This is one of the few rock albums ever released that is almost impossible to over praise. One can heap on the superlatives, pile on a few more, and still have room for even more laurels. It is probably by any standard one of the five greatest albums released in the rock era, unquestionably the greatest album released by a band with its roots in punk, the greatest explicitly political album ever released by someone who was not Bob Dylan, and one of those rare albums that doesn't seem to age at all. There isn't a weak cut on the album. In fact, the songs are not merely good but great.
Although The Clash started off as a punk band, they were never adequately defined by that phenomenon. Although rooted in the attitudes and political sympathies of the punk movement (and above all else, English Punk, as opposed to the earlier American Punk, was highly political; originator Malcolm McLaren was deeply influenced by Guy Debord and the Situationist International, and included many political ideas in promoting the Sex Pistols and his punk fashions), The Clash quickly outgrew the punk aesthetic. While most of the original punks were merely two-chords-and-a-cloud-of-dust bands, the Clash almost immediately began effortlessly and seamlessly assimilating a host of musical influenced. They were the first rock band, for instance, to use reggae rhythms and not make them sound like a gimmick (compare The Clash's extraordinary "The Guns of Brixton" with Led Zeppelin's "D'yer Maker," which while good sounds a bit like a novelty song, while The Clash sound like they ripped the song off some Jamaicans). The songs are remarkably sophisticated and polished, even when they sound casually. For instance, check out the almost haphazard way "Jimmy Jazz" starts, as if the band can't decide whether to allow the opening riff develop into a full fledged song. Even when it gets fully underway, there is an effortless looseness to the song that persists throughout the impeccably orchestrated song. It is a masterpiece of nonchalant virtuosity.
Most of the songs are so brilliantly original to seem almost impossible. It isn't just that the songs are original; nothing else even remotely like many of them had ever been done before. Where is the predecessor of "Hateful"? Who cooked up "Lost in the Supermarket," with its amazing conglomeration of political and social ideas? Before hearing "The Right Profile," could anyone have imagined it possible to write a classic about Montgomery Cliff's car wreck? Even songs that remind one vaguely of previous songs manage to sound underivative. For instance, there is more than a little Phil Spector's wall of sound in "The Card Cheat," but where do those horns come from?
A mark of the genius of this album can be seen in the fact that although it is one of the great leftist albums of all time, the most reactionary rock fan could still love every song. It is unquestionably great political rock, but more than that it is just flat out awesome rock. It is almost as if The Clash recreated on this album all the rebelliousness contained in the first rockers of the 1950s.
These days, when every other album seems to be getting special expanded versions, this one truly could benefit from such treatment. The liner notes on the current U.S. edition are nonexistent. Hopefully this will be corrected at some point in the relatively near future.
on February 10, 2000
The album that changed my life. In 1980 I was 17 years old living in Seattle--a total 70s rocker when I saw London Calling in Tower Records. It had the coolest cover I had ever seen--a black and white photo of Paul Simonon smashing his bass on stage. Something just clicked in my brain and instead of buying the latest Aerosmith album, I bought London Calling and at first the Clash were a total shock to my Led Zeppelin soaked system. Now in 1980, American rock radio consisted of songs that consisted of a really cool guitar intro, 1rst verse, chorus, 2nd verse, chorus, a really bitchin solo by Jimmy Page, Michael Schenker, or Ted Nugent, the 3rd verse, and the chorus. Usually the song was about partying, chicks (and sex), or enchanted forests and castles and such and if the song didnt sound like this we hated it. And here in my innocent hands was a record about revolutions, fascists, junkies, race riots, nuclear destruction, gangsters, rude boys, suburban alienation, consumerism, and Montgomery Clift for Gods sake! And all of this was played in all different styles--ferocious punk with snarling vocals, rockabilly, jazz, ska, and reggae. It totally blew away my perception of what rock music was supposed to be. (I became more aware of the world and what was happening politically thanks to the Clash)
This is one of those rare records that never lets up from beginning to end and is truly packed with with some of the Clash's greatest songs. Their cover of "Brand New Cadillac" is just smokin rockabilly, "Rudie Can't Fail" is irresistable reggae rock, "Clampdown" is just pure Clash style punk with angry lyrics and a thumping rhythm, "The Guns of Brixton" features Paul Simonon's bass as the lead instrument (and his vocal) and the result is a very cool reggae number about racial violence, "Wrong Em Boyo" reworks the old song "Stagger Lee" into a catchy ska workout.
There is also the ultimate Clash song, "Death Or Glory", which is a culmination of everything the Clash are. It is a kind of merging of their early punk thrash with the more sophisticated arrangements they were growing into at this point. About a gangster trying to settle down it opens with Joe Strummer's raspy voice singing, "Now every cheap hood strikes a bargain with the world and ends up making payments on a sofa or a girl" Rock and Roll doesn't get any cooler than this.
London Calling is a band brimming with confidence--they can do anything--a band at its absolute peak. This is essential for anyone who loves rock and roll and has a sense of history, of where influential music was created.
on December 3, 1999
"When phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust..." cries Joe Strummer from the opening track "London Calling". I don't know about the U.S., but here in the UK we ARE drowning from the tenth-rate phoney Beatle-worshipping Oasis. How we deserve it! The Clash were knocked by us from the moment they arrived. It's only in retropsect that we realise that there will probably never be a band like this again. And never an album of this quality. Every track is brilliant. Why? Because the guys who made it were fundamentely cool, calm and collected. They could rock. They had funk and flavor because they absorbed reggae, jazz and dub. The lyrics are intelligent but not dull. The guitar work on this album showed how talented Mick Jones is as a songwriter, but he didn't have to add layer-upon-layer of gloss to prove his worth. Most of all, the Clash knew how to present an album, present an idea, present themselves. Take most every band and they lack in some crucial department. Take the Clash apart and they still stand up. This is an outstounding album. Trust me. All we have now on offer is watered-down weak-willed wannabes. London Calling - don't have no fear.
on September 30, 2004
Disc One: The Original LP
Hands down, The Clash's "London Calling" is one of the strongest albums in rock history. Despite being a punk rock group, The Clash explored reggae, ska, jazz, pop with strong melodies with equally as strong lyrics. Throughout the album's 19 tracks, it is never boring and is essential in anyone's record collection.
Disc Two: The Vanilla Tapes
The demos from the "London Calling" sessions are very interesting but it is by no means something one just sits back and listens to. The sound quality is poor, and the songs are not quite in the form that they would take on later. The most intresting is the cover of Bob Dylan's "The Man in Me". It would have been interesting to hear a better cut of that song. Interesting listening for fans but newcomers might not welcome it as much.
DVD: The Last Testament
There is some cool videos on the DVD of "Train in Vain", "London Calling" and "Clampdown" but the documentary itself really kind of drags. Listening to the album take form on disc 2 is interesting but nothing is really learned in the documentary. Plays a lot like a "Behind the Music" episode but not nearly as in depth. Pretty much just an added bonus.
As I mentioned, "London Calling" is a must have. A Five Star classic that ranks among the greatest albums of all time. Not having this is like not having "Sgt. Pepper" or "Kind of Blue". The album in its new extended package is excessive and for die hard fans. The demos are interesting but nothing to listen to repeatedly and the DVD is a throw away. Not a waste of money but if you own the original remastered CD, that should suffice.
on November 13, 2004
This isn't a review of the Clash's "London Calling" album, which for all purposes is one of, if not the, greatest albums of all tie. This is a critique of this package of the album.
The record itself is amazong, though it is the exact the same as the record that has been out on C.D. for the past five years.
But the extras are a bit of a sham. The widely bootlegged "Vanilla Tapes" were actually better in their bootleg quality. Here the sound is muddled, which wouldn't be a bad thing if you could actually hear it all, but since there has been absolutley no effort made to fix the sound, it just reeks of laziness, like someone at Epic Records decided to drain more cash from Clash fans since the only surefire way to sell records anymore is re-releasing classic albums to people who all ready own them.
The DVD is made up of things that are all ready availble on the far superior "Westway to the World", except this time again it feels like a patchwork. The editing is choppy, and it looks, feels, and probably is just a way to jack the price up another five to ten bucks.
The reason for the re-releasing, and most of this type of stuff(you hear me Weezer) is to make money. There is something wrong about this that I can't even explain it in words. This package feels like something Joe Strummer would have been against.
If you are a Clash fan then you no doubt disagree with me, and that's cool. All of this is subjective. And if you don't own "London Calling", then by all means get it as quickly as you can. But not this version. Get the single C.D. version.
on March 6, 2001
Now I know you read the title of my review and you're thinking I'm some kid who's just raving about his favorite band. But please, don't stop reading! You see, I am a big music geek and aspiring music afficianado. Yes, I listen to almost every genre, including electronica, jazz, heavy metal, indi and classical music. And my music collection is ridiculous, (almost 1,000 CD's).
But in my collection, there are only a handful of albums that I absolutely love, and continue to listen to over and over again. Joy Division's Unknown Pleasure is one example. Coltrane's A Love Supreme is another. And yes, The Clash's London Calling is one of those albums. It is simply a joy to listen to.
Make no mistake, this is not just a punk album. It is not nearly as abrasive as their seminal debut album. Instead, you will find the Clash tackling many different styles and genres. From the opening rock anthem of the title track, the reggae of "Revolution Rock" and the rockabilly of "Brand New Cadillac." And even the slower numbers such as "Lost in the Supermarket" and "The Card Cheat" are classic. But perhaps what's more amazing is that they tackle those genres extremely WELL. All of the songs are catchy and memorable. This is one of the few albums where I can say that there are no bad tracks.
THe Clash's London Calling is not hype. There is a reason why it is on so many TOP 100 lists and people's Desert Island Disc Lists. It is absolutely ESSENTIAL for any music fan. Believe me, you'll be glad you purchased it. From one music fan to another.
on September 28, 2004
You'd have to have a hard heart to deny Joe's ex and Mick and Paul one last payday. I remember buying this record in September of 1980; two records for a list price of $7.98, a year later they'd release Sandinista (three LPs!) and list it at $9.98. This at the same time that Columbia was asking $11.98 for Bruce Springsteen's two-LP The River and $14.98 for The Wall. Joe always had a keen sense of the thin wallets in the pockets of his fan base.
I remember bringing this record back to my dorm (fall of my freshman year) and dropping the needle on Side 1. It didn't matter who you played it for -- skinny-tie new wavers, heavy metal freaks (this was the year of AC/DC), Jefferson Starship fans, CSN fans -- no one could deny the genius of it. I wore out all four sides in this order -- Side 1, Side 3 (Elevator! Goin up!), Side 4, Side 2. These days you can have all 4 sides (no flipping, no wear!) for $10.98. It's still the best bargain in rock history.
Or you can have this thing for $26.98 (hey! down to $24.98!). There's nothing essential on the Vanilla Tapes, though I'm still glad to own it. The DVD, like all such "making-of" endeavors, is best avoided. The full-size fold-out lyric sheet is welcome. Whoever decided to illustrate the broadside interior and several pages of the booklet with generic 50s "sock-hop" clip-art should meet the same fate as the Card Cheat. But all in all, it's a generous tribute to a band that was once "the only band that matters."
on March 11, 2000
It's not the best album of all time. It's not the best album of the decade (either the 70's or 80's, depending on which country you're in - the LP was released in December '79 in the UK and January '80 in the US), perhaps. Heck, some punkers would even claim that it's not even the best album The Clash ever released, instead choosing the speedy burst of bile that was their debut.
Nevertheless, whenever somebody asks me to recommend an album that will change their musical world and broaden their horizons, I don't even have to think twice before I pretty much beg them to get this one. Let me make this absolutely clear: if you don't have London Calling already, run, do NOT walk to the nearest CD store, be it online or real-world, and buy this. If you don't have enough money, then sell a kidney. It's really that good. Even my 57-year old father loves it - now THAT'S cross-generational appeal. Don't be scared by the fact that The Clash are supposed to be a mean 'n' nasty "punk" combo; that was really only true for their first (and part of their second) album.
Because cripes! Who would have thought that the same four guys who did the sometimes faceless Give `Em Enough Rope could come up with THIS? With London Calling The Clash mysteriously mutated into the most versatile band of their generation - this is no longer stereotypically "punk" music. It's an amazingly well-produced (by infamous loon Guy Stevens, who also worked with Mott The Hoople) set of pop & punk & soul & reggae & rock & lounge & ska & whatever numbers that's easily one of the finest double albums ever made. All this from an ostensibly simple "punk" band, no less.
And in truth, the key difference between this album and the ones that preceded it is spiritual: no longer are they So Bored With The U.S.A. Here The Clash acknowledge a fascination with American rock `n' roll and culture, from Elvis on up to poor Montgomery Clift, and it transforms them. What remains unchanged, however, is their lyrical vision: London Calling is populated with junkies, gamblers, murderers, rude boys, punks, and outlaw figures ranging from card cheats to Clift, all set on the horizon of impending nuclear war. And yet this cast is sympathetic and integrated into the basic humanity of The Clash's vision: for every knock they make on cocaine snorting suits ("Koka Kola") there's an expression of solidarity with the underclass and their struggle for and against respectability ("Rudie Can't Fail," "Death And Glory"). Their lyrics have never been more mature or subtle, either. Is "Clampdown" a polemic against the rise of neo-Fascism in England? Or a parable of the inevitable soul-crushing plight of the factory worker? Or are they both "working for the clampdown" in the end? Similarly, "Death Or Glory," while musically one of the simplest three-chord rockers on the album (and one of the best they ever did, mind you), sends two contradictory messages: is "death or glory/just another story?" Then why do Strummer and Jones insist at the end that they're "going to run a long time, going to fight forever, fight till you lose?"
Ah, forget it. Love the album for its music, which is as uplifting as any I've ever encountered. I mean, "London Calling" isn't the happiest song ever written, and Simonon's "The Guns Of Brixton," is similarly take-no-prisoners, but otherwise this album is a musical celebration, whether it's lyrically dejected but musically happy "Train In Vain" or the sadly upbeat "Lost In The Supermarket." Or the impressionistic masterpiece "Spanish Bombs," written about the romanticization of the Spanish Civil War of all things. (How's THAT for creative songwriting inspiration?) And nothing so encapsulates rock's potential to lift us up out of our doldrums as the survivor's shout of triumph which is "I'm Not Down."
There are a couple of throwaways on this album (the minor-key "Jimmy Jazz," the Stagger Lee update of "Wrong 'Em Boyo," the preachiness of "Lover's Rock") but such is the quality of even these minor pieces that they mesh seamlessly with the whole, creating nothing less than one of truly indispensable albums of the last 40 years. As I said, it's not the best album of all time, but it certainly ranks with the heavyweights. I have no qualms about placing London Calling among the company of the best of The Beatles, Stones, Dylan, and the Who. And neither should you.
on September 23, 2004
London Calling is the greatest rock and roll album ever, bar none. The Clash hit their stride with this record, incorporating their myriad influences into something far greater than the sum of the parts. This was the high point of their career.
As for the Vanilla Tapes: they are a fascinating document of a great band ( might they have truly been the only band that mattered?) pulling together their influences to forge something new. Despite what another reviewer wrote, these tracks have never been bootlegged, so we are all hearing them for the first time.
The booklet is great. It is not slapped together but provides interesting historical documents, such as the Armigideon Times, along with new essays setting forth the background, recording and impact of the album.
The DVD could have used fresh interviews with Mick, Paul and Topper, but even lacking those, it is still interesting and the studio footage is great. I always thought the stories about Guy Stevens' nuttiness in the studio was hyperbole, but if anything, he was crazier than the stories made him out to be.
This is a great re-release of the greatest album ever. Buy it without fear.
on October 7, 2004
When my neighbor came back from a London Christmas vacation in December of '79, I eagerly anticipated a box full of the latest punk rawk from the scene. I was presented with just London Calling. "The rest is dead bones rattling in a coffin. THIS album is the one that will never be forgotten."
My neighbor was right.
The rerelease is worthy of investment, not just for the interesting DVD that comes along with it (Westway to the World is the essential movie on the Clash), nor for the marginally interesting "vanilla tapes" cd (very low-fi rehearsals for many of the songs that would become LC). The rerelease of London Calling is worthy of the investment because of the remastering. The full range of instruments used comes out of the background and take their proper place in the mix.
If you were into punk back in the day, you'll remember what this album meant to us. If you haven't listened to it in a while, get this and be amazed at what we missed on vinyl back then. If you've never heard the Clash, this is THE place to start. Not a bad song on the bugger.