Monday, April 19, 2010

London Calling

The debate goes on. Some say it is "Exile On Main Street," some say "Dark Side of the Moon" while others say it is "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Blonde on Blonde" or "The Joshua Tree." Does it really matter what the greatest rock n' roll album is? I have heard some say that it is The Clash's 1979 double album "London Calling" ... I now understand a little more why it is so highly respected.

The creative force behind The Clash was Joe Strummer (lyrics) and Mick Jones (music), the Lennon & McCarty of the band. The sessions started in a garage with no ideas and nothing written down. They spent the first days playing around with standards ... jamming to Bo Diddley, Dylan and Elvis tunes. Bassist Paul Simonon just hung out listening to reggae, his most recent obsession, on headphones. They came up with the original title of the album, "The Last Testament," which set in motion what they wanted to do. They were a bunch of socialists that thought punk was dead, and with Margaret Thatcher's recent election, they weren't too happy about the state of affairs in the world. They wanted to make one last hurray for punk knowing that they were probably done. It is a not a pure punk album with obvious pop, ska, soul, jazz, rockabilly and reggae influences. Their homage to rock n' roll's past is obvious by the cover of the album where they mimicked Elvis's debut self-titled album. Is this an end or a new beginning?

The recording sessions started with one producer, Guy Stevens, who's approach seems insane. He wanted them emotionally on edge always running high. He'd do unpredictable things like start screaming and throw folding chairs at them while they were playing. He was an old-time rocker. He was the person who named the band, Mott the Hoople. He also worked with Free, Spooky Tooth, The Who and The Stones (not too shabby). But some thought he had just lost his mind by the time he worked with The Clash. They couldn't deal with him anymore and fired him midway. They hired one of their sound engineers, Bill Price, to finish production of the album. Stevens overdosed on prescription drugs just a few years later.

The songs on "London Calling" tackled all the hot button issues of the day including drug use, racial conflict, nuclear power, war, idealism versus realism, responsibilities of adults and unemployment. Where punk's strength is usually in attitude over substance or musicianship, this incarnation of the The Clash had it all with all four musicians being at the top of their game. Until "London Calling" punk received little airplay. They bridged the gap between the punk world and mainstream rock without really selling-out. People were pretty desperate for something new at the time this was released. The power rock ballads were getting lamer and lamer each year. You could call it the first neo-punk album leading the way for such bands like Green Day, The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Killers, The Strokes and The Offspring among others. When you listen to this album you don't think of 1979 ... you think of all the great stuff that it inspired in the decades to follow.

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