retroactive: “London Calling” by The Clash

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Specifics:

  • release date: December 14, 1979
  • members: Mick Jones (guitar/vocals), Joe Strummer (vocals/rhythm guitar), Paul Simonon (bass/vocals), Topper Headon (drums/percussion)
  • runtime: 65 minutes

…before we get into the rankings, I want to talk about discovering this album for th first time.  For most of my life, I discovered music on my own. Most of the time, that music was Hip Hop.  It’s been documented throughout these retroactive posts how much I love Hip Hop and Hip Hop culture.  “London Calling” found a way to break through that exterior though and reach me in a way I didn’t think was possible.  After hearing this album, my idea of a band and the constraints of genres changed dramatically and it helped open my mind to new music (both recently released and classic).  So shout out to my college roommate Nick, for putting me on. 

Alright, for this “retroactive” post I’m gonna break it down by sides and attempt to rank the tracks by my personal favorites and by what I think is “best.”  4 sides, 4/5 songs a side with a final 4 to duke it out for best song on the album. I got all my background info and did all my research on Genius.com. Check it out…

Side 1:

  1. London Calling: 
    • Notes: London Calling is an undeniably catchy song yet it does contain dark apocalyptic undertones.  I’d say this track is the most popular from the album but for me personally, I get kind of tired of it.  It’s a great opener to the album though and sets the tone for the rest of the album with the apocalyptic theme.
  2. Brand New Cadillac:
    • Notes: I found out on Genius that ‘Cadillac’ is a cover of an old blues song by Vince Taylor which does make it pretty cool. This track just doesn’t move the needle much for me personally but I enjoy it and certainly wouldn’t skip it.
  3. Jimmy Jazz:
    • Notes: This song is so smooth and different. I can imagine people staring at the Clash with looks of bewilderment the first few times they played this track.  I love it because of the jazz influence but the lyrics are also terrific.  “I feel like a soldier/ Look like a thief.” The whole Jimmy Jazz story is expertly crafted and this track is when I really began to fall in love with this album.
  4. Hateful:
    • Notes: This is a pretty deep song when you stop and think about it. On its surface, it’s a drug song with a melancholy beat.  But the way Strummer sings the lyrics, “anything I want/ he gives it but not for free” has a double meaning.  Drugs take both your physical cash and they also take an emotional toll as the addiction takes control of your life.
  5. Rudie Can’t Fail:
    • Notes: ‘Rudie’ is without a doubt my favorite song on side 1.  The reggae influence is what first drew me to this song and after reading the lyrics, I love it even more: “I went to the market to realize (my soul)/ What I need (I just don’t have)/ first they curse, they press me ’til I hurt/ Rudie can’t fail.” Mick Jones handles most of the vocals with Strummer chiming in as well giving this track a different sound than others on the album.
  • Side 1 Ranking:

    • 1. Rudie Can’t Fail; 2. Jimmy Jazz; 3. London Calling; 4. Brand New Cadillac; 5. Hateful

Side 2:

  1. Spanish Bombs:
    • Notes: I love the way this song sounds and I love the spanish singing in the chorus. It’s a historical song about the Spanish Civil War so as a history buff, I’m a sucker for that as well.
  2. The Right Profile:
    • Notes: On first listen I loved this song.  It’s swaggering, it’s funny and it’s different. Obviously I’d heard the ‘Montgomery Clift’ references but I had never actually looked up the man himself until now… This song is a lot darker than I realized… Clift was an actor and an infamous drunk who got in a horrible accident that disfigured his face. Hence his right profile being the only way filmmakers could shoot him. And that’s the part of his life The Clash wanted to highlight.
  3. Lost in the Supermarket: 
    • Notes: All timer all the way through but I really enjoy the first verse. I think Joe Strummer gets living in suburbia down perfectly and he does it in only a couple of lines.  Also I love these lyrics: “I wasn’t born, so much as I fell out/ nobody seemed to notice me”
  4. Clampdown:
    • Notes: This track essentially boils down to not letting the man (or in the case of the song, the clampdown) bring you down.  The song brings up some solid points about living for your youth and not giving it away needlessly by taking a corporate 9-5 job.  It’s also a song about being yourself, which I can definitely get behind.
  5. The Guns of Brixton: 
    • Notes:The first few seconds of hearing this track had me hooked.  This track is everything that’s great about reggae music as well as rock music and the diversity The Clash exhibit on this record is astounding.  This is also the only song with bassist Paul Simonon providing the vocals.  You can almost hear the paranoia in his voice as this song pairs well with the apocalyptic theme of the album.
  • Side 2 Ranking:

    • 1. The Guns of Brixton; 2. Lost in the Supermarket; 3. The Right Profile; 4. Clampdown; 5. Spanish Bombs

Side 3:

  1. Wrong ‘Em Boyo:
    • Notes: I love the rhythm this song moves with and according to Genius, the introduction is from a classic American folk song called “Stagger Lee.” Great storytelling and a fun song in general.
  2. Death or Glory: 
    • Notes: Kind of a sad song about squandered youth and growing up. However, I find it inspirational as a call to action. “That’s just the beat of time, beat that must go on.” 
  3. Koka Kola:
    • Notes: Definitely a more outspoken song against corporations but not one that is out of character for the band.  Although, the song does have a dual meaning as Strummer also alludes to ‘Koke’ as cocaine as well as Coca Cola.
  4. The Card Cheat:
    • Notes: I loved the pace immediately upon hearing this song.  Little did I know how dark the lyrics to this song actually are though: “He only wanted more time/ Away from the darkest door/ But his luck gave it in/ As the dawn light crept in/ And he lay on the floor.” Definitely one of my favorites on the album.
  • Side 3 Ranking:

    • 1. The Card Cheat; 2. Death or Glory; 3. Wrong ‘Em Boyo; 4. Koka Kola

Side 4:

  1. Lover’s Rock:
    • Notes: To be honest, this track did not age well in the current “PC” climate but it’s still a good song.  There are some eyebrow-raising lyrics: “you must know the place you can kiss/ To make lover’s rock” or “But she forgot that thing she had/ (Ohh) To swallow” but I still enjoy it.
  2. Four Horsemen:
    • Notes: Re-listening to this album has given me a better perspective on “London Calling” as a whole and none more so than this track.  The whole album comes together in this one song as Strummer makes out the 4 members of The Clash to be the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse, ready to wreak havoc across the popular culture/music landscape. “We play all your rockin’ roll/ We know your rockin’ soul”
  3. I’m Not Down:
    • Notes: An intensely personal song written and performed by Mick Jones.  You can really feel the emotion and pain in this song with lyrics like “I’ve been beat up, I’ve been thrown out/ But I’m not down, no I’m not down.” I think this is one of the strongest songs on the album and it really sets the album’s ending up nicely.
  4. Revolution Rock:
    • Notes: Another reggae influenced track that is one of my favorites on the album.  This is originally a Danny Ray B-side but I think The Clash do it well and a after a fairly serious album, this track is a welcome reprieve.
  5. Train in Vain:
    • Notes: Some background info I learned while doing research: this track was added late and actually missed the cutoff for the original artwork. I love this song and I’ve gone to it many times in my life. It’s kind of a sad song but it gives me a specific feeling that takes me to a place where I feel comfortable.  Great song
  • Side 4 Ranking:

    • 1. Train in Vain; 2. I’m Not Down; 3. Revolution Rock; 4. Four Horseman; 5. Lover’s Rock

Conclusion:

  • This is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard regardless of genre.  The Clash blend and merge different styles of music throughout this entire album but it never strays from who they are as a band. Their voice remains strong throughout the runtime.  Songs like “Rudy Can’t Fail”, “The Guns of Brixton” and “Train in Vain” are some of my favorite songs of all time. However, I realized through re-listening and doing research for this post, that I enjoy every song.  I can play the whole album front to back without wanting to change a song.  It was incredibly hard to rank them but I gotta say, it was a rewarding exercise in the amount of detail I able to get into.  My final rankings for the album go as follows:
    1. The Guns of Brixton
    2. Rudie Can’t Fail
    3. Train in Vain
    4. The Card Cheat

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