London Calling

The Clash

Epic Records, 1979

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


I don't believe there is a genre of music called "punk." Nor do I believe in one called "grunge."

Punk and grunge were attitudes. Soundgarden and Alice in Chains were heavy metal bands ascribed a "grunge" sound by somebody, while the Ramones and Clash were rock bands with what somebody dubbed a "punk" sound because of...what? my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Three chords? Hell, Chuck Berry started that. Bad attitudes? How about Elvis and the Stones? Odd clothing styles? How about the whole psychedelic movement? Even the raw underproduced music had its roots in both the early days of rock and bands like the Stooges and MC5.

Basically, to be punk - at least back in the day - was to make your own rules, to sneer at authority, to question what had been established. What's funny is that the Clash, nominally a punk band, questioned punk itself on their masterpiece London Calling.

First, it's a double album. Second, it synthesizes many musical styles, from pop and doo-wop to reggae and rock 'n' roll. Third, it features an honest hit single in "Train in Vain (Stand by Me)."

Nothing beats the title track, though, a sparse treble-heavy apocalpytic vision that zips by in three minutes with hoarse vocals warning of an impending ice age and nuclear era. It's the band's finest moment on record.

"Brand New Cadillac" updates those 50s cliches for the jaded 1979 audience, while "Jimmy Jazz" sounds like a British Steely Dan track and "Lost in the Supermarket" is slower but no less compelling. "The Guns of Brixton" is another highlight, with a bass riff propelling the music more than the words or tasteful guitar fills.

The second album is where this goes off the rails a bit, simply repeating themes already heard, yet songs like the victorious "Death or Glory," the piano-driven "The Card Cheat," the Bowie-esque "Lover's Rock" and, of course, "Train in Vain" are Clash highlights and proof that "punk" doesn't automatically mean "lack of musical talent."

London Calling sounded like little else in 1979 and still is a bracing, engaging listen today, even if it runs a bit long for its own good.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A



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