Monday, March 16, 2009

March 16: The Clash, "London Calling"

Artist: The Clash
Album: London Calling
Year: 1979
Label: Epic

Every once in a great while, an album comes out that is so surprisingly amazing, they should make it a law that everyone must own a copy. Most of the time, when such an album is released, it not only defines a genre, but often an entire generation as well. As 1979 came to an end, a UK quartet was determined to make the "punk" sound and ideals rule the world. The group: The Clash. The album: London Calling. The impact: immeasurable.

Everything about London Calling was revolutionary, from the artwork to the music to the marketing and everything in between. Perhaps as a signal that "old rock" was officially dead, the albums' cover is a tribute to Elvis Presley's 1956 debut. Everything about London Calling is fresh and original. For the record, the man on the cover is bassist Paul Simonon, and he is on stage at The Palladium in New York City. Since its release, the image is become nothing short of iconic for everything that it means to be a rock and roller.

Though it was released as a double album, the band demanded that it be sold at "single album" prices. In reality, The Clash had reached an agreement with their label to release one full album, and one 12" EP. However, when the album was delivered to CBS (Epic was a subsidiary label), it was two full albums worth of music. The pricing was an issue at first, but moving two million copies in a matter of weeks made it easier for the label to forgive the "mistake" by the band.

Fusing together rock, reggae, and punk rock, The Clash created a sound all their own. London Calling kicks off with the title track; a fist-pumping call to arms. A warning of "World War III," the song pulls influence from the "Three Mile Island" nuclear accident. The rest of the album showcases just how diverse The Clash were as a band. Songs ranging from SKA and reggae to rockabilly and even what one would consider "lounge" music all appear on London Calling. The fact that The Clash clearly had no regard for the "boundaries" of the genre is a statement in itself. Whether in the music, the lyrics, or simply the energy behind the songs, the punk aesthetic is present throughout; proving that punk is more than an image or style of dress (Sex Pistols = posers) and that "true" punk is in the heart and mind.

Lyrically, the words of The Clash are some of the most inflammatory and motivating words ever written. When it comes to vocalists to get people moving, Joe Strummer is high atop the list. The phrases he penned for London Calling range from the explicitly political ("London Calling," "Spanish Bombs") to songs about London's "SUS laws" ("The Right Profile") to songs of VERY odd nature for punk bands. Strummer also takes a moment for a quick "pot shot" at the former generation of musicians who swore they'd die before they got old ("Death or Glory".) The band also features Joe Strummer's take on the age-old story of "Stagger Lee" in the tune "Wrong 'e Boyo." Such diverse subject matter and musical styles usually end in a chaotic mess of an album, yet London Calling bucks the trend and is nothing short of spectacular.

One of those "odd" songs is "Lover's Rock." Well before it became a large social issue, the song finds The Clash warning young Brit's about unprotected sex. It's all summed up in the lines: "But nobody knows the poor babies name/When she forgot that thing that she had to swallow." For any band to tackle such a "taboo" issue was still unheard of; let alone a band on a "major" label. The song proves once again, that The Clash were going to do things exactly as they pleased, regardless of what anyone else thought.

Even after more than thirty years, The Clash remain one of the purest examples of a "working class" band. Their consistent "no frills" production, diversity in both musical style as well as lyrical content, and some of the most generally "accessible" music ever makes this band fall into the exclusive category of "bands nobody can hate." Whether yelling against the establishment, recalling his own childhood, or sending a warning to the youth, Joe Strummer sings with a voice and passion that cannot be ignored. The Clash are undoubtedly one of the most important bands ever, and London Calling is easily one of the best and most important records ever made.

Standout tracks: "London Calling," "Lost In The Supermarket," and "Death Or Glory."

No comments: