Annotations re: The Clash’s London Calling turning 40

snap of The Clash shared via Margereta Holmdahl, credit unknown

A few sundry/spontaneous  remarks about London Calling, The Clash’s remarkable album, turning 40 as well as a few miscellaneous  annotations about The Clash’s canon:

London Calling had the element of surprise as the world (or the record company) had no idea that this eclectic mix of americana, ska, rockabilly, mushy songs, political songs, fun songs, songs recorded in 1 take, a rock drummer playing like Ginger Baker without the prog and the almost alien guitar playing of Mick Jones. No one knew what to expect and it exploded as a secret, delivered mere hours before the EOY deadline.

The double LP was packed in one sleeve (to save label and fans money) and Train in Vain was Mick’s last minute addition (that’s why the mix sounds so different too) with Topper, no Joe or Paul on that track.

Huge credit to that album goes to the engineers who were used to recording and mixing cinematic sound (giving the album its expansive feel which evokes a spaghetti western’s bravado at times) as the producer on the album (Guy Stevens) was a drunken, spittling disaster often asleep under the mixing desk. But he coaxed rage and one take urgency and let the songs speed up (no click track) and several live from the floor. Then Mick and the engineers would tinker late night with Jones adding his stabbing backwards minor riffs here and there. Topper is flawless (and tiny and became a shitty story #heroin) but Joe’s guitar contribution wasn’t really as notable as his growth as a lyric writer which was astounding.

Much credit (albeit unfortunately) goes to self-made impresario and wanna-be svengali Bernie Rhodes who crash coursed Joe AKA “Don’t ever fucking call me Woody,” in Rimbaud, Kerouac, leftist manifestos, and stacks more of music and literature to expand his boundaries while in a fertile and creative condition.

After the rollicking and simply badass debut, then the middling “Give them Enough Rope” which produced (at least) “one of their best ever” in Safe European Home written locked up and shaking in a Kingston hotel room in fulfillment of their dream to visit Jamaica (Topper and Paul stupidly left behind #budget) while they arrived right in the midst of pre-election violence. Poor planning and lack of exposure to “real” bloodshed in the streets sent them home quickly.

Was that the end of them? Nope, they sequestered in a stinky leaky studio and defied all record execs, outsiders and naysayers and made a jewel.

After the critical, and sure commercial success, the band could write their ticket and rapidly rode their collaborative wave with Sandanista which is their *cough* “art” album – meaning, no constraints to speak of. You can pick it apart all you want but they wouldn’t nor shouldn’t care.

Of course, this is the point in any band’s story where friction, habits, relationships, lifestyles, points of view, evolving social consciousnesses, division of wealth and labour, resentment for toomuch/lackof creative input, tiny fiefdoms, whispering would-be managers, PR agents gone rogue, exhaustion, indifference creeps into bands and festers. At that point the clock ticks.

Combat Rock, despite commercial success and my personal love of spoken/sung Straight to Hell, is oddly the weakest studio effort, produced with the coldness of musicians passing like ships through shag-carpeted hallway rounding a corner for a smoke by the bin.

The rest of “The Clash’s” offering (the band now Joe, Paul and various sidemen) – which is the “Cut The Crap” (appropriately named album and supporting tour in 1984 i saw as a 13 year old when i hopped stage to sing White Riot with Joe…), oh and more occasionally, punk journeyman Terry Chimes, BUT while Mick stuck first with oddly-ahead-of-the-time B.I.G. (which Clash fans didn’t really seem to care about, they’d moved on), Joe’s later work is illuminating, generous, curious and shows a eclectic sense of world beat/styles without getting all Paul Simon/Peter Gabriel on us.

Noteworthy are the albums with the Mescaleros and the Earthquake Weather made on the heels of The Clash to fulfill a requirement, presages what was next for Joe, that was: coming full circle, sharing folks stories and songs via wireless and around campfires, hopping in with anyone (even “rescuing” the stumbling Pogues), yup, all the way back to Woody.

I *could* listen to the radio shows, but Joe told me, “The Future is Unwritten” and “dave listened to a radio show” isn’t the story Joe or the world needs.

As for Mick, he kinda went Hollywood-ish i guess but never had his teeth fixed. Punk rock or just English? He remains a dean of the evolution of rock but i feel he has gifts to share, young guitars to mentor and another statement to make.

Paul just off being handsome & kickass (Havana 3am well reviewed by pals but frankly never took the chance, yet…)i’d also buy the Topper Headon plays Levon Helm album in a minute.

End of Dispatch. Best album, no further comment at this time. 

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Bonus: 3 song set, 1 by Joe, 1 by Mick, 1 by Paul

Notes:

Dave: PS by B.I.G. of course i mean B.A.D.

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Matt A: Excellent remarks!! Love to hear about you on stage with The Clash (what was left of it by then…) as s kid! Glad you mentioned “Straight to Hell”, one of my long time favs along with Magnificent Seven, No Justice Tonight, and of course, The Ghetto Defendant.

Johnny and I used to love to quote the “do the worm on acropolis, slamdance cosmopolis, enlighten the populous” line as kids…
Love the Joe S and the New Mescalaros stuff too…

Dave Olson: I have a few artifacts from this concert I’ve been meaning to spread more widely, including the ticket stub and a few photos of the stage take over. And I have the T-shirt, although it’s really just the tattered remains of a T-shirt at this point

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Headslifestyle HQ: Combat Rock has aged well. Some great tracks on there.

Dave Olson: I guess I get a little bit cynical because of the commercial success or something… Will give it some fresh spins. Straight to hell is an undeniable classic

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S.W (Guam): I have that album. It’s in great condition; I played part of it once, and never touched it again.

Dave Olson: In spiels about physical versus content rights, I often reference London calling as I lve purchased it in so many forms over the years. That said, I can send you my address and take the London calling off your hands :-)

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Gabriel W.: Mick Jones is the model of punk rock evolution. Always challenging the sound, the expectations, the listener, the art expression and the business model. And, really, it doesn’t get much more punk rock than getting kicked out of the very band you started.

Dave Olson: Also very punk rock is the fact that he recorded & attached train in vain after the album art had been printed, just so he would have a song that he wrote and sang on the album that he more or less produced/engineered. What’s he up to these days I wonder? He seems like a most wonderful gentleman as well

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CLT (OlyWA): Lost in the the supermarket is punk pop genius… Hateful aint half bad but I do adore Give ’em enough rope. Middling?!? Each track a gem esp. Tommy Gun.

Dave Olson: CLT (OlyWA) yup tommy is great track as is safe European home / queuing it up – Loving the support for give ‘em enough rope and combat rock, will dig into both of them to try to elevate them to the same level as my beloved London calling

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The best article from the recent barrage of coverage for the 40th anniversary (from The Irish Times)

London Calling 40 years on: How The Clash rewrote the rule book

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I’m not one for lists, nor for sharing links, but tossing this out there just for amusement and recollection of a few erstwhile classics you might have forgotten somehow. *Shockingly* Ghetto Defendant isn’t on the list but, again… Lists are arbitrary and false and it made for nostalgia, and in this case clicks and comments blah blah blah still, the Clash.

The Guardian: The Clash’s 40 greatest songs – ranked!