In many ways, 1979 was the last hurrah for the Punk rock revolution, the Sex Pistols had imploded, and Sid Vicious was dead. Post-Punk was quickly becoming the new music movement to get behind with last weeks record Unknown Pleasures being released the same year. If Unknown Pleasures was the first post-punk album, this is the last original punk album. Although, one could mistake this for simply a Rock ‘n’ Roll album.
Arguably the biggest thing to happen to change the landscape of Punk rock was the fact that the musicians were actually learning to play their instruments. Johnny Rotten himself embraced Post-Punk and New Wave music with Public Image Limited after growing disillusioned with the amateurish playing of Punk.
The Clash were no exception, their 1979 US tour involved such opening acts as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Bo Diddley. These American Rhythm and Blues artists had a profound impact on the Clash, and this influence showed itself with London Calling. As far as this record is concerned, six songs in particular stand out; London Calling, Rudie Can’t Fail, Jimmy Jazz, Spanish Bombs, Guns of Brixton, and Lost in the Supermarket.
Where to begin with this album; for one, it has a strong case for being the single greatest album post-Beatles. The Punk backdrop, mixed with elements of Jazz, Blues and Reggae makes for a unique collection of music.
Let’s start with the titular track of the album, London Calling. If there were an anthem for British punk, this is it. Unlike Joy Division, where each individual artist is doing their own thing, The Clash worked together perfectly as a unit. The song starts with a coordinated wave of the guitar of Mick Jones and Joe Strummer, with the matching drumming of Topper Headon fitting in perfectly before the rolling bassline of Paul Simonon completes the melody. The contained chaos of the opening instrumental is broken by the stellar vocals of Joe Strummer, maintaining the style of early Punk vocalists. London Calling perfectly sets the tempo for the rest of the album with its depiction of the dying art of Punk.
The next noteworthy track on London Calling is Jimmy Jazz, a complete step away from the more aggressive sound of the opening song. In many ways, the change between the two perfectly sums up what the Clash were doing with this album, London Calling is the clash walking away from punk, and embracing a more American sound. The slow tempo and soulful singing almost make this a blues song, with just the right hint of Jazz.
Rudie Can’t Fail is an out-and-out Reggae song, the use of horn instruments and the addictive rhythm just go to show the experimental nature of this record. The lyrics are a nod of appreciation to the “Rude Boys” of Jamaica. This song tells the story of a charismatic youngster who challenges the status quo and is looked down upon for it, the fearless protagonist of this song acts as a fitting metaphor for the Punk rock mentality of the Clash, which is still evident in London Calling.
Spanish Bombs is a delicate throwback to the peak of Punk music with a dash of Pop music trademarks, the tightly connected guitar riffs clashes beautifully with the shared vocal talent of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones. Strummer wrote the song after hearing about a terror attack in Spain, prompting memories of the struggles in Northern Ireland. Simple but catchy, Spanish Bombs is an impressive addition to the Clash’ growing artistic repertoire.
Guns of Brixton takes the anti-authority sentiment of earlier Clash material and the beat of progressive Reggae music. It was penned and sung by bassist Paul Simonon, who grew up around Brixton. Lyrically, this is arguably the most politicised song on the album, with racial tensions and police brutality at the centre Simonon’s crosshairs. There is an inherent paranoia and cynicism in the lyrics, which creates an interesting juxtaposition when sung to the upbeat music of Jones, Strummer and Headon.
Another politicised track on London Calling is Lost in the Supermarket, what at first seems like a song about ones’ loneliness or desperation, it’s actually more poignant than you’d think. Effectively, Lost in the Supermarket is a middle finger to consumer capitalism. As you listen to this record chronologically, a trend begins to emerge, whilst aesthetically, the band were looking to different forms of music for inspiration, the lyricism still remains embedded in the grassroots angst of Punk rock. In this case, the protagonist expresses frustration with rampant consumerism, Youth alienation and suburban life are also areas of inspiration for this song.
To summarise London Calling in one word, I’d say it was complete. A plethora of different musical genres, lyrical tropes and recording methods are utilised to astounding effect. London Calling is the complete album. Give it a listen, it’ll help you to ignore the stigma that all punks are gobshites.
Written by Sam Revivo