The Clash – London Calling

In many people’s eyes, The Clash are the definitive punk band. They are widely regarded as the best punk band of all time and have influenced countless acts and musicians. In many ways The Clash were to punk what the late Michael Jackson was to pop—revolutionary. With this analogy it would be fair to say that the Clash’s third studio album, London Calling, was their very own ‘Thriller.

London Calling was released in the UK in December 1979 and in the United States a month later. The album helped propel The Clash to great heights and it wasn’t long before they were being branded ‘The Only Band That Matters’. Since then the Clash have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and have been voted 28th on the list of the ‘greatest artists of all time’ by Rolling Stone. London Calling has sold over five million copies worldwide and has been certified platinum in the United States.

The Clash took a different approach with London Calling and expanded on their punk style and sound, which showed through so prominently on their previous two albums, The Clash and Give ‘Em Enough Rope. London Calling contained many more elements from the musical spectrum such as: ska, reggae, jazz, pop and rockabilly. It’s crammed with stand-out tracks and all 19 songs on the album live long in the memory for one reason or the other.

Album artwork for London Calling

Album artwork for London Calling

The opening and title track of the album London Calling, was the first single released from the album. It contains a reggae influenced bass line which creates a dark, dingy, haunting feel to it. This reflects the late Joe Strummer’s lyrics in the song which voice concerns about world events at the time, such as police brutality and rising debt levels. The second track, Brand New Cadillac, is more upbeat and is a cover of a Vince Taylor song. It’s a rock and roll song with a blues riff and the band cite it as being ‘one of the first British rock ‘n’ roll records.’

Rudie Can’t Fail, the fifth track from London Calling, contains the Clash’s signature punk/reggae sound with an added element of ska. This is evident in the horn section of the song which helps to create a very uplifting sound. The song is about a young man who challenges his elders’ way of life and decides to live life his own way, such as ‘drinking booze for breakfast.’

Other ska inspired songs on the album include Lost in the Supermarket and Spanish Bombsthe latter being inspired by events that took place in the Spanish Civil War. The Clash illustrate their musical diversity further on the tracks The Card Cheat and Train in Vain. The Card Cheat is different to most other songs on the album as it encompasses a grand piano but despite the experimentation in the song, it fits right at home on London Calling with all the others. Train in Vain rounds the album off nicely with a very catchy, pop inspired sound.

In truth every single song on the album stands out for all the right reason including the jazz inspired, aptly named Jimmy Jazz and the quite brilliant Guns of Brixton. Sometimes when bands experiment with certain songs, they don’t fit inthey don’t feel at home on the album. What’s important and unique about London Calling is that The Clash weren’t experimenting with their sound as suchthey were expanding it. They were pushing and stretching the limits of the punk genre as far as it would go and because of this, they created arguably the finest punk rock record ever made. Every song on the album feels exactly right at home.

The Clash are one of the most important British bands of all time. They have helped keep punk alive by influencing many of the punk rock bands around the world today, such as Green Day and Rancid. Without The Clash and in particular, without London Calling, punk wouldn’t have just ‘died’ a long, long time agoit would hardly have been born.

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