By John Curley
Mark Perry of the British punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue very famously wrote in 1977 that “Punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS.” Whether or not Perry’s opinion is true could be the subject of a serious (and lengthy) debate. But if The Clash had not emerged from the straightjacket of punk, there is no way that their masterpiece—the “London Calling” album—would exist.
Produced by Guy Stevens and recorded in 1979, “London Calling” was released in December 1979 in the UK and January 1980 in America. Given the 1979 UK release date, there was some controversy when Rolling Stone named “London Calling” as the best album of the 1980s. The release date brouhaha aside, “London Calling” was a most appropriate choice for album of the decade. The genres featured on the album include rock, rockabilly, jazz, ska, reggae, power pop, and punk. The album showcased the maturation in the songwriting of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones.
Kicking off with the incendiary title track, “London Calling” the album draws the listener in immediately. The song “London Calling” is simply one of the best rock tracks ever recorded, and it still gets a good bit of airplay on rock radio today. Besides the title track, “London Calling” includes many of The Clash’s most powerful songs. Among the songs on the album are “Clampdown,” “Rudie Can’t Fail,” “Lost In The Supermarket,” “Death Or Glory,” and “Wrong ‘Em Boyo.” Also featured on the album are the brilliant cover of Vince Taylor’s “Brand New Cadillac,” Paul Simonon’s great composition “The Guns Of Brixton,” and Mick Jones’ power pop offering “Train In Vain.”
Even the “London Calling” album sleeve is spectacular. The pink and green lettering along the left side and bottom of the sleeve copied that of Elvis Presley’s first album. The photo on the sleeve is an incredible shot by photographer Pennie Smith of Paul Simonon smashing his bass at The Palladium in New York City in 1979.
Hearing the album upon its release was a revelation. It made possibility in music seem endless. Listening to the album now, over 30 years after its release, it is almost shocking that it still seems so contemporary. Sure, some of the references are dated (like Three-Mile Island). But the album retains its power to knock your socks off.