The Clash Release London Calling
Somewhat paradoxically the greatest album by the greatest British punk band deserves its status because the music it showcased was no longer punk. The band which gave us two minute blasts of pop-punk perfection with White Riot and London’s Burning in 1977 had moved on.
The songs on London Calling were still full of energy, but the lyrics were more thoughtful and covered subjects as diverse as the Spanish Civil War, the alienation of youth, and becoming an adult. Perhaps the band had benefitted from the rehearsal and writing process facilitated for them in the less than glamorous setting of Pimlico .
By 1979 the punk scene was dead – for some it had died long before that – and London Calling reflects the decision conscious or unconscious of The Clash to explore new worlds in greater depth – given the space to do so with the double-album format. They had included a cover of Junior Murvin’s Police and Thieves on their debut album; and White Man in Hammersmith Palais had been a hit single in 1978; London Calling featured the Paul Simonon reggae-laced composition Guns of Brixton , arguably their best venture into that rhythm. But they had the courage to look backwards as well, Vince Taylor’s Brand New Cadillac given an airing, and the sleeve artwork harking back to Elvis.
Musically the album is most interesting for the prominence and maturity of Simonon’s base lines, particularly memorable in the title track, though Joe Strummer shows he had come of age too in the range of vocal styles he used. Some of a tribal mentality screamed about selling out; but London Calling was about growing up.