Next month sees the passing of another significant punk Ruby anniversary. 14th December marks the 40th anniversary of the UK release of ‘London Calling’, the third studio album offering from The Clash, hailed by the majority as their finest and by some, the finest ‘punk’ album of all time. Rolling Stone went even further, declaring it to be the greatest album of the entire 1980’s decade (the album was released in America in January 1980). From a personal perspective, I still prefer the rawness and anger that comes through on the first album (even if it does sound as tinny as hell), but even so I do recognise the quality of the material and appreciate the vast progression that the album makes from ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’.
The Clash took a risk in that they released ‘London Calling’ as a double album, a musical concept more closely associated with the ‘dinosaur’ rock bands that new bands such as The Clash and their contemporaries scorned as overindulgent, pampered has-beens who’s time was up. To follow in such sauropod footsteps just three years after punks ‘Year Zero’ was quite courageous, but the material was good enough to carry their new and varied sound across four sides of vinyl. Of course, the idea was pushed too far when the follow-up ‘Sandinista!’ was released twelve months later as a triple album. Even the most die-hard fans of the band that I know will freely admit that this was pure overindulgence on the part of The Clash!
8th December 1979
The Clash however were used to courting negative press for their actions ever since they signed to major label CBS, flying in the face of punk’s sworn underground, DIY ethic. Nevertheless, The Clash rode that particular storm and by 1979 had become something of a regular gigging rock band following the tried and tested album/tour routine (in fairness to The Clash the same was true for many of the other survivors of The Summer of Hate). Joe Strummer seemed to recognise this contradiction in the band when he penned the lyrics to one of ‘London Callings’ finest cuts, ‘Death or Glory’.
‘And every gimmick hungry yob digging gold from rock 'n' roll
Grabs the mike to tell us he'll die before he's sold
But I believe in this and it's been tested by research
He who fucks nuns will later join the church’.
According to Nicky ‘Topper’ Headon, the key to the runaway success of the album was that, unlike the first two albums (where the creative process only started once the band entered the studio), so much ground work was done on ‘London Calling’ in advance of planned studio time.
8th December 1979
Despite The Clash's earlier proclamations of being ‘so bored with the USA’, the band were at this time enjoying considerable success in America. In many ways this was achieved on the back of the ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’ album which was produced in a manner intended to appeal to the ear of the Stateside music consumer. This in turn lead to an American tour with its associated endless hours of arrow straight driving between cities that afforded the bands principal songwriters, Messers Strummer and Jones, ample time to craft songs for the next album.
Joe Strummer at the piano
London Calling..... Rudie Can’t Fail (a big one in our household (Son is called Rudi!))...... Lost In The Supermarket..... Spanish Bombs.... The Right Profile.... Guns of Brixton... classics one and all!
To the old gezzers and she-geezers that occasionally take the time to read some of my ramblings, I urge you to take the time this coming weekend to dust down the vinyl and give ‘London Calling’ a birthday blast whilst raising a beer to a ground-breaking album.
Just ask Elvis!