In 1980, I became a HUGE fan of The Clash. London Calling was, and probably continues to be, my favorite album – EVER! That album spoke to me emotionally, psychologically, politically, sociologically, just to list a few of the levels on which this perfect album influenced me. Lyrically, The Clash freed my mind, while rocking me like no other album before it had. London Calling, in case you do not remember, was a double album that was sold for the price of a single album, a bargain in any way you look at it. Then, you throw in the fact that it is now considered to be a rock classic, it was, for a lack of a better word, a steal.
So, being one of the first converts to The Clash in my school in Central Indiana, I was kind of look at as an odd ball. But, I was looked at that way regardless of the band I was listening to, be it Journey, Funkadelic, Chic or The Clash. In my first attempt to write album reviews in our school newspaper, I wrote a glowing review of London Calling. In the aftermath, the good news of The Clash was spread to couple more music aficionados, who bought the album. I doubt it that they told two friends, who then told two friends and so on and so on. My influence has NEVER been that viral.
So, imagine my surprise when I picked up a Rolling Stone magazine at the end of 1980 and discovered that The Clash was releasing a new album called Sandinista! After that, I was scouring the record and department stores in the area searching for the album, which was a triple album being sold for the price of one-and-a-half albums! Finally, in early 1980, I found Sandinista! And, what a glorious mess it was!
First, what kind of balls did it take for a band from England to title their new album after the group of left-wing rebels who were trying to overthrow the corrupt US-backed right wing regime in the small Central American country of Nicaragua. I loved that this album, based upon its title alone, was flying in the face of our recently elected President and his short-term view of democracy. You see, the majority of people in Nicaragua wanted the Sandinistas to run the country. But, Reagan’s view of democracy did not really include the will of the people. It, much like today, was and is the will of the few, powerful and rich. In this climate, The Clash was determined to make the ultimate statement of left-wing-based democracy. Nothing was off the board, except, maybe, for cohesiveness.
You see, 1980, The Clash had proven they had learned how to play their instruments and wanted to go in any direction their collective muse took them. Unfortunately, that led to the beginning of the fission of the band. Mick Jones, the big Mott the Hoople fan he was, wanted to follow his pop side, as well as the new hip hop sounds he heard while on tour in New York City. Joe Strummer, on the other hand, wanted to take this punk ethos further in basic rock sounds and reggae. And, this division in vision is all over this album. You get a reggae song here, a funk workout there, a jazz tune, followed by a Motown-via-The Jam song. The album is chalk full of dub experiments, hip hop-sounding trials, a power pop track or two, and even a gospel song. It’s as though the boys were on a manic high and could not focus on the best songs, so they just released everything. Everything, that is except for their most glorious statement of the time period, the 12″ single “This Is Radio Clash”.
For a person who has been described as the poster child of ADHD, this mix is spectacular. But, after six sides of this mania, you just come away exhausted. And, therein, is the rub. Where the double-album tour-de-force of London Calling‘s eclectic nature is laser focused, Sandinista!‘s “throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks” mentality becomes overwhelming, even for the biggest of Clash apologists out there. Still, in the midst of the plethora of music on these six sides, there is one album’s worth of great music. But, you have to be patient to find it. Still, it is a fun listen if you have a couple of hours to do so.
No, Sandinista! is NOT London Calling on steroids. Instead, it is a sprawling forerunner to U2’s “I Love America” experiment on Rattle & Hum. Those two albums are of the same kindred spirit. Both bands were coming off their career-making albums, where they displayed a mastery of their instruments. Then, both bands stayed in the States to make these albums that showed their excitement for all the different types of music this country has produced. Unfortunately, both failed because they lacked focus.
Still, I would much rather listen to a band trying to reach for something great and fail, than listening to an artist simply riding the latest musical trend. Did you hear me Mr. Timberlake?