Late to the Party: The Clash, London Calling

The Clash - London CallingThe ClashLondon Calling (Sony)

I’ve never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or been on a roller coaster, and until two months ago I had never heard London Calling by the Clash. In my adolescent punker days the number of tracks scared me away: 19 on a punk record. In college I couldn’t justify buying something I should have owned twice already or face the stares of the record store clerks. It took another 8 years and ten dollars left on a Best Buy gift card for me to finally take the plunge and give London Calling a good hard listen.

Of course, London Calling isn’t a punk record. There’s no loud and fast, sneer and scoff posturing that makes cartoons out of the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls. While punk made it possible for the Clash to be a band it’s equally important that they broke away, and that’s what made them, as Joe Strummer put it, the only band that mattered.

All genres are constricting and the great bands are the ones who can live in styles and not for them. The songs on this album span continents and islands, yet never fake the accent. There are girls, cars, movie stars and shady characters sporting dread locks and duck asses. It’s expansive and great, but it isn’t perfect. I stand by my initial reason for avoiding this purchase, there are too many tracks. But there are so many A-grade songs that a B+ just doesn’t cut it here.

Track-by track breakdown of the best album I’d never heard after the jump…


London Calling

I don’t need to say anything about this song. It’s perfect and dangerous in its simplicity. The two chords that launched a million teenage manifestos.

Brand New Cadillac

You know that dream where you’re driving away from a sepia-toned sunset and Laura Dern from 1992 is riding shotgun and playing with your hair while you steal a glance down her shirt and lick your lips? Well this song is playing during all that, and it makes you twice as cool.

Jimmy Jazz

Lil’ bastard of a slow cooker that mellows things out to a respectable buzz. Saying zee as well as zed made me feel included as an American.

Hateful

Amazing organ sound, call and response vocals and the high-hat on the chorus. Solid.

Rudie Can’t Fail

If reggae sounded like this I’d listen to reggae. Easily my favorite song on the album. Sounds like how a band at its peak is supposed to.

Spanish Bombs

If you’re ever thinking of putting a Clash song on a mix tape please, please use this song. The recipient will learn history, Spanish, and flawless songwriting.

The Right Profile

It’s a fact. There will never be anyone cooler than Joe Strummer. [Montgomery Cliff comes pretty damn close though. -Ed.] Sharp R&B meets TMZ. Strummer’s vocals are amazing, even when he’s mumbling.

Lost in the Supermarket

When I was younger I used to say this was my favorite Clash song because it was the only one I knew that wasn’t “Rock the Casbah” or “Train in Vain”. I’m glad that opinion wasn’t shared with too many people. There’s some energy lost with this song but it’s a solid Mick Jones attempt at disco and I can respect that.

Clampdown

Wait a minute. Did I just learn about class warfare in Briton? I’m not sure but this is a great song and I’ve been saying, “Ha! Gitalong! Gitalong!” all day.

The Guns of Brixton

See “Rudy Can’t Fail,” dub style!

Wrong ‘Em Boyo

I thought I had heard enough versions of “Stagger Lee” to fill my lifetime quota. I was wrong. Bouncy and fun with a horn line just a couple of notes shy of stealing from “Sea Cruise.”

Death or Glory

The album peaks here. Not to say the remaining tracks aren’t as good, I’ll get to that, but rather in the natural progression this is where things start to wind down. Particularly the breakdown towards the end feels like watching your favorite movie where you’re very close to the end but you know there are still some good lines left.

Koka Kola

Not a fan. The shortest song on the record but still sounds like filler to me. I get it. Big corporations and consumerism are bad. [But drugs are fun! How did you miss that? -Ed.] Move on. 19 tracks is too long and I would easily pull this one from the list.

The Card Cheat

When did Phil Specter start producing this album? Unlike anything else on the record. In fact, it’s a a stark contrast to anything else but a perfect almost last song. The reverb used here is particularly nice, stretching the main two chords out over the whole song. No holes, just warmth. Someone should write a movie just to have this song in it.

Lover’s Rock

Meh. We go from channeling everything that was good about mid 60s pop music to this dud. Out of place on the album and just boring. No reason for this song to be four minutes long.

Four Horsemen

This track should have followed “The Card Cheat.” The piano lines would play so well against each other. It’s a perfect natural progression of the theme and energy leading up to the close of the album. Slightly silly in the tough guy posturing but sonically just what the album needs at this point.

I’m Not Down

If this song weren’t produced so good I’d say yank it from the album. More great use of guitar tones, clean and thin, slap back plucky, and even some good old overdriven feedback. Nice drum breaks too.

Revolution Rock

I want all reggae to sound like The Clash. Nothing too important on this song but it’s got a great energy and stays solid for a 5 minute song.

Train in Vain

Yup, after a full hour of listening we’re at the end and it’s pop. What’s more it’s relationship pop. Nothing punk here and that’s just fine. If you’re really going to be the only band that matters than you’ve got to matter to a lot of people. If the Clash hadn’t had pop hits we wouldn’t be gushing about them still, thirty years later.

Video: The Clash – “London Calling”

Video: The Clash – “Guns Of Brixton”

Previously on GLONO: Goodnight, Joe Strummer, Re: Babyshambles (An Open Letter to Mick Jones).

Is there a great album that you went far too long without hearing? Let us know!

16 thoughts on “Late to the Party: The Clash, London Calling”

  1. Once upon a time I too was late to this party, bought this when I passed 30. Then a short time later lost it in the devil’s pit known as my car(strangely enough it along with my one and only Elvis Costello purchase were never found again, where they went is anyone’s guess).

    I guess I’m one of those people who prefers the “pop” pieces off the album as Train in Vain will always be a favorite. And my son was a HUGE fan of “Lost in the Supermarket” when he was 5-6 yrs old.

    Hey it beats the time the kid briefly liked Britney.

  2. its never too late to show up to this party….

    i remember being 11 or 12 and rock the casbah pops up on mtv….i was amazed….stunned….it was weird….but like a moth to a flame i went out and bought the album….people still scoff at combat rock being my favorite clash album…but damn….theres a before and after with me when it comes to that one…

    before….men without hats

    after….willie williams..

    theres only two clash records that dont hit me in the right spot….cut the crap…which isnt really a clash record and sandinista….i own sandinista….and skip through it from time to time for my favorite tracks…

    the only time ive ever almost gotten into a fistfight over a record was when an import copy of their first lp showed up at flipside…..monz and i were basically holding onto the record tugging on it screaming

    “MINE!”….i held out and still have it today….i wonder if he ever got his copy….

    anytime i find a reasonably priced copy of london calling used on vinyl…i grab it….and gift it to someone who has no clue about how amazing that record is…i feel obligated to do so….everyone should own a copy of this record…..

    by the way….the “weak” tracks on london calling?….that will fade….

    you’ll grow to dribble on your bib for the whole kit and caboodle…

  3. You’ve got guts, Josh B. – I would never admit to ignorance of London Calling. But I’m totally glad you finally made it round.

    I’ve been listening to LC for decades and I never get tired of it – how it manages to be punk as fuck with horns, piano and melody still blows me away.

    Of course, I shouldn’t talk – it’s only been the last few years I’ve discovered Dylan.

  4. Glad you finally got caught up, Josh, although I’m a little dumfounded by your reggae-related comments. (I dunno…it’s kinda like saying “I ‘d like Frosted Flakes if it tasted more like the store-brand”.)

    Oh, and by the way, “the only band that matters” was a line thought up by CBS’ marketing dept. Furthermore, Captain Beefhart guitarist Gary Lucas may have come up with it when he worked for the label in the late ’70s.

  5. Agree with Ponky on this: you’ll keep coming back and those also rans will become high points. I felt the same way as you do, but then grew to love London Calling‘s vastness. Plus, they took a financial hit and let you get it at the price of a single (back in the day) elpee.Sandinista was the same way, and while I agree that there is a bunch of filler on that, I appreciate the entire “Here’s the entire studio session” approach and the fact that they passed the savings on to us. Had the best tracks of Sandinista would be a brilliant single LP effort, but I can’t picture London Calling any more streamlined.

    I do think that you can get a little fatigued with London Calling now compared to the vinyl days when you were forced to get up and change the record. I will admit to programming it in either sides or album segments on occasion and don’t feel guilty about it. It’s the way it was originally made and it may make it stand up a little better if you approach it from that standpoint.

    And if you ever feel the need to finally take in that peanut butter sandwich, Mom was right: Jif is the best place to start.

  6. I’ve got no bones to pick with peanut butter, and I’m a Skippy Super Chunk man all the way, but Jelly sickens me.

  7. Take it from someone who’s been late on a great deal of music – it doesn’t matter. Really, it just makes it that much more fun to discover. In fact, a big part of me is looking forward to getting my first T. Rex record.

    I personally wasn’t too late on this album, though…and I agree with Ponky as well: I can’t imagine skipping a single song on this record, whereas towards the time when I first got it, songs like Lost in the Supermarket and The Card Cheat were regularly skipped.

    As for the peanut butter sandwich? I’ve never been a fan of the jelly either…it’s honey all the way, baby…

  8. Yes Jake, even grape. No jelly, jams, preserves or any cooked fruit at all. Nasty.

    As far a Reggae goes, I’m not a fan. I enjoy the individual aspects of the genre (the basic beat, jumpy organs and especially the sound of a good reggae drum break) but mostly loath the whole. However, Reggae filtered throught the heads of 1970’s-80’s British pop music resonates much more favorably with me. I’ll take “Watching the Detectives” over most Jamaican output any day.

  9. I like Koka Kola, I just think it slows down the record and doesn’t add anything, a wasted 2 minutes. Lover’s Rock is just a boring song. I can’t see anything to grow into here.

  10. Very cool. I am old enough that I got to the party right on time. For even more fun pick up a copy of the original vinyl with Train in Vain not listed. It also gives the idea of how it was originally programmed for four sides.

    Recently I picked up the reissue with the DVD (which I have not watched yet) and the demos. They are fun enough also.

    Lou

  11. I bought this the day it came out, but because Dallas record stores sucked in 1980 I drove all the way downtown to Metamorphosis to buy it…but it was worth the trip. For a long time this was a Top 5 album for me…listening to it again recently (I finally bought the CD and ditched the vinyl) I have to admit I was surprised by how tame it was. It took a while of recalling what radio music was like back then (Bob Seger! The Cars! Freebird!) to help me remember how astonishing this was.

    And I like Koka Kola. IT’s a silly throwaway, but high quality even at that.

  12. I am old enough that I lived through the whole of the Clash phenominon. Comments by Crass aside, the Clash were the most influential band of the British Punk era. There are no ‘bad’ tracks on London Calling and nothing I ever wanted to skip. A dislike of Koka Kola and Lost in the Supermarket may be a problem with not understanding the political aspect of the band; late 70s/80s British lefty politics were very much against big ‘faceless’ corporations (and soon after the release of London Calling – Maggie Thatcher) and the Clash were very much part of this. On the issue of Sandanista – I have owned the album since it’s release (28 years!) and it has grown on me; just don’t ask me to listen to Shepherds Delight!

    PS never had a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich, not even sure what you mean when you talk of jelly.

  13. Young, naive, and self righteous. Recipe for a great album.

    Little piece of trivia– Billy Idol and Tony James turned The Clash on to reggae. True story.

    Also, Train in Vain is a Robert Johnson reference (No, I didn’t look that up on Wikipedia. I wrote that on Wikipedia).

    Radio Clash is still probably my favorite Clash song, the single version (acknowledging this fully aware that it’s not the answer the ‘cool kids’ would give, but I still think it’s a great song).

    …you’ve never been on a roller coaster?

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