As we land on the 40th anniversary of one of the most iconic rock and roll records ever, we take a long look back at the influential and indestructible record form The Clash, London Calling
The ultimate punk record, a godsend of an album that spat through a potpourri of genres more tellingly and tastefully since The White Album. And yet it proved an even stronger album than The Fabs’ epic, more noteworthy in design, more polemical in attitude. Fittingly, it had a title track that tore into The Beatles sacred standing, though the sparky guitar, thunderous skiffle beat and choir boy harmonies called attention to the ramshackle nature a certain Liverpudlian band held in Hamburg.
It was a biblical trove of rock and roll reference, steering to the sound of the fifties (‘Brand New Cadillac’, ‘The Card Cheat’), the beat of the sixties (‘Jimmy Jazz’, ‘Wrong ‘Em Boyo’), even tipping a hat to the savaged nineteen thirties battlegrounds that spattered Europe (‘Spanish Bombs’).
Bassist Paul Simonon had picked up songwriting had financial, as well as innovational, properties, unveiling his personal love letter to the reggae tracks that enlivened his fender (‘Guns of Brixton’). In a sea of cod-reggae tracks from white British bands, The Clash best understood the rhythmic permutations, sparky guitars trickling with the electricity ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’s brass section brought the driving track.
Guitarist Mick Jones, the wistful musician who sang the haunting ‘Lost In The Supermarket’ with earmarked lilt, proved the band’s in house producer, at a time when Jones’ idol Guy Stevens found himself awash with addictions, personal and alcoholic. Reverent to the last, Stevens’ name was the only one whose place positioned the album’s producer credit, his unconventional tactics bringing out some of the band’s rawest and most visceral playing.
Vocalist Joe Strummer, whose moniker he picked to mirror his immediate guitar work, found reverence in the American images of outlaws and contraceptive pills on the transient ‘Lover’s Rock’, perhaps the four piece’s most genuinely affecting ballad.
Behind the three writers sat Topper Headon, the band’s most versatile player, shifting from genre to genre, one of the few punk players who could groove as well as he hit. Together, they were the only band that mattered delivering one of a select few albums that mattered.
It mattered in its purity, fury, anger, apathy and adulation, each member as essential as the next. Understanding his distinctive physique, it was Simonon, not Strummer, who graced the cover. Recgonising the importance of percussion, it was Headon, not Jones, who drove the deferential ‘Train In Vain’ to the album’s exciting close.
Understanding that they sounded better together than apart, Strummer and Jones swapped vocal lines on the fiery ‘Clampdown’ with assured support. Together, they pooled their efforts on the staggeringly inventive ‘Revolution Rock’, demonstrating their synergical camaraderie as a group. In the spirit of punk, the record’s loftiest track chimed in under six minutes, the average length of time a prog guitarist would use during their numerous instrumental breaks.
Uncompromisingly ambitious in scope, The Clash’s third effort proved their most fondly remembered, their most assured and, indeed, their finest work. This album remains my desert island record, an extraordinarily diverse catalogue only a band at this creative level could produce.