Classic Album of the Month: London Calling by The Clash

For the first instalment, there could only be one musical masterpiece to begin with. A real trip through rock and roll, stopping at country and western along the way before settling at its final destination in the explosive wake of punk-rock – the seminal London Calling by the only band that matters: The Clash.

Released in 1979, the pioneers of punk continued to move into new territory. After bursting onto the scene three years previously as one of the leading lights of the fledgling finger to society culture of head-banging and three chord anger, the four-piece were now a ‘proper’ act. The Clash had always been the soothing presence to the controversial Sex Pistols and, after the implosion of Johnny Rotten and his merry men, they were out on their own leading the punk world into the nineteen eighties.

London Calling is a maelstrom of musical mayhem and maturity. The buzzing and barking frontman, Joe Strummer, was still performing his electric leg move and caterwauling tunelessly over the rhythmic rock beats of guitarist Mick Jones. Paul Simonon provided the throbbing bass to cymbal smasher Nicky ‘Topper’ Headon’s drums. By the end of the decade, The Clash had thrown off the restrictive shackles of being ‘just another punk band’ and had started to swagger into the world of meaty riffs, lover’s tiffs and smoking spliffs. London Calling was the result of experience, influence and confidence, something most other punk bands could only dare to branch out to.

The ice age is coming/the sun’s zooming in/meltdown infected/the wheat is growing thin”.

From the opening chords of the album’s title track, the band set out their stall. A stall stacked high with reggae rebellion, funky fun, jazzy jams and snarling satire. The downbeat ‘Lost in the Supermarket’ featuring alongside the punchy ‘Clampdown’ explained the brave new world of The Clash in microcosm. It was a universe of Johnny Cash, The Mighty Diamonds and Mott the Hoople and one in which kicking out at the establishment or sticking safety pins through their ears came a pale second to making a great rock record; and making one for their fans who they, famously, never ever forgot.

After the initial energy and frenetic pace of punk rock, the following few years saw a vacuum created in the world of rock and roll. The days of boring prog-rock were over, disco ruled the charts and Johnny Rotten, once the black sheep of middle-class Britain, had retreated into the shadows of mainstream anonymity. Into this black hole came London Calling. A four-sided record full of all the delights of Strummer’s rockabilly obsession, of Simonon’s love of Jamaican music, of Mick Jones and his shredding Mott-inspired guitar, of Headon and his head for jazz.

“I wanna phone up Robin Hood/and ask him for some/wealth distribution”.

Well worth a listen, the songs range from the nuclear holocaust predicted in the opening track to a tribute to tragic actor Montgomery Clift; from the race riots of ‘The Guns of Brixton’ to the hidden track, ‘Train in Vain’, a Mick Jones composition, which sounds much more like a disco-rock hybrid than a single from a so-called ‘pure punk’ outfit. London Calling is, and probably always will be, the ONLY rock and roll album that you should listen to if you are a rock rookie.

What’s your favourite classic album? Get in touch and let us know which album you’d like us to review next month!