London Calling

It was 30 years ago this spring that music–both my own and the world’s at large–got an incredible jolt. The Clash album London Calling was released in England in December of 1979, and in the U.S. in January 1980. Normally I’m not an “early adopter” of new music, but thanks to my good friend Geoff, I had purchased it by early spring. The album grabbed hold of me immediately, and has never loosened its grip.

In early 1980, I was taking a semester off between two years at Mizzou and an expected transfer to a smaller school; Geoff was back in his New York home, having already transferred from Mizzou to CW Post. We stayed in touch through the U.S. Mail, occasionally sending each other cassettes of music we were listening to. One he sent me had some songs from London Calling — at least Clampdown, Death or Glory and Lost in the Supermarket, that I remember, probably others — and they just blew me away. Oh yeah, and Rudie Can’t Fail. He almost certainly would have put Rudie Can’t Fail on that tape, and that would have cemented it for me.

It wasn’t long before I scraped together enough cash and walked up to Streetside Records in Old Orchard, and bought my own copy. It didn’t take much cash; although it was a double album, the band insisted that it be sold at the price of a single album. If I remember correctly, it was about $5.99. The guy behind the counter threw in a promo single they had, saying it was one more song that wasn’t on the album. I already knew there was a “hidden track,” Train in Vain, and I told him so, but he kind of shrugged and threw in the single anyway. I forget what was on the other side; I think, actually, that Train in Vain was the B-side and either London Calling or Clampdown was the A-side.

Anyway, I got it home and threw it on the turntable. And although the songs Geoff had sent me were probably the best songs, I quickly realized that there was no fall-off from the best songs to the worst songs. This was one incredible album, from the heavy, pulsing chords kicking off London Calling to the harmonica riffs that fade out at the end of Train In Vain.

The Clash, of course, were known as the heir to the punk-rock throne after the implosion of the Sex Pistols. “Punk” was a label of course, and it brought to mind all of the (probably apocryphal) tabloid stuff you’d read about the Pistols and similar bands: vomiting on stage, spitting on the crowd,  incomprehensible lyrics and, in general, musical incompetence. None of that applied to the Clash, though. Although their music prior to London Calling  was definitely hard-edged, it was also very political, in an inclusive way, as opposed to the nihilism of the Sex Pistols.

And with London Calling, the Clash brought their music to a much wider audience by incorporating rockabilly, ska, even jazz into their sound. The result was a record you could listen to at any time, in just about any mood. For me, it woke me up from my late-60s, Who-Stones-Beatles mindset, and finally gave me some great music that was “my own.” And now, 30 years later, London Calling  still stands up as a record I have never gotten tired of.

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5 thoughts on “London Calling”

  1. Yeah, I love that cover. Rolling Stone once did an article about great album covers, and they showed the Elvis Presley album that the London Calling cover was modeled after. A couple of months later, I won a call-in contest on KPNT because I knew that — I think it’s the only radio contest I ever won in St. Louis.

    1. Yeah, great show. I remember they had these huge bodyguards on both sides of the stage. And I remember going up to the balcony for the second half of the show, and being amazed that we had been down in that roiling mass of people earlier. And then we got back to your car and it had been broken into…

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