Monday, January 12, 2015

8. London Calling (1979) The Clash



1. London Calling
2. Brand New Cadillac
3. Jimmy Jazz
4. Hateful
5. Rudie Can't Fail
6. Spanish Bombs
7. The Right Profile
8. Lost in the Supermarket
9. Clampdown
10. The Guns of Brixton
11. Wrong 'Em Boyo
12. Death or Glory
13. Koka Kola
14. The Card Cheat
15. Lover's Rock
16. Four Horsemen
17. I'm Not Down
18. Revolution Rock
19. Train in Vain


The Clash wisely realised that it's all very well playing music with three chords and attitude but it doesn't really work as a long range career. Writing Punk songs isn't hard but after an album or two it sounds like you're just rewriting your old ones. The best punk bands were the ones that had an ability to evolve and develop and the most evolved and developed, and easily the best, punk band of all time was The Clash.

Two years after their debut album, with its simple structure, punk sensibility and loud and shouty attitude, The Clash came up with London Calling, a double album which isn't so far from their debut it sounds like a different band but it's certainly a massive development.

The progression doesn't come in the form of production values. There's a slightly slicker and more polished attitude (and even a sax solo) but it's still recognizably the Clash. It still sounds like the same four guys who tossed out their debut album in a couple of weekends a few years earlier but it sounds like they spent their two years on the road developing their songwriting abilities. Strummer and Jones, even bass player Paul Simonon contributed some fantastic songs that have stood the test of time and lived on long after Punk itself has become a reaction against its own excesses.

The title track has a real tension and urgency which propels it along and makes it sound like the opening of a revolution more than a double album. Spanish Bombs is a jaunty song about the Spanish Civil war and Basque separatists which manages to turn violent killing into a cheery ditty. The Guns of Brixton is driven along by a slinky, snakey bassline which makes sense because it's the first song bass player Paul Simonon ever wrote. You can't imagine most of the first Clash album being covered by anyone other than a punk band but these are all tracks that could be pop hits with only minor tweaking which is reflected in the number of artists who have put out versions of these tracks over the years. In 2006, Piano pop guru Ben Folds recorded a cover of Lost In The Supermarket for a children's movie called Over The Hedge. It wasn't a radical reinvention or rewriting, it was an instantly recognizable cover.

While the big hits on the album contain influences outside of Punk music, there are definitely punk tracks on London Calling, most notably Clampdown which sounds like Punk with a few of the harder edges buffed out. There's also a lot of great punk swagger in the lyrics. My favourite line on the album is definitely... "But I believe in this and it's been tested by research, He, who fucks nuns, will later join the church" ...from Death or Glory, which proves they could write great words as well as catchy tunes.

London Calling is not without it's fair share of bloat. The Right Profile isn't a song it's a line repeated too frequently and padded with a slightly cheesy sounding sax solo. Wrong em Boyo is a misfire attempt to try a ska song (although even if it was a good ska song it would still be terrible, ska is always terrible).

London Calling's biggest issue is that, with the exception of Train in Vain, the album does tend to fall away a bit towards the end. The best songs come in the first disc and the second disc has it's fair share of flat spots. If you were to graph the excitement levels generated by London Calling it would trail away and almost flatline at the end until Train in Vain picks it up again but by then it's almost too late.

London Calling is a great album but unlike the two double albums on either side of it on this countdown it would have made a much better single disc.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "What, you're trying to say that The Clash is right up there with The Vandals, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Sex Pistols?"

-No. No I'm not saying that. I'm saying that they're so, so much better.

So London is calling? Do you answer or let it go through to voicemail? Let me know below.

1 comment:

  1. Have you noticed there are 4 double albums in a row?

    ReplyDelete