London Calling

The Clash

Epic Records, 1979

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


As many of the punk bands of the late 70s blew their brains out with a double-barrel shotgun of nihilism, The Clash were given the uneasy honor of making some of the first sounds of a new decade. Punk's remaining trump card pulled out a full betrayal of all the punk values that stifled so many bands with their epic, London Calling.

Joe Strummer and Mick Jones violated such sacred punk commandments as "Thou shalt not create a double album", "Thou shalt not in any way dare to experiment with other musical performing forces, such as violins" and the most cardinal sin of all:"Thou shalt not possess any motivation to do anything about the problems that you're bitching about in your albums".

That all said, London Calling, though a bit torn and frayed 17 years later, still remains a seminal piece of music. Strummer's bitter confusion and Mick Jones's pop-smart earnestness gel together perfectly for 70 minutes. Their musicianship on London Calling rivals that of the best material made by the dualism of McCartney/Lennon or Richards/Jagger.

The first side of London Calling paint a mustard yellow picture of the upcoming decade. "The ice age is coming/the sun's zooming in", Strummer rasps on the title track. Personal apocalypse is only a part of the misery though. The Clash incorporate the strugglers of the Spanish War ("Spanish Bombs"), the tale of an alienated addict ("Hateful") as well as the drunken car wreck eulogy to Montgomery Cliff ("The Right Profile"). Some light does appear throughout the shelled out haze the Clash lays down in the first half of the album. "Rudie Can't Fail" is a great Irish pub style drinking anthem boasting a Bo Diddley riff.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Strummer's sounds like he's either having an asthma attack throughout London Calling. His anger and emotion detonate throughout the album. Mick Jones puts everything in more humane perspective though. In "Lost In The Supermarket", Jones heartfully confesses, "I wasn't born so much as I fell out/nobody seemed to notice me". Yet another punk rock rule was upended by Jones as he openly displayed his vulnerability. In closing, Jones keeps whispering "I'm all lost". The listener is too. After an oppressing first half it seems like the conditions of existance in the world give little hope of making sense out of this often fucked up place.

But wait...A squall like feedback begins to rise and drummer Topper Headon begins to lay down a march style beat similar to a frenzied apartheid protest march. Strummer yells out, "What are we going to do now!" The song "Clampdown" serves as a violent, invigorating response to the ails that weighed against the characters in "Hateful" and "Lost In The Supermarket". Strummer and Jones play a ferocious game of tag-team in the vocals.

You have no choice but to storm ahead, as The Clash does. "Clampdown" either pushes you ahead or pushes your ass aside. For the brave, it pushes you into the more experimental side of London Calling. A piano and string arrangements are used in "The Card Cheat". "Revolution Rock" is another testament of the importance of reggae and the influence of Lee "Scratch" Perry on the band.

If "Clampdown" represented a full air strike assult on any detractors of the band or their fans, "Death or Glory" is a proclamation of victory. The band may get a tad righteous, taking aim at bands that don't live up to their pathos, but at least they stick to their agenda. "Well I believe in innocence/and this is been proven so/he who fucks with nuns/will later join the church," as Emeril Lagassie would put it..."BAM!", that's a powerful ass lyric.

"London Calling" is full of great moments like in "Death or Glory". In "Spanish Bombs", Strummer and Jones harmonously sing, "My Senorita's rose was nipped in the bud," as another example of how the lyrics compliment the musical arrangement.

Not all credit is due to The Clash, however. Producer Guy Stevens (of Moot the Hoople fame) tapped into The Clash like no other producer could ever do. When the Clash were ambitious, Stevens would pour beer in the piano if they tried to use it in a song. In one instance, Stevens even threw a ladder at Mick Jones.

The outcome paid off big time though. Paul Simonon's bass playing keeps the heartbeat of London Calling. His work shines in the last track, the unlisted, but still very popular "Train in Vain".

Old school rockibilly, punk pathos and elements of classic rock, London Calling serves as one of the most important albums made in rock music. While politics eventually led Strummer into isolation and the techno craze intoxicated Jones, the two obviously needed each other to produce their best work. Armed with Strummer's angered drive and Jones's idealistic humanism, The Clash forged a bold new chapter in the rock world. Their influence on today's artists are just being felt right now.

Rating: A

User Rating: A


© 1997 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.