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Friday, 14 December 2018

Revisiting London Calling - The Clash (December 1979)

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London Calling - The Clash
CBS
Produced by Guy Stevens
 UK Chart #9
US Chart #27 


  Personnel
The Clash
    Joe Strummer – lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar, piano
    Mick Jones – lead guitar, piano, harmonica, backing and lead vocals
    Paul Simonon – bass guitar, backing vocals, lead vocals on "The Guns of Brixton"
    Topper Headon – drums, percussion

Additional performers
    Mickey Gallagher – organ
    The Irish Horns – brass

Tracklist
Side One
A1 London Calling   
A2 Brand New Cadillac   
A3 Jimmy Jazz   
A4 Hateful   
A5 Rudie Can't Fail

Side Two
B1 Spanish Bombs   
B2 The Right Profile   
B3 Lost In The Supermarket   
B4 Clampdown   
B5 The Guns Of Brixton

Side Three
C1 Wrong 'Em Boyo   
C2 Death Or Glory   
C3 Koka Kola   
C4 The Card Cheat

Side Four
D1 Lover's Rock   
D2 Four Horsemen   
D3 I'm Not Down   
D4 Revolution Rock   
D5 Train In Vain (Hidden Track)

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Singles On London Calling
UK and other related releases
 A-Side
A1: London Calling
A2: Armagideon Time
   
    B-Side
 Armagideon Time (Version)
B-Side 1: Justice Tonight
B-Side 2: Kick It Over   

  Released 7th December 1979
UK Chart #11
Australian Chart #28 

 A-Side: Train In Vain 
B-Side 1: Clash City Rockers 
B-Side 2: White Man In Hammersmith Palais
Epic Records 
New Zealand
Released 1979

B-Side 1: Bankrobber 
B-Side 2: Rocker's Galore...UK Tour
Epic 
Australia
Released April 1980

A-Side: Clampdown
B-Side: The Guns of Brixton
Epic 
Australia
Released July 1980

B-Side 1: Bankrobber 
B-Side 2: Rocker's Galore...UK Tour
CBS 
Netherlands*
Released 1980
Rudie side played at 45 RPM  and Bankrobber side played at 33 ⅓ RPM.

I believe it was this version that was being imported a lot into the UK because folks wanted the song Bankrobber and CBS in the UK were refusing to release it but finally gave in and August 1980 Bankrobber was released as a single.

*Train in Vain was also released with Bankrobber / Rocker's Galore...UK Tour as the B-Side in the Netherlands (See Below)

A-Side: Train In Vain   
B-Side 1: Bankrobber   
B-Side 2: Rockers Galore..... UK Tour
Released 1980

Both sides played at 33 ⅓ RPM
This was also released in Germany, Spain, France.

  A-Side: Train In Vain (Stand By Me)
B-Side: London Calling
Epic
US 1980
US Chart #23

A-Side: London Calling
B-Side: Brand New Cadillac
Released 29th July 1991

 A-Side: Train In Vain
B-Side: The Right Profile
CBS
Released 14th October 1991

 Train In Vain never got a proper UK release until 1991 and was issued as a single in support of the best of package released as The Singles - released November 1991 (it was called a re-release but as it hadn't been released in the UK before as a single so it should not have had that status attatched to it).

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Thirty nine years ago today The Clash released their third studio album, London Calling.

Many in the music world thought that bands like The Clash wouldn't still be around in 1979 as Punk was but a passing fad. The Pistols were gone, after having split in America not long after the start of 1978; The Damned had split after two albums in 1977 and then reappeared on the scene releasing the Love Song single in April 1979 and then a magnificent third album in Machine Gun Etiquette a month prior to the release of London Calling.

London Calling is a departure of sorts for The Clash as they sought to escape the world they had inhabited with their previous sloganeering (along with the rest of Punk) and that usual ramshackle sound of blistering guitars etc. On this 18 track Double Album (19 if you include the unmentioned Train in Vain stuck on at the end of Side 4) they were embracing new sounds and sharing them with us as they took us on their journey with them. It incorporates a range of styles, including punk, reggae, rockabilly, ska, New Orleans R&B, pop, lounge jazz, and rock - clearly something many fans of The Clash were not expecting.

A week prior to the release came the single London Calling. It was very exciting. Ian Birch writing for the Melody Maker wrote, "Musically, the single shows a marked advance: an irresitibly rolling gait, finely underplayed performances and sweet harmonies on the title words which effectively work as a chorus line. The lyrics are still apocalyptic clarion calls, but now Joe sings them with a natural assurance and clarity that make them more forceful.

B-Side 'Armagideon Time', an old reggae song, continues the general theme and feel - "A lot of people won't get no supper tonight/A lot of people won't get no justice tonight", it begins. What's really impressive, however, is the way The Clash have finally come to grips with the roots/rock/reggae traditions and properly incorporated them into their own approach. The (albeit well-intentioned) apeing days are over.

Can't wait to hear the album..." 
 
Charles Shaar Murray in his review of the album for NME (15th December 1979) would speak about the new sound: "Clashrock as of now has a freshness, variety, vitality and range that they've never shown before. 'London Calling' is also - no small point, this - the first Clash record (with the possible exception 'Cost of Living') that actually sounds right. Guy Stevens has produced The Clash the way they should have been produced right from the start: the tinny wall-of-sound of the first album now sounds quaint and one-dimensional by comparison and the AOR, easy listening HM sound imposed on 'Give 'Em Enough Rope' by the appalling Sandy Pearlman is now exposed as an even more gargantuan error of taste and judgement than it seemed at the time." He would also say that, "Parts of it sound totally unlike anything recorded before, yet is the most quintessentially Clashlike Clash record thus far...The Clash have matched everybody else's bets and chucked their cards on the table; in Springsteen's words, they have shown a hand even The Police couldn't beat, and they deserve to clean up."

CSM would go on, "The album opens with the single: a straight line drawn between the apocalypse of Bowie's 'Diamond Dogs' and the testament to personal courage and integrity of Springsteen's 'Darkness at the Edge of Town'. A call for solidarity and trust in the face of impending disaster, 'London Calling' is a tuning fork that strikes the keynote for the album, a tone apparent even in the most light-hearted moments of what is to follow." He finishes up his review with these words and it's not often you find yourself in agreement with a critic but here I give a hearty slap on the back to Charles Shaar Murray because he summed it up so brilliantly, "The Clash have been criticised for becoming a straight-ahead rock 'n' roll band, which is specious in the extreme. The Clash love rock 'n' roll, which is why they play it, but they want to live up to its promises, which is why they play like they do. With groups like The Clash on the case, rock 'n' roll ain't in the cultural dumper: 'London Calling' makes up for all the bad rock 'n' roll played in the last decade...I've been listening to 'London Calling' for nearly two weeks now: it's been my most played album all that time and will no doubt fulfil this function for some time to come. The Clash are entitled to feel very very proud of what they've done here".

Some reviewers were not as positive as CSM had been and expressed reservations. DJ and critic Charlie Gillett believed some of the songs sounded like poor imitations of Bob Dylan backed by a horn section! Garry Bushell was more critical in his review for Sounds, giving the record two out of five stars while claiming The Clash had "retrogressed" to Rolling Stones-style "outlaw imagery" and "tired old rock clichΓ©s". But then again Bushell was leaning in those days towards a lot of that "Oi music" so you couldn't take him too seriously!
Guy Stevens produced the album and there were concerns from CBS because he was known to be a little eratic due to drug and drink issues. He actually lived in Forest Hill and my friends and I often chatted with him when he came down to the local record shop to flog some second hand LPs to get some easy booze money. He was quite a nice guy to talk to and always was happy to share a few war stories of days gone by.

The album stands out as probably the finest one they have ever recorded and it's amazing to think that when they entered the studio to lay down some demos they didn't really have any songs at all and yet out of the turmoil of a period of writers block for Strummer came some excellent songs. Of the 19 songs only three were covers, fourteen were written by Strummer/Jones, Paul Simonon got the writing credit for 'The Guns of Brixton' and the whole band are credited with 'The Card Cheat'. The hidden track, 'Train in Vain' had initially been recorded to be given away on a Flexi Disc with the NME but when that fell through it was included on the album though not mentioned on the cover or the records  themselves until later issues of the album.

It's worth a play today I reckon. Ah, it brings back some memories of teenage life in South East London!

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