[Today: Redrawing the boundaries of Punk…]
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: London Calling