Posts Tagged ‘Guy Stevens’

Masterpiece: London Calling

24 July 2009

[Today: Redrawing the boundaries of Punk…]

The Clash | London Calling

London Calling upped the ante considerably on what a punk album could be, and in the process provided the final fissure in a genre that was about to crack into a thousand pieces. Coming as it did during a time when lesser punk bands were forced to walk the plank for such transgressions as playing their instruments well, exploring other genres, and generally rocking out, London Calling was a fearless exploration of sounds and ideas. The album art was a stylistic nod to Elvis Presley’s 1956 RCA debut, and the music within provided a living link to the greased up Rock & Roll of the 1950’s.

Here The Clash dip into many different musical styles, from reggae (‘Rudie Can’t Fail’) to rockabilly (‘Brand New Cadillac’) and beyond, and explores far-flung topics such as anti-racism (‘Clampdown’), Montgomery Clift (‘The Right Profile’), fidelity (‘Train In Vain’), existentialism (‘Lost In The Supermarket’), and of course, the apocalypse (‘Four Horseman’ and the title track). Producer Guy Stevens had a first-take-is-good-enough philosophy and was known to bust up studio furniture to get the band in the proper mood to play. That rough intensity, along with the band’s revolutionary zeal, drives the album through its breadth of sound and depth of ideas, making this a super-charged gallop through the history of rock.

With 19 tracks spread over two LPs, this sprawling, ambitious album reached far beyond where punk had ever attempted to go before. These songs proved that the fire of punk needn’t be fueled by small-minded, two-chord simplicity, and the genre never really snapped back to the narrow boundaries that had previously defined it. The Clash were the thinking man’s punk group and also the rock fan’s punk group, and those crossovers made them the object of punk suspicion and scorn. But nearly three decades later, London Calling stands as a slice of pure rock & roll rebellion that helped redeem the artistic ambitions of the very punks that sneered at it on release.

Released in mid-December of 1979, London Calling was both the last album of the 70’s and the first album of the 80’s – a great, solid bridge between two very different decades of music, and one of the very best albums ever recorded.

Listen: Revolution Rock

Listen: Clampdown

Listen: London Calling

Doubleshot Tuesday: American Graffiti/ London Calling

13 January 2009

[Today: The hidden roots of Punk…]

Various Artists | American Graffiti Original Soundtrack
The Clash | London Calling

The term ‘punk’ originated in the 1950’s as a colorful put-down of the sneering, leather-jacketed hoodlums of the day. It wouldn’t be used to describe the rough-hewn musical genre until Creem magazine hotshots Lester Bangs and Dave Marsh starting using it that way around 1970. Nobody will ever confuse Del Shannon with The Dead Boys, or ‘Love Potion No. 9’ with ‘God Save The Queen’, but Punk took much more from 50’s rock-n-rollers than just sartorial cues and a genre heading.

The American Graffiti soundtrack is stacked with 2-minute jolts of youthful energy that are played with a minimum amount of technical skill and a maximum amount of enthusiasm. The running order is divided between well-known artists (Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Booker T & The MGs, Bill Haley & The Comets, and more) and relative unknowns who struck it big for a hit or two (including Mark Dinning, The Crests, The Skyliners, and The Tempos). Every tune here is an instantly recognizable ‘golden oldie’, but these songs still sound fresh and wild – from a time when the rules of rock hadn’t yet been written. Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around The Clock’ caused riots in movie theaters in 1955 when it was shown over the opening credits to the movie The Blackboard Jungle – it and the rest of the songs chosen for American Graffiti retain a rough, powerful edge.

With London Calling – their epic 1979 double album – The Clash came as close as any punk band ever did to paying explicit homage to the rock-n-roll roots of Punk. The album’s second track, ‘Brand New Cadillac’, was a revved-up cover of a 1959 B-side by Vince Taylor and The Playboys. The song was captured by producer Guy Stevens as The Clash were warming up, unaware that they were being recorded. This brilliant stroke produced a song so vital and energetic that, minus a few well-placed curse words, it would fit right into the American Graffiti soundtrack. Of course, Clash albums reflect so many musical styles – most notably Reggae and R&B – that it’s easy to forget that the wide-eyed thrust of early rock-n-roll is a serious foundation of their sound.

Playing the original punk in the 1953 movie The Wild One, Marlon Brando is famously asked “What are you rebelling against?” His response (“What’ve you got?”) sums up both the working philosophy of The Clash, and the underlying ethos of punk rock in general.

Listen: Do You Wanna Dance [Bobby Freeman – from American Graffiti]

Listen: Brand New Cadillac [The Clash]

Listen: Maybe Baby [Buddy Holly – from American Graffiti]

Listen: Train In Vain (Stand By Me) [The Clash]