[Review] The Clash: London Calling (1979)

If Never Mind the Bollocks was the shot heard ‘round the world, London Calling was its call to arms.

Kronomyth 3.0: Phony Beatlemania had bitten the dust.

This is surely one of the greatest punk record(s) ever recorded… and yet it’s partly responsible for killing punk rock because everything that followed seemed so second rate. The Sex Pistols invited everyone to the party with their amateurish playing. London Calling pulled the rug out from under them. You could out-shock The Clash or maybe even out-rock the Clash, but you weren’t going to outdo them.

Punk’s revolutionary reaction to rock & roll was to play it fast, loud and angry, which The Clash did on the surface. But wipe off the dirt a little and you’re looking at a masterpiece. Forget about the gold-plated bookends for a moment (“London Calling,” “Train In Vain”), the one the most startling, the other the most popular in the Clash canon. It’s the names in the middle that make this such a meaty manifesto: “I’m Not Down,” “Spanish Bombs,” “Koka Kola,” “Lover’s Rock,” “The Guns of Brixton,” “Revolution Rock.” Each looks rough from a distance, but look closer and you see the meticulous detail, the way that melodies and guitars converge, passionate tales from unbeautiful mouths. And this was the story of The Clash: they weren’t punk rockers, they were punks who loved rock. They absorbed everything and spit it out with gleeful abandon: punk, rock, reggae, dub, pop culture, politics.

Though London Calling is a leap forward in many ways, it’s more of a liberation. The title track is a clarion that The Clash (and with them the punk generation) were ready to be taken seriously. Ironically, the band also achieves this by not taking themselves so seriously. That they could afford to screw around with songs like “Jimmy Jazz” and “Wrong ‘em Boyo” bespeaks a wealth of talent. Punk rock, it turned out, wasn’t the ugly duckling after all, but a beautiful swan just waiting for the right moment.

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Original 2LP version

A1. London Calling (3:19)
A2. Brand New Cadillac (Vince Taylor) (2:58)
A3. Jimmy Jazz (3:00)
A4. Hateful (2:47)
A5. Rudie Can’t Fail (3:26)
B1. Spanish Bombs (3:18)
B2. The Right Profile (4:00)
B3. Lost in the Supermarket (3:47)
B4. Clampdown (3:50)
B5. The Guns of Brixton (Paul Simonon) (3:07)
C1. Wrong ‘Em Boyo (Clive Alphonso) (3:10)
C2. Death Or Glory (3:55)
C3. Koka Kola (2:05)
C4. The Card Cheat (3:05)
D1. Lover’s Rock (4:01)
D2. Four Horsemen (3:00)
D3. I’m Not Down (3:00)
D4. Revolution Rock (Jackie Edwards/Danny Ray) (5:50)
D5. Train in Vain*

All songs written by Joe Strummer/Mick Jones unless noted.

* Train in Vain is a hidden track.

The Players

Topper Headon (drums, percussion), Mick Jones (guitars, vocals), Paul Simonon (bass, vocals), Joe Strummer (vocals, rhythm guitar). Produced by Guy Stevens; chief engineer: Bill Price, second engineer: Jerry Green.

The Pictures

Photographs by Pennie Smith. Design by Ray Lowry.

The Plastic

Released on 2LP and cassette on December 14, 1979 in the UK (CBS, CLASH 3), the US (Epic, E2/E2T-36328), Brazil (Epic, 144420/1), Greece (CBS, 88478), Japan (Epic, 35 3P-175/6), the Netherlands (CBS, CBS 88478) and Spain (CBS, S 88478) with lyrics innersleeves; reached #9 on the UK charts and #27 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record). Also released on red vinyl 2LP in the UK (CBS, CLASH 3).

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in the UK (CBS, 460114).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Epic, EGK 36328).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1988 in the US (Epic, CLASHCD-2).
  4. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1999 in the US (Epic, EK 63885).
  5. Re-issued on 2LP in 2004 in the UK (Sony, S1-63885) and the US (Epic, 63885-1).
  6. Re-released on expanded CD+DVD on September 21, 2004 in the US (Columbia Legacy, 92923) with bonus DVD.
  7. Re-released on 180g vinyl in 2013 in Europe (Columbia/Sony, 88875112701).
  8. Re-issued on remastered 180g vinyl 2LP in 2015 in the UK (Columbia).
  9. Re-released on 180g clear vinyl 2LP in 2019 in Japan (Epic, SIJP-1012/3).

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