The Clash - London Calling - Review
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critics' view

The third Clash album was out just in time for Christmas 1979. Although it was a double album, the group insisted that CBS sell it for just £5 – a value for money deal for the fans and very much in keeping with the band’s socialist principles. It really was VFM too; an ever-more-complex affair, and all the more compelling for that, with Rolling Stone these days rating it as one of the TEN all-time great albums. The Punk is diluted with influences from rockabilly, ska, reggae and jazz, whilst the subject matter continues to channel the traditional Clash concerns of social displacement, unemployment, racial conflict, drug use, and the responsibilities of adulthood.

The opening title-track gave the group their biggest hit single to date – reaching #11 in the UK Top 40 – with apocalyptic lyrics reflecting the concern felt by Strummer about world events of the day; in particular, the reference to “a nuclear error” was concerned with the meltdown at Three Mile Island which had occurred just a few months earlier. Joe Strummer’s cryptic last words “I never felt so much a-like …” echo over Morse code feedback (the characters spelling out S-O-S). In live versions of the song, he sang a complete version of the final line, allowing his Rock n Roll roots to shine a light: “I never felt so much a-like singing the blues”. These influential Rock n Roll roots are laid bare on the following “Brand New Cadillac”, a cover of Vince Taylor’s cut from 1959 which they had often used as a warm up song before recording. The album features two other covers – “Wrong Emboyo” (The Rulers, 1967) and “Revolution Rock” (Danny Ray and The Revolutioneers, 1976), both of which allow the band to demonstrate their mightily impressive (and ever-improving) feel for black rhythm, drum and bass.

Somewhat miraculously, Paul and Topper actually become Sly and Robbie on “The Guns of Brixton”, a monster-cut written by the bassist himself. It was the first time one of Paul Simenon’s sole compositions had been recorded by the group, and the first on which he’d feature as lead vocalist. It’s yet another song from the alt-music scene depicting the feelings of discontent with British life today; the recession is bad enough but the heavy-handedness of the police against Britain’s black communities is pushing righteous men to the limit. “Clampdown” is another out-and-out classic; a warning to the youth to take care of their soul and not to sell it to the man. “You start wearing the blue and brown and you’re working for the clampdown. So you got someone to boss around. It makes you feel big now…” As the great Robert Nesta, fuelled by Marcus Garvey, once famously sang “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”. The Clash continue to fight a good fight…

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