I’ve been sitting here for a while now trying to think of a topic for a blog. After all it’d be a bit slack not to have written a blog for the entire month of February. I thought about talking about the Oscars but that’s already covered, thought about talking about my cat but I’m not entirely sure anyone really wants to read about another person’s pets. That might have to come in a different blog. I may as well make a dagnabbit list of the albums that have most inspired me over the years. It’s a list that many an OCD music listener creates in their head over the years and argues with fellow music listeners at parties, work places and other social occasions about. It’s a list that’s probably irrelevant as music is subjective and who really gives a fuck about what some other dude rates as his favourites. I’m probably also not going to be able to offer you any surprises because my favourite albums are mostly other peoples classics as well (which probably testifies to the strength of them, or my own mainstream tastes). Well anyhow, here’s the first of these blogs, focussing on…
The Clash – London Calling
I first got the album summer of 2005, at the time not yet fully a Clash fan. I had previously only had The Essential compilation of Clash singles, album tracks and b-sides and upon receiving some music vouchers for Christmas, headed down to The Warehouse to pick up a stack of CDs. One of these I chose was the deluxe edition of London Calling, an album which had recently had been the subject of retrospective documentaries screened on local music station C4. I guess they were looking for cheap content to fill their schedules, and their screening decision would create at least one new Clash fan.
It didn’t take long for me to love London Calling. The week following that Christmas I would listen to the album while reading a book I received on tyrants throughout the ages. For some reason the album seemed the perfect soundtrack, with songs such as “Spanish Bombs” discussing the same exotic locations and violent histories as the book. I still associate the album with that book and that summer, it’s interesting how our mind creates such associations. About a week later I would be driving up to Central Otago with my Dad, London Calling blasting in the car. It suddenly clicked and I realised I loved every song on the album. I think I asked my Dad something such as this; “These songs are all so good, but I can’t figure out why?” to which he replied; “They’re catchy”. It was a simple answer but one that continues to resonate with me. It is indeed a freaking catchy album, so perhaps that, combined with the large variation of styles (reggae, rockabilly, jazz, pop etc), the inspired lyrical content and the great musicianship on display is what makes it such a good album.
The stories of the recording of the album are well documented, with Guy Stevens causing havoc, being a drunken bastard and probably creating the atmosphere that allowed The Clash to really let rip, something they were denied with the recording of Give ‘Em Enough Rope. The recording of the album also coincided with the emergence of the full potential of the bands talents. Mick Jones’ composition and arrangement skills are suddenly head and shoulders above what had previously been pressed to vinyl, just listen to “The Card Cheat” for evidence of this. Joe Strummers lyrics have gone global, hinting at what would come on Sandinista!, with politics (“Spanish Bombs”), the Armageddon (“London Calling”), drug dealers (“Hateful”), Montgomery Clift (“The Right Profile”), factory work (“Clampdown”) and more being the subject of his witty punk lyricism. Jones also provides varying lyrical content on the tracks he sings, discussing the break-up of his then girlfriend Viv Albertine in “Train In Vain” (Mick Jones would catch the train to visit his girlfriend yet would often leave disappointed and unsatisfied, hence ‘Train In Vain’) and also “I’m Not Down” as well as the anthem for alienation in our capitalist culture “Lost in the Supermarket”. Paul Simonon’s bass playing is getting stronger and catchier and the album holds his first song writing credit and the first track with Simonon on vocals, the classic “Guns Of Brixton”. Finally Topper Headon, the best drummer The Clash ever had and possibly one of the greatest rock drummers of all time is allowed to fully let rip, showing off all the r&b, jazz, blues, reggae and rock chops that the man is capable of.
It’s a double album yet doesn’t have a single weak track on it, which one cannot say for many other double albums (although for today’s standards it’s about the length of one full 80 min CD). The Clash would follow this album up just a year later with the triple album Sandinista! which on the other hand does have a fair amount of filler within its sleeves, yet is an album that I hold just as dare to me, perhaps even more so than London Calling, due to the share ‘who-gives-a-fuck’ experimentation of it all and the continued ability of the band to write really catchy songs. Combat Rock in 1982 would be the bands last studio album with this line-up, and then that’s just about it for the history of the best band to come out of the 70s UK punk scene. Better to burn out than to fade away I guess.
Probably the greatest Rock n Roll album of all time, recorded by ‘the only band that matters’. Joe Strummer, Topper Headon, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon created in 1979 an album that many continue to bash 34 years later. I’ve been bashing it now for 8 years and I predict many more will follow.