway plain, begin to
rally. The drums collect into a beat, and Strummer slowly picks up
strength and authority as he sings:
We've gotta travel – over mountains
We've gotta travel – over seas
We're gonna fight – you, brother
We're gonna fight – till you lose
We're gonna raise –
The band races back to the firing line, and when the singers go
surging into the final chorus of "Death or glory...just another
story," you know what they're really saying: like hell it is!
Merry and tough, passionate and large-spirited, London Calling
celebrates the romance of rock & roll rebellion in grand, epic terms.
It doesn't merely reaffirm the Clash's own commitment to
rock-as-revolution. Instead, the record ranges across the whole of
rock & roll's past for its sound, and digs deeply into rock legend,
history, politics and myth for its images and themes. Everything has
been brought together into a single, vast, stirring story – one that,
as the Clash tell it, seems not only theirs but ours. For all its
first-take scrappiness and guerrilla production, this two-LP
set–which, at the group's insistence, sells for not much more than the
price of one–is music that means to endure. It's so rich and
far-reaching that it leaves you not just exhilarated but exalted and
From the start, however, you know how tough a fight it's going to be.
"London Calling" opens the album on an ominous note. When Strummer
comes in on the downbeat, he sounds weary, used up, desperate: "The
Ice Age is coming/The sun is zooming in/Meltdown expected/The wheat is
The rest of the record never turns its back on that vision of dread.
Rather, it pulls you through the horror and out the other side. The
Clash's brand of heroism may be supremely romantic, even naive, but
their utter refusal to sentimentalize their own myth – and their
determination to live up to an actual code of honor in the real world,
without ever minimizing the odds – makes such romanticism seem not
only brave but absolutely necessary. London Calling sounds like a
series of insistent messages sent to the scattered armies of the
night, proffering warnings and comfort, good cheer and exhortations to
keep moving. If we begin amid the desolation of the title track, we
end, four sides later, with Mick Jones spitting out heroic defiance in
"I'm Not Down" and finding a majestic metaphor at the pit of his
depression that lifts him – and us – right off the ground. "Like
skyscrapers rising up," Jones screams. "Floor by floor–I'm not giving
up." Then Joe Strummer invites the audience, with a wink and a grin,
to "smash up your seats and rock to this brand new beat" in the
merry-go-round invocation of "Revolution Rock."
Against all the brutality, injustice and large and small betrayals
delineated in song after song here – the assembly-line Fascists in
"Clampdown," the advertising executives of "Koka Kola," the drug
dealer who turns out to be the singer's one friend in the jittery,
hypnotic "Hateful" – the Clash can only offer their sense of historic
purpose and the faith, innocence, humor and camaraderie embodied in
the band itself. This shines through everywhere, balancing out the
terrors that the LP faces again and again. It can take forms as simple
as letting bassist Paul Simonon sing his own "The Guns of Brixton," or
as relatively subtle as the way Strummer modestly moves in to support
Jones' fragile lead vocal on the forlorn "Lost in the Supermarket." It
can be as intimate and hilarious as the moment when Joe Strummer
deflates any hint of portentousness in the sexual-equality polemics of
"Lover's Rock" by squawking "I'm so nervous!" to close the tune. In
"Four Horsemen," which sounds like the movie soundtrack to a rock &
roll version of The Seven Samurai, the Clash's martial pride turns
openly exultant. The guitars and drums start at a thundering gallop,
and when Strummer sings, "Four horsemen ...," the other members of the
group charge into line to shout joyously: "...and it's gonna be us!"
London Calling is spacious and extravagant. It's as packed with
characters and incidents as a great novel, and the band's new
stylistic expansions – brass, organ, occasional piano, blues grind,
pop airiness and the reggae-dub influence that percolates subversively
through nearly every number – add density and richness to the sound.
The riotous rockabilly-meets-the-Ventures quality of "Brand New
Cadillac" ("Jesus Christ!" Strummer yells to his ex-girlfriend, having
so much fun he almost forgets to be angry, "Whereja get that
Cadillac'") slips without pause into the strung-out shuffle of "Jimmy
Jazz," a Nelson Algren-like street scene that limps along as slowly as
its hero, just one step ahead of the cops. If "Rudie Can't Fail" (the
"She's Leaving Home" of our generation) celebrates an initiation into
bohemian lowlife with affection and panache, "The Card Cheat" picks up
on what might be the same character twenty years later, shot down in a
last grab for "more time away from the darkest door." An awesome
orchestral backing track gives this lower-depths anecdote a somber
weight far beyond its scope. At the end of "The Card Cheat," the song
suddenly explodes into a magnificent panoramic overview – "from the
Hundred Year War to the Crimea"–that turns ephemeral pathos into
Other tracks tackle history head-on, and claim it as the Clash's own.
"Wrong 'Em Boyo" updates the story of Stagger Lee in bumptious reggae
terms, forging links between rock & roll legend and the group's own
politicized roots-rock rebel. "The Right Profile," which is about
Montgomery Clift, accomplishes a different kind of transformation.
Over braying and sarcastic horns, Joe Strummer gags, mugs, mocks and
snickers his way through a comic-horrible account of the actor's
collapse on booze and pills, only to close with a grudging admiration
that becomes unexpectedly and astonishingly moving. It's as if the
singer is saying, no matter how ugly and pathetic Clift's life was, he
was still–in spite of everything–one of us.
"Spanish Bombs" is probably London Calling's best and most ambitious
song. A soaring, chiming intro pulls you in, and before you can get
your bearings, Strummer's already halfway into his tale. Lost and
lonely in his "disco casino," he's unable to tell whether the gunfire
he hears is out on the streets or inside his head. Bits of Spanish
doggerel, fragments of combat scenes, jangling flamenco guitars and
the lilting vocals of a children's tune mesh in a swirling
kaleidoscope of courage and disillusionment, old wars and new
corruption. The evocation of the Spanish Civil War is sumptuously
romantic: "With trenches full of poets, the ragged army, fixin'
bayonets to fight the other line." Strummer sings, as Jones throws in
some lovely, softly stinging notes behind him. Here as elsewhere, the
heroic past isn't simply resurrected for nostalgia's sake. Instead,
the Clash state that the lessons of the past must be earned before we
can apply them to the present.
London Calling certainly lives up to that challenge. With its grainy
cover photo, its immediate, on-the-run sound, and songs that bristle
with names and phrases from today's headlines, it's as topical as a
broadside. But the album also claims to be no more than the latest
battlefield in a war of rock & roll, culture and politics that'll
undoubtedly go on forever. "Revolution Rock," the LP's formal coda,
celebrates the joys of this struggle as an eternal carnival. A
spiraling organ weaves circles around Joe Strummer's voice, while the
horn section totters, sways and recovers like a drunken mariachi band.
"This must be the way out," Strummer calls over his shoulder, so full
of glee at his own good luck that he can hardly believe it." El Clash
Combo," he drawls like a proud father, coasting now, sure he's made it
home. "Weddings, parties, anything... And bongo jazz a specialty."
But it's Mick Jones who has the last word. "Train in Vain" arrives
like an orphan in the wake of "Revolution Rock." It's not even listed
on the label, and it sounds faint, almost overheard. Longing,
tenderness and regret mingle in Jones' voice as he tries to get across
to his girl that losing her meant losing everything, yet he's going to
manage somehow. Though his sorrow is complete, his pride is that he
can sing about it. A wistful, simple number about love and loss and
perseverance, "Tram in Vain" seems like an odd ending to the anthemic
tumult of London Calling. But it's absolutely appropriate, because if
this record has told us anything, it's that a love affair and a
revolution–small battles as well as large ones – are not that
different. They're all part of the same long, bloody march.
by Pat Blashill, Rolling Stone,
posted September 22, 2004
In 1979, London Calling was sold
with a sticker declaring that the Clash were the only band that
matters, and they acted as if they believed their own hype.
Broadcasting from the middle of the wild-eyed mess that was English
punk rock, a milieu that often dismissed idealism as a liability, the
band was criticized as being too serious, even too nice, while its
peers, the Sex Pistols, were uniformly regarded as the real thing.
Twenty-five years later, Sony has expanded this reissue of the group's
third album with some raw demo recordings and a DVD of documentary
films, even as the basic political nightmares the Clash ripped into on
the album have expanded exponentially. Then as now, it would seem that
idealism was underrated. London Calling is indeed a serious,
ridiculously ambitious punk album that resonates within a largely
American history of rebellion -- the lyrics invoke anti-heroes from
tough-guy actor Robert Mitchum to gangsta legend Stagga Lee. It was
originally underestimated as simply a bridge to reggae, classic rock &
roll and pop radio.
True, "Lover's Rock" is a jubilant rush of electric guitar and piano
that breathlessly evokes the tenderness of reggae without becoming
reggae. And the shuddering, unforgettable "Train in Vain," which broke
the band commercially in the States, is that rarest of hits: The hand
claps and harmonica sound vaguely prefabricated, but Mick Jones'
wounded vocal feels utterly genuine, and the tune stays with you like
a black eye.
The "lost" Clash songs unearthed for this release were lost for a
reason: "Heart and Mind" is an anthemic throwaway, and "Lonesome Me,"
had it been released, would have killed cow-punk before it was
invented. But London Calling proper sounds crucial right now because
of righteous blasts such as the title track, which wails like a
hundred car alarms. "The Guns of Brixton" is a dread-sick skank, a
reggae song that evinces punk's political violence. The most
astonishing number is "Clampdown," which burns through the middle of
the album with kneecap-cracking beats and a heroic three-note guitar
solo. It may be the most defiant rock song ever committed to plastic.
(An early version, "Working and Waiting," is also here.) Feeling
resigned to another four years of the Bush administration' Listen to
London Calling and flame on, brothers and sisters.
by Bill Wyman, Salon.com
Spiritually, if not
chronologically (it came out in late December of 1979), "London
Calling" was the first record of the 1980s.
The fall of 1979 had been a winding-down time for punk, which for
college freshmen like me was the only music worth thinking about. But
the complex mix of corrosive sociology and sheer force of albums like
"Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols" and "The Clash" --
or even a bit of blithe timelessness like the Ramones' "Rocket to
Russia" -- were by then a bit distant, a bit married to their place
and time. This was just a year or two on from 1977, of course, but an
age emotionally, particularly for 18-year-olds. I'd worked in a
Telegraph Avenue record store in Berkeley until the end of the year,
when the chain collapsed. I came back from Christmas vacation on a
cold day in early January and wandered into Tower. With a retail pro's
eye I immediately spotted stacks of a new Clash album. Never had I
been so shocked at the very sight of a record: On the cover was surely
one of the most visceral rock photographs ever taken -- Paul Simenon
doubled over, legs planted wide apart, ready to smash his bass down on
the stage of New York's Palladium. The design and type style was a
marvelous spoof of a classic Elvis album and in a startling, dizzying
burst of record-company hyperbole, a sticker on the front declared,
"20 new songs from the only band that matters."
The title track began with a comically animated guitar-and-bass
introduction that quickly lost its sense of humor; it was followed by
a dizzying song cycle that remains giddy and fractious to this day.
"London Calling" was personal and political, loud and soft; it was
made up of rockabilly and pop, reggae and ballads, indignation and
romance. There was a song about a drug dealer that sounded like "I
Want To Hold Your Hand," a macaroni verse that remembered the Spanish
Civil War, a heartless gag on Montgomery Clift, essays on the Ten
Commandments and the seven deadly sins, ballads about life in the
suburbs and a card cheat, and a series of utterly unromantic tales
from the unpretty demimonde the Clash was both part of and appalled
"London Calling" was the first sprawling, extravagant, unquestionably
great punk record. It ended with a secret song, "Train in Vain," a
shapeless and whining but somehow uplifting tune whose title reference
to Robert Johnson only made its intentions murkier. I remember (though
perhaps I dreamed it) Casey Kasem talking about the song when it
became the most unlikely of presences on "American Top 40": "Next up,"
Kasem said in his chirpy voice, "a song by a band that some people
think"--and here his voice changed as he registered the meaning of the
words on the cue card he was reading --"is the best rock 'n' roll band
in the world." "That's right, Casey," I said to the radio. "And who
by Andrew Kotick, Sputnikmusic.com
During the early days of the
Soviet Union, tyrant Josef Stalin's officials released a newspaper on
a daily basis. The newspaper was called Pravda, or 'truth' in English.
What was ironic about a paper titled 'truth' is what it contained.
Rather than the actual reality of the politics in the Soviet, Pravda
released distorted information, and propaganda, intimidating the
Soviet citizens into following their dictator. As you can see, the
government is never fully truthful, but it really isn't their job to
be honest, is it' In the late 1970's, in England, a man nicknamed Joe
Strummer read the newspaper every day, to catch his daily dose of the
propaganda and critical beliefs that he would later come to attack in
his music. Enlisting the help of a good friend and guitar player, Mick
Jones, Joe formed a punk band, and later found the help of a close by
Brixton art student, Paul Simonon. Only being one of the many, many
punk bands to emerge from Britain in the late 70's, you'd expect most
of them to be the typical, brats that most were- critical of politics,
annoying, rude, grimy, and so on. But this was different. One day,
while reading the paper, Paul and Joe saw a headline which read
'Police clash with protesters!'. Who knew one trivial headline in the
paper could spawn a punk band. The Clash made their first record,
which established them as true punks with their simple, snotty music
and harsh lyrics. Frequently trading off drummers, halfway through the
recording of their self titled, Mick found a guy named Nicky 'Topper'
Headon. To keep a long story short, Topper stuck around.
But what originated the snot-nosed debut album was far less than
anything that ever made it on to their 1979 follow up, London Calling.
Let's put it into small words- I am by no means, a fan of punk rock. I
simply cannot stand it. But London Calling has earned a place as my
favorite record of all time. Why' Because the album contains pure
brilliance. The two songwriters, Jones and Strummer, drifted farther
from the pure punk into something much more deep, and intricate.
Strummer, an avid fan of dub and reggae, incorporated his likings into
a lot of his songs. Meanwhile, Mick was a huge devotee of pop, soul,
and rhythm and blues music. His writing reflects upon those standards.
While there are certainly musical influences from many genres, the
lyrical content on London Calling is nothing more than pure liberal
brilliance. While maintaining that critical point of view that is
typical of all punk, every song tells a story, whether it be about
women, hardship, wealth, or simply abstract renditions, every song
contains some of the best lyrics I've heard. Ever.
Every single song on London Calling is catchy as hell, with enough pop
appeal to ease even fans on Brittney Spears, but gives the finger
simultaneously. While the juxtaposition of musical tastes and genres
might seem a bit unruly and sloppy, believe me, you wouldn't want it
any other way. Something that is intriguing about London Calling is
the frequent use of classical, and unorthodox instruments, that never
have seemed to belong in rock music. There are horns everywhere, like
on the ska anthem 'Rudie Can't Fail', where Mick's galloping voice,
combined with a danceable trumpet part, make some pretty damn catchy
melodies. Ska is shown throughout a portion of the album, like on the
upbeat 'Hateful' and on the tribute to actor Montgomery Cliff, 'The
Right Profile'. Reggae also controls a portion of the album. 'Guns of
Brixton' which features Paul on lead vocals, as well as one head
bobbing bassline, epitomizes the impact of the genre, as does the fun
'Revolution Rock'. But while those two are good, the strongest songs
on the album undoubtedly reflect upon Mick's fascination with pop. The
title track, London Calling is an apocalyptic disco shuffle, while the
monsters 'Death or Glory', and 'Spanish Bombs' glorify the genre in a
whole other way. Death or Glory is the catchiest piece of **** on the
planet, while Spanish Bombs contends for best song on the album with
The Card Cheat. There is probably not a more dramatic song on the
album than the Card Cheat. Between the trickling piano and thundering
bass, this epic tale of a gambling con artist, which is actually an
allegory of the fall of the British Empire, is nothing short of
amazing. And another track, 'Koka Kola' is furious, with a wonderfully
catchy hook and an upbeat tempo that is so good, you'll be sad it only
lasts a minute-and-thirty, as well as the disco pop of the depressing
'Lost in the Supermarket'. Surf Music, as well as rock n roll,
provides the foundation for a number of great songs on London Calling.
'Brand New Cadillac', 'Lover's Rock', 'Four Horsemen', 'I'm Not Down',
'Wrong Em Boyo' and the monsterous 'Clampdown' are all benefiting
factors. These arguably contain the best guitar work on the album, and
interesting storylines. 'Clampdown' in particular, about Nazis from
the WWII era, is the angriest song on the album, and 'Lover's Rock" is
a vulgar tale of sex, with awesome guitar playing, of course. And of
course, who can forget the bebop on the lone 'Jimmy Jazz', where
shuffled rhythms on Topper's hihats and Paul's walking bass provide
cover for Joe's growly voice.
Whether it be catchy pop appeal, ingenious lyrics like 'In the fury of
the hour, anger can be power, I know that you could use it.' or 'The
hillsides ring with 'free the people', Can I hear the echo from the
days of '39'', or simple melodies that drive you to keep listening, I
really cannot find a flaw that pisses me off
about this album. Punk albums should be more like this, because this
is just too good to be true. You can take my word for it. This is my
favorite album of all time. Me, a difficult to please classic rock/prog
fan, picks the Clash as making the album of the millennium. Hard to
see, but definitely worth buying, and playing until your brain grows
numb. Trust me, there is not a better punk album out there. After all,
the Clash were 'the only band that mattered.'
by Jeff Terich, Treblezine,
September 8, 2005
It's fitting that Treble's Best
of the '70s ends here. We may not have measured the entire decade as
such, but after all was said and done, The Clash's monumental third
album, London Calling was unanimously voted the best album of the
decade. And it's no mystery why — it's the ultimate rock `n' roll
album, skipping and hopping across genres, showing innovation and
influence beyond measure. Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon and
Topper Headon were more than just punk rockers. They surpassed the
constraints of the genre with this expansive double album, one that
would put them in contention as, possibly, the greatest rock `n' roll
band ever. And, quite frankly, their competition never stood a chance.
From the moment one sees the legendary image of Paul Simonon smashing
his bass at the New York Palladium, that's when the experience with
London Calling begins. The two-chord reggae punk of the title track
then sucks the listener in, beginning a ride that speeds out of
control over highs, then slows and coasts through lows, changing
sounds and scenery with the greatest of ease. The Clash were taking
rock `n' roll, not necessarily to its extremes (that was left for
bands like The Birthday Party and Sonic Youth) but to the grandest
heights it could possibly reach. If you're looking for the definitive
rock `n' roll album, don't waste your time with The Stones or The Who.
London Calling is what you need.
"London Calling," the song, is huge enough on its own that one hardly
seems prepared for what's to come. Though friends of mine have often
said it's far from the best song on the album, I'm inclined to
partially disagree. It's one of my personal favorite songs and has
been for some time. The melody, though simple, is as ominous and
powerful as Strummer's apocalyptic visions. The song is a far cry from
a celebration, and more of a doomed look at the world's impending
The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in
Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear era but I have no fear
London is drowning and I live by the river
From there, however, the band moves away from their reggae influenced
punk into rockabilly ("Brand New Cadillac") and lazy blues ("Jimmy
Jazz") and ska ("Rudie Can't Fail"). One of the immediate highlights
amid the first half of the record is "Hateful," a catchy, punk
inflected bit of power pop with a bouncy rhythm and lyrics about a
drug dealer: "Anything I want, he gives it to me/anything I want/he
gives it but not for free." It is songs like "Hateful" where The Clash
excels, for their combination of stellar songwriting and politics, of
which Simonon said, "When people say that we're a political band, what
they usually mean, I gather, is that we're political in the way of,
like, left and right - politics with a capital 'P,' right? But really,
it's politics with a small 'p,' like personal politics." And it's
their examination of personal politics that made them so fascinating,
as opposed to many of their peers that advocated anarchy or Communist
ideals in song, but not focusing on anything really tangible. The
Clash were, and don't get the wrong idea here, the people's band. They
wrote songs that meant something on a more personal scale than merely
saying "smash the state."
"Spanish Bombs," for instance, is about the Spanish Revolution, but
not song from a historical and observational perspective. The
resulting song contains one of the band's most lovely melodies and
some of their most memorable lyrics: "the hillsides ring with `free
the people'/or can I hear the echo from the days of `39." And Mick
Jones' delivery "Lost in the Supermarket" is an ironically emotional
take on the banality of suburban life. His character "wasn't born," so
much as he "fell out," empties a bottle and "feels free" and keeps the
noises from "kids in the halls and pipes in the walls" as company. A
more political, and for that matter "punk," side comes out on the
standout "Clampdown," as Strummer sings "They put up a poster saying
we earn more than you/when we're working for the clampdown," and
latter shouts "Let fury have the hour/anger can be power!" In essence,
it's a far more sophisticated and mature re-write of "Anarchy in the
UK," albeit with an ultimately less nihilistic message.
It was around this time that The Clash was becoming more experimental
with reggae sounds and textures, resulting in many reggae-tinged songs
on the album. One of the most strongly dub-influenced songs is "Guns
of Brixton," which is the only song on the set that's sung by Simonon.
"Wrong `Em Boyo" has a stronger ska influence, complete with a horn
section. And the aforementioned "Rudie Can't Fail" also takes on ska,
albeit with less a less traditional, more uniquely Clash sound.
But the second half of the album, be it a little more reggae heavy,
still contains many of the band's best and most rocking songs. "Death
or Glory," for one, is a cynical tale, yet one of Strummer's most
lyrically humorous, taking the piss out of notions of fame:
Every gimmick hungry yob digging gold from rock `n' roll
Grabs the mike to tell us he'll die before he's sold
But I believe in this—and it's been tested by research
That he who fucks nun will later join the church
"The Card Cheat," with its triumphant piano and Jones' impassioned
cries, is among the most anthemic and powerful here, a narrative about
an actual card cheat who gets shot when the dealer catches him. A
closer look shows that it's really about missed opportunities and
regrets: "He only wanted more time/away from the darkest door/ but his
luck it gave in/ as the dawn light crept in/ and he lay on the floor."
And more reggae influence can be heard on "Lover's Rock," which delves
into the subject of sexual equality.
Two of the greatest songs of the entire span of the album come at the
very end. The first is the optimistic "I'm Not Down," a disco-punk
rocker that revisits the time-tested theme of getting up when you're
down and starting over from scratch. It's an anthem for the
downtrodden if there ever were one, and one that I can personally find
great inspiration from on my worst days. Jones sings with pride, "I've
been beat up/I've been thrown down/but I'm not down/I'm not down." And
the track that closes the album, "Train in Vain," stands as one of the
best known singles from this era, and somewhat notorious for not
actually being listed on the album's sleeve. Another song sung by
Jones, it's a pure pop song, perfect in every way. From the beginning
guitar pops to the harmonica hooks, this song is absolutely
irresistible. And its lyrics also make for an interesting change of
pace for the band, as it focuses on a broken relationship rather than
Say you stand by your man
Tell me something I don't understand
You said you love me and that's a fact
Then you left me, said you felt trapped
There's no doubt about it, London Calling is an exhausting listen,
albeit an invigorating one. The Clash had plenty to say with this
record, and not a moment is wasted. That's not necessarily the truth
for their over-long 3-album set that followed, Sandinista. They never
made an album as perfect as this again, and for that matter, neither
did most other musicians.
On a more personal note, London Calling has always been one of my
favorite records. But in a truly fucked-up twist of fate, my
twenty-first birthday coincided with Joe Strummer's death. I was
saddened, certainly, but moreso, my friends were all out of town for
Christmas, and as such I had nobody to knock one back with, for Joe. I
was inspired, however, to ensure that whatever I did with my life, it
would have something to do with rock `n' roll, because goddammit, Joe
Strummer was rock `n' roll.