There are few people on this earth as effortlessly cool as Paul Simonon, and even fewer of them play bass. The iconic Clash bassist, the man swinging the Fender to its doom on the cover of London Calling, has long become a bastion of punk rock but, today, we’re focusing on his often overlooked compositional performances by revisiting the isolated bass of his song ‘Guns of Brixton’.
The track is one of the few songs to be written and sung by Simonon, the classic London Calling number offered a vision of the man who wrote it — effortlessly suave and somehow underpinned by the knowing menace of dastardly danger. It also showed a side of London that was bubbling under the surface. There is no better approximation of all of these points than in the simple yet effective bassline he created for the track.
Paul Simonon was a founding member of The Clash, and it was many of his founding principles alongside Joe Strummer that gave the band their unshakeable core — fighting for the little guy. The track is undoubtedly steeped in that rhetoric too, championing the oppressed who are forced into crime with the same romanticism that many afford the western films of Hollywood. In fact, even the title was reminiscent of a spaghetti western. However, the determination to defend those who need it wasn’t the reason for the song’s composition.
Simonon wrote the song for one of those unthinkable punk necessities; the money. The musician picked up his bass and began writing the track because he needed the cash, revealing that “you don’t get paid for designing posters or doing the clothes”, when speaking to Bassist Magazine in October 1990, “You get paid for doing the songs,” he added.
If there was one song to define the figure of Simonon, then this is it. Deeply influenced by reggae thanks to his birth and upbringing in south London’s Brixton neighbourhood and imbued with a menacing tone of danger, ‘Guns of Brixton’ is a cult favourite that deserves more praise. But perhaps what deserves the most credit is Simonon’s bassline. It’s a fearsome piece of playing which, while a little simple for the musically talented around us, was enough to capture the minds of its audience and transport them to the depths of south London’s cowboy scene.
The band were known for drafting in session musicians on some of their recordings, so there isn’t much to 100% authenticate this bassline being all of Simonon’s creation or performance but it’s hard not to get swept up in the shuddering power of it all. Below, you can revisit Simonon’s isolated bassline from ‘Guns of Brixton’ as well as the entire London Calling album, all through the icon’s bass guitar.