London Calling saw The Clash drag the punk movement to unprecedented heights, lunging it from an underground existence and into the face of the unexpecting masses. For Clash fans, this album represents more than just a record. It soundtracked their adolescence and defiantly stuck two fingers up at those in power.
Politically speaking, the album was released just six months after Margaret Thatcher assumed power and Britain entered a dark dawning, one that went against every one of The Clash’s ideals. Unlike the first two Clash records – which sounded fiercely punk – on London Calling, they showed that, as a band, they could keep the punk spirit alive while experimenting with genres and adding new dimensions to their sound, even though their message stayed the same.
Tracks such as ‘Revolution Rock’ or ‘Train In Vain‘ saw The Clash move away from their typical punk sound and help usher in an era of post-punk. No longer did The Clash have the boundaries of punk holding them back, and their new, worldly sound only made them become an even greater outfit, who were firmly the voice of their generation. Although the album led to tiresome criticisms of the band ‘selling out’, their ethos didn’t move an inch even if their sound did.
Guy Stevens produced the album, and he nurtured the group expertly to fine-tune the best out of the band. “He was really important, and he helped create a very positive atmosphere, even though he was a little crazy,” Paul Simonon told Rolling Stone in 2013. “But he was like a conductor. He brought out the best in everybody, and he was the crazy one that let us not be crazy and get on with the job. I think if you put us all in the room together, you’d look at Guy and you’d say, ‘Yeah, he’s the crazy one. Those other guys, they’re the normal ones.'”
The titular track is an apocalyptic anthem that sees Strummer deal with a world that feels like it’s on its last circle around the sun. Following the last twelve months we’ve faced, ‘London Calling’ feels more relevant during the current climate than ever. The effort is The Clash’s definitive song and sums up everything enchanting about their ethos wrapped up into a three-and-a-half-minute furious fireball.
Despite how many times you’ve listened to London Calling over the years, it never gets any less majestic and still feels like an album that everybody needs to hear. Even though themes on the record, such as the repercussions of the Spanish Civil War on ‘Spanish Bombs’ are time relevant, the notion still rings true today.
Hearing Strummer dissect complex issues as he does so eloquently across London Calling without reverting to soundbites or simple answers is always a refreshing listen. Instead, he showcases humanity through his compelling songwriting, which remains a treat for the ages.
Musically, the album is The Clash at their best, Strummer’s impassioned vocals are equally powerful. It’s an album that most of us have listened to hundreds of times, but this isolated version of London Calling featuring just Strummer’s vocals makes you hear The Clash’s magnum opus like never before.