Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Clash - London Calling

Deserted island. Ten albums. What do you do?

When asked this old question, which is becoming rapidly outdated, the two albums I always fall back on are, Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Gaffiti,” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” That way I covered my two favorite bands, and my two favorite albums. But also, being pragmatic, the double albums always felt the best way to maximize the amount of music to enjoy on that deserted island that I have been thinking about for years.

An obvious third choice for the island, The Clash “London Calling.” It is a great album, and it is a double album, it only makes sense to include it on the island.

One time, I was sitting down trying to write a review for the album “London Calling,” and as I do, I am trying to pinpoint the conversation to a single song. So, I puzzled over this difficult question “what is my favorite song from The Clash’s ‘London Calling.’” That was five years ago.

I have been thinking about this for a long time.

There is a very good reason why “London Calling” is considered one of the greatest albums of all time, actually there are several reasons, but a primary key to this, is the consistent quality through out the album. There are nineteen songs in total:
  • London Calling 
  • Brand New Cadillac 
  • Jimmy Jazz 
  • Hateful 
  • Rudie Can’t Fail 
  • Spanish Bombs 
  • The Right Profile 
  • Lost in the Supermarket 
  • Clampdown 
  • The Guns of Brixton 
  • Wrong ‘Em Boyo 
  • Death or Glory 
  • Kola Kola 
  • The Card Cheat 
  • Lover’s Rock 
  • Four Horsemen 
  • I’m Not Down 
  • Revolution Rock 
  • Train in Vain 
Every single song on the album is an eight or nine out of ten. I am probably being too hard by not awarding a single ten out of ten, but that is just how I feel. Regardless, every single song, nineteen of them, all lean on the great side of the spectrum of quality. What a total success of song writing.

Early work on the album was leading it towards a concept album about crime in London, with characters like the card cheat, and Jimmy Jazz is a crime boss, “Clampdown” tying in nicely to that theme as well. As I understand it, the plan was to focus on songs about London, and as they explored ideas they ended up covering a lot of topics, just as London is a large metropolis with a lot going on, “London Calling” rapidly became an album about a great many things.

One thing leads to another, and one song about the thing or event affecting London can lead to tangents about something else, and “London Calling,” the album, has a number of songs which are not connected to the city but are connected to The Clash and the sort of things they were thinking about. I felt the need to add this paragraph, just in case someone points out a song like “Spanish Bombs,” which is clearly about the Spanish Civil War and nothing to do with London, like I am not an idiot, I know that, but it is connected tangentially as it is a politically charged song that is probably linked to another song of similar theme on the album like “London Calling,” well kind of anyway.

The point is, a lot is tackled in “London Calling” and the ideas there in expand beyond the largest city in the United Kingdom.

The titular song “London Calling” is a perfect blend of the various themes within the album’s whole. Obviously, this song is about London, the city, but it plays to multiple purposes. I have often read that “London Calling” is an Armageddon song, about not only about a disaster ending the metropolis of London but also the world. I never really believed that, or the theories suggesting that it was about a natural disaster whipping out London. I knew there was something else there, something political, something personal.

One way to look at “London Calling,” the song, is to assess it as a war devastating London, however it is highly doubtful that a literal war is what Joe Strummer is singing about, more likely it is a symbolic one, like a clash between the rich and poor. 1979 was a very different time and a common attitude from the youth of that era, was that there was no future and the world, at least England, was on a slippery slope edging nearer and nearer to disaster. Furthermore, the punks of that time had no faith in the previous generation whatsoever to fix these problems, and even less confidence in the government, whom they saw as a major source of their distress. There were literally no jobs, and debt was out of control. The near disasters like the Three Mile Island was a nuclear scar that strongly resonated with Joe Strummer, and this calls in the earlier mentioned fan theory about a calamity destroying a city.

There is this idea that punk music is shallow, and I think a lot of it is. A lot of punk music is raw emotions from confused youths trying to express their dissatisfaction with a world they clearly do not understand. I should not think this way, because I know better, but I sometimes find myself thinking like that, and I remind myself of The Clash. I always tell others that The Clash are the greatest example of deep complexion punk rock, and it would be foolish of me to forget them when discussing the genre.

Looking at the album and song “London Calling” and there is a lot of highly intellectual talking points being addressed all at once. Economic tribulations, political turmoil, fear of technological devastation, poverty, crime, and culture all wrapped up at once. It is a complete masterpiece of music and art, and as far as I am concerned the brightest gem in the whole of punk rock. The greatest example of unbridled rebellion being beautiful and brutal.

Lastly, after five years of thinking about it, my favorite song from “London Calling” is “Lost in a Supermarket.” Maybe I’ll do a review on that song in another five years.

- King of Braves

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