There are some days that I wish I was born decades earlier mostly just for the musical talent boom. One of the greatest bands in my modest opinion was The Clash. Like The Beatles before them, they refused easy classification, called punk simply because they felt like it and it was a simple label, their creativity burst from the edges of the three chord punk progression to a sound that the Beatles and the Stones would have been happy to call their own had they made it.
It was not a simple slope up to, and down from London Calling, but this double album was by far the most polished and successful and came at the absolute apex of their playing and experimentation.
Yes everyone has heard London Calling, the apocalyptic and somewhat ecological harrowing battle cry. It has one of the greatest basslines in rock. period. Despite the lyrical content, the song can’t help entwining you in its catchy beat and chord progression, and the “I Live by the river” refrain is one of the most powerful in the history of refrain. Perhaps you dont listen to it anymore because its overplayed, but listen again, because there is something new to appreciate everytime. The solo is vastly underrated for one.
The Clash were first and foremost a hard punk rocking band, and the next song Brand New Cadillac emphasizes their roots with a more polished production. The rhythm is so driving you would think you were in that Brand New Cadillac yourself, the drums are great, and the guitar work is again classic, a 50’s archetype redone and vastly improved
Jimmy Jazz combines a folk story with a great jazz beat, the bass line is yet another great one in the rock library, a swinging number and great guitar work to boot. This was the thing about The Clash, the sound so far has come from mulitple influences and vastly different styles, but don’t tell me you think the album sounds patchwork, because thats a straight lie. The horns make their first appearance here and they fit the sound perfectly along with the crazy percussion mid into the song. And the production on that bass, many bassists would trade their left nut for that kind of sound on their bass
Hateful comes after, and I’d be damned if its not one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard. I love the organ part, again a new sound added to the mix. The playful call and response is another bonus, a move you wouldn’t expect from The Clash, a band many critics resorted to lashing their barbs in the vocals. But the harmonies are great here and the drumming is excellent, a mish mash of driving beat meets disco high hat and hand claps. Not bad for The Clash’s version of the Pusher.
Rudie Can’t Fail follows, the horns again are present in the mix and the Clash blow the dust off their reggae influences and pull out quite the number. Again the Clash’s drummer is in top form, mixing the typical downbeat with flourishes of snare and side stick and high hat. The bass again rocks and the vocals are quite spirited. We do start to see one similarity though in the numbers, the guitarist has honed in on this very sharp, affected, trebley sound that enhances the depth of the mix, again this is a great number.
Spanish Bombs is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful and complete tracks the Clash would ever record. A recount of the Spanish Civil War in the 30’s, the lyrics are full of affecting imagery. The chord structure is another great one, almost a subtle hint of London Calling. The chorus is clever too, mixing in Spanish, (the multi language trick would be something the Clash would visit again in Should I Stay or Should I Go). The descending guitar line is like something right out of George Harrisons book, emotional and perfect for the track, this is by far among the best songs on the album.
A great guitar line opens The Right Profile, with a ride symbol keeping the beat before falling into a snare roll and the bass brings the band into the mix, the horns make another appearence and flesh out the sound wonderfully while the lyrics ( a tribute to Montgomery Cliff) don’t follow the regular path, almost talking rather than singing. The bass line and drums make a great harmony, as if they are the same instrument. This is yet another a driving catchy song and the horn solo comes quite unexpected but comes off quite nicely, this is yet another finely mixed and produced track on the album.
Lost in the Supermarket is another great rhythm track, and the lyrics are more solidary than the rest of the album. The great treble affected guitar comes back in great form. I have to say this isn’t one of my favorite tracks due to the mood, but the instrumentation more than makes up for it. In terms of the album, its a breather to the hard nosed playing that surrounds it, and again the production is nice and smooth, the bass is again fantastic, but with a more metal sound than the previous tracks
Clampdown is another homage to their previous stylings and albums, but given the full production revamp. Feedback starts off the track before a barely audible one two three four and the drums come in, a breakneck high hat bass drum snare beat and some ununderstandable voice over before it reaches an apex of “What are we gonna do now.” The rhythm falls back into the pocket. The bridge is excellent, and the guitar work is a great balance of rough and ready and sharp and sweet. Good harmonies here too
Oh my lord, if there was ever an urban tough and rumble reggae song better than Guns of Brixton, i have yet to hear it. The sound and the bass make this track unforgettable. The bassist also makes his only lead vocals here, a gutteral voice that delivers line after line, the drums are some of the finest reggae/punk amalgamations ever recorded, and the image this track presents is just breathtaking.
For the next track, a little history is needed to flesh out the finer points. Stagger Lee, or Stack o’ Lee, is a character that comes right out of the folk-blues. The story goes that this man got into a fight with a friend and ended up stabbing him and going to jail, sunny story i know, but The Clash’s reworking is a fine track. Called Wrong Em’ Boyo, it starts right into some little jam, and then breaks into this happy ska jazzy instrumentation, the harmonies are in top form and the chorus is catchy as hell. The piano is an unexpected backing instrument here, and the horn and drum fills are great. Another one of the greater tracks on this album.
That same guitar sound starts ringing in the next song, Death or Glory, an acoustic guitar is also present in the mix and a great bass intro before the driving rhythm comes in. The song is the story of a man who doesn’t want to be part of the whole 9-5 work day. Another great bridge comes in and the drums while not overly sophisticated are recorded exceptionally, the toms coming in with some thudding echo that pounds the points of the song into your head and its way too catchy to let go. A great Clash anthem, and they’re clearly having fun on this track.
I’m not a big fan of Kola Kola, but the vocal overdubs are fun and the bass has a great fill line and plenty of space is given to the guitars and drums to play their hearts out over the tracks while the lyrics come out fast and furious, and its over quite quick and painless too, running at 1:47. This is one of the weaker tracks, but its still fun.
The Card Cheat is almost a total shift in makeup, the piano is much more present and there is a lot of echo, giving the song an epic feel. The tune is catchy and the lyrics about the fate of a once good card player are an allegory to the once powerful British Empire. The drums put in marching band snare fills between the verses and the lyrics are sung with a desperation that is unmatched to the rest of the album. It’s a very listenable track if only just for the change of pace and the production helps it out tons. The refrain guitar line is magnificent.
Being The Clash, they had to include something somewhat snotty, and Lover’s Rock fits the bill. Unfortunately you can’t hate it because its so damn catchy despite the lyrics talking about fellatio. The solo is quite good and the harmonies are great. A lot of space is given to the drums as well, and the drummer is having a great time putting flourishes and fills all over the place, then around 2:02 the song changes, the drums become more breakneck as more percussion is added over the refrain of lovers rock. Just another track The Clash are having fun with and why not, its a fun song.
Four Horsemen is another driving rock song in the style of Brand New Cadillac, only with fuller instrumentation. They introduce a change around the :50 second mark and the song starts to remind you of those good powerhouse Who songs. This isn’t one of the finest tracks on here but its nothing to skip over, and you can’t really fault The Clash for an ok song on an album full of great songs.
The thick metallic bass comes back on I’m Not Down, along with another hi-hat snare bass drum work out. This is another song in the style of Death or Glory. The guitar is much more full here and the refrain is one of the better ones on the album, and another descending guitar line permeates it to great effect, and they bring a great bridge into the fold around 1:30. The drums are another thing to pay attention to, the bass drum has a lot of power to it and the snare interplay works perfectly with the lyrics.
Revolution Rock is a really great reggae rewrite, the bass is high in the mix, and the drums are similar to what John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) did to Fool in the Rain during the bridge. The melody is great and the horn play enhances the song very well. The guitar doesn’t really play a part in the melody but it provides a great reggae rhythm bit. The Clash are putting full force into this song, you can tell they really worked this song and it pays off. This was intended to be the last song on the album, so it is a celebration of the album they’ve made, London Calling is clearly a revolution in the music genre, the sound never fits a formula, but is more Beatle-esque with its genre mixing and hopping. This is the longest song on the album with a bevy of instruments filling out the mix, the organ part is pretty sweet, but the drums and the horns hold the attention here. One of the best songs on the album.
Talk about luck, Train in Vain (Stand By Me) was added on last minute, they needed a single to push to the record companies and radio stations and it turns into one of the best album tracks. It is a bit different in sound to the rest of the album, more of a straight rock fit. Starting with a great drum beat, a funky reverbed guitar comes in offset to the beat before the bass fills it out. A great lead vocal drives the song and it is definitely more pop styled, so the chorus is polished to perfection. A great song to end an absolutely killer album.
In my opinion, you should really bite the bullet and buy the whole album, but for those of you on a budget and iTunes access here are the must have tracks: (Or you could just use LimeWire, though the quality never sounds that good)
London Calling, Jimmy Jazz, Hateful, Rudie Can’t Fail, Spanish Bombs, The Right Profile, Clampdown, Guns of Brixton, Wrong ‘Em Boyo, Death or Glory, Revolution Rock, Train in Vain (Stand By Me)
Though I’m pretty sure on iTunes it is a bargain and will cost less if you buy the whole album instead