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#44 The Clash – London Calling

The first time that I bought a CD of any kind, I had bought the boxed set “Clash on Broadway”, a compilation of their works. I bought it for many reasons but most importantly the thought at the time that The Clash, in my eyes were deemed an band with an important message. It was the winter of ’91, about the time that I had heard Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ for the first time. I was just a freshman in college, seeing the world in a different light, with suburbia at a safe distance. Good music, for me, always seemed to have a message, whether it was rock, punk or folk. In their short career, the Clash became the blue collar band concerned with the well-being of everyday citizens rather than the elite.

‘London Calling from a faraway town, now war is declared and battle come down. . . ‘

The opening line from the title track ‘London Calling’ feels like an announcement, an all points bulletin, a perfect song to open up a politically charged double album with a wonderful bass line. The lyrics suggest concern both internationally, as well as struggles within the band as they were currently without management and had issues releasing the album over the length.

The album cover says it all. Paul Simonen crashing his guitar into the stage is such an iconic moment in the history of rock photography. The simple fact is that as iconic as this album cover is, it would just be a moment in time if not for the music contained within this double LP. London Calling solidifies, The Clash as one of the best. To have seen the Clash during their run would have been something special but alas I was a bit too young to be going to punk rock shows.

It was the same thing with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ that emotional moment when rock and roll as we knew it suddenly shriveled up and died.

But what the Clash do with London Calling is bring thoughtfulness to punk rock and not give it some fleeting legacy. Realize by this time the “sound” of Punk is beginning to wane, almost considered a bit of a fad. But punk was not necessarily about a sound but an idea, something that had escaped music. Many of the bands of the movement had stated concerns regarding the future and The Clash never tried to avoid their message, but rather just change the music behind it. There was still room for politics in lyrics, and musicianship that allows for the Clash to grow in terms of their sound.

It was not just Strummer that was writing songs but also Paul Simonen who wrote his first song as a member of the band: ‘Guns of Brixton’ a song that spoke of the growing tensions of that area at the time.

Strummer was still the mainstay writing such thoughtful songs like “Spanish Bombs”, a commentary about Spanish Basque terrorist bombings in resort hotels. “Lost in the Supermarket”, was concerned with the growing amount of commercialism in our society. Strummer, who actually grew up in a fairly well-to-do family decided that that life was not for him. He was a proponent of Socialism and songs like “Clampdown” are suggestive of the evils of capitalism in our society. Turn Back the Clock to 1979 and England was in the throws of a class struggle and in most cases all capitalism did, in his opinion, offer the incentive but no real way to succeed.

The Clash pushed away from the punk sound, continually adding different elements to their sound like reggae, ska and jazz to their music. Songs like “Rudie Can’t Fail’ show that diversity in their work.

Almost 35 years later, the album sounds as fresh today as it did back then. The topics seem the same, the issues still persist but the voices of Strummer and Jones are no longer. Who is going to take their place?

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