Music History

It Was 35 Years Ago Sunday That the Clash Released London Calling

It hit the stores on December 14, 1979.  And it’s still an awesome record.

Punk has burned bright through 1976-78, but was definitely out of gas by mid ’79, its anger and rage spent and the novelty of two minute two-chord songs had worn thin. Post-punk acts–bands that weren’t punk but you could tell by listening to them that punk had to have happened–were beginning to take over. Joy Division. Siouxsie and the Banshees. Elvis Costello.

The Clash knew they were at a crossroads. After two albums of white-hot punk, they had to evolve or die. The result was London Calling, an album that rewrote what it meant to be a punk band–and what “punk” could mean to everyone else.

Instead of songs that were fast and angry, the Clash brought trucked in new influences.  Rockabilly (their cover of Vince Taylor’s “Brand New Cadillac”), dub reggae (Paul Simonon’s menacing “Guns of Brizton”), soul and pop AND a horn section “Rudie Can’t Fail”), Top 40 sensibilities (“Train in Vain”)  plus dashes of ska, lounge-y jazz and dollops of R&B. Oh, and the title track is some serious hard rock.

In short, London Calling was more broad, more complex and more experimental than anything any other punk band had done. It’s now regarded as one of the greatest rock’n’roll albums of all time. Period. Full stop. Case closed.

Rolling Stone would later declare London Calling the best album of the 80s. Here’s what they said in their original review of the album:

Merry and tough, passionate and large-spirited, London Calling celebrates the romance of rock & roll rebellion in grand, epic terms. It doesn’t merely reaffirm the Clash’s own commitment to rock-as-revolution. Instead, the record ranges across the whole of rock & roll’s past for its sound, and digs deeply into rock legend, history, politics and myth for its images and themes. Everything has been brought together into a single, vast, stirring story — one that, as the Clash tell it, seems not only theirs but ours. For all its first-take scrappiness and guerrilla production, this two-LP set — which, at the group’s insistence, sells for not much more than the price of one — is music that means to endure. It’s so rich and far-reaching that it leaves you not just exhilarated but exalted and triumphantly alive.

Billboard looks back on the album track-by-track here. And coming up in January, a full Ongoing History of New Music episode will be dedicated to the making of this brilliant record.

(Billboard link via Tom)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38427 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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