Back in February, I wrote of my late mother’s love of music and how her love of music influenced my love. Well, Mom loved Easter. Every holiday brought out the art teacher in Mom, but, for some reason, Easter was her holiday. Maybe, it had to do with her favorite time of the year Spring. Or, maybe, it had to do with her religious beliefs of the soul’s renewal. Or, maybe, she simply loved decorating eggs for the Easter Bunny to hide. To me, it was a combination of those reasons and much more. Whatever the reason, as I got older, I played along, still coloring those eggs with her into my early twenties. And, she always encouraged my brother and me to be creative with them, even though we both knew the ultimate endgame for these eggs were to become deviled eggs for the church pitch-in the next day. So, we had eggs decorated as the members of Kiss for four straight years, camouflaged eggs courtesy of my military-minded brother, eggs decorated as the members of The Police, eggs that looked like the cover of Grateful Dead albums, sports eggs (especially baseball players or just boring old footballs) or whatever else my brother’s weird mind could envision.
But, as I got into eighth grade, Mom would just buy me a package of jellybeans (the ONLY thing I had in common with President Reagan!) and an album. I strung together some hands down classics during that stretch from 1977 through 1981. In 1977, I got Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, followed by, in order, The Cars’ The Cars, Blondie’s Parallel Lines, and, in 1980, London Calling by The Clash. Then, in 1981, I got two EPs: Devo Live and Extended Play by Pretenders. While I loved them all, London Calling was THE album. It was perfect, from beginning to end, and remains that way to this day. I guess I am still in touch with that angry teen now that I am entering the age of senior discounts. I really thought I would have mellowed out by now, and I have to a certain extent. But, I still get worked up whenever I see people getting mistreated by those in power, and I guess that moral indigence will remain with me until my death.
If you are a rock fan, and if you are reading this drivel then you must be, you know this album for the two bookend songs. The first one, “London Calling,” is the call-to-arms for a generation of youth to see through the Orwellian actions of conservative governments throughout the world and step up to counteract everything. Then, there’s the last song, the nineteenth on the album, the one whose title is perversely left off the listing on the album, the hit song “Train in Vain (Stand by Me)”. Those are the songs that are still played to this day. However, I maintain that the album’s true brilliance resides in the remaining 17 songs.
London Calling proved that the band had learned to play their instruments and create songs that sound like a tour through the American musical catalogue, both rural and urban. Joe Strummer, Mike Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon came together to create one album that encompasses everything that was great about rock/pop/punk music at the turn of the decade. We get an obscure Fifties cover song in “Brand New Cadillac” every bit as poignant as their earlier cover of the Bobby Fuller Five’s “I Fought the Law,” followed by a song that could have cleaned up and made into a hit by Bobby Darin called “Jimmy Jazz.”
The band sticks to its punkish roots with “Hateful,” then give a glam-like “Rudie Can’t Fail.” And, if you think the band forgot about it’s left-wing politics, then listen to “Spanish Bombs,” “The Right Profile,” “Clampdown,” “The Guns of Brixton” and “Revolution Rock” to get a refresher. But, be warned, they’ve cleaned up the production quality so these songs could have fit nicely onto the radio. Then, as if to make a statement to Blondie that they weren’t the only punk band who could make a quality disco-rock song, along comes the working class anthem “Lost in the Supermarket,” the band’s first foray into New York’s burgeoning hip hop culture that would pay dividends in 1981 on their triple-album follow-up Sandinista! and the one-off single “Radio Clash.”
This album is loaded with great songs, as you move from Motown-ish soul to flat out rock anthems. There is nary a wrong note or lyric. Even the artwork on the cover is perfect. First, there is the iconic photograph of bassist Paul Simonon getting ready to just wreck his bass during a performance at the legendary New York Palladium from September 1979. Next, the band used the same lettering and coloring that graced the cover of Elvis Presley’s debut album from 1957 as a homage. And, to cap everything off, was the sticker placed on the album’s packaging proclaiming, “The Only Band That Matters,” putting an exclamation upon the greatest album ever recorded.
No band ever reached for so much and grabbed the whole opportunity by the balls and made it their own. This album was completed and recorded with a sense of urgency, not only to pay the bills but to change society. And, The Clash did this in the short term and the long term. This is an album for the ages, every bit as important as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. Youngsters, yes, the Sex Pistols made a huge initial splash, but for the long run, The Clash is the band from the punk movement that matters.