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:: The Clash - London Calling 25th Anniversary release

This release comprises a very special 2 CD and 1 DVD digipack.

To state the obvious, London Calling was an important album. Influenced by, amongst others, rock, reggae, jazz – and, of course their fellow punks - The Clash were one of the greats of the punk era, and established a legacy that exists to this day. Just looking at London Calling, in recent times Cypress Hill rapped over ‘The Guns of Brixton’ for their single ‘What’s Your Number’, and Michael Franti & Spearhead used elements of ‘Train in Vain’ for their track ‘Yes I Will’.

Twenty-five years have rolled around since London Calling was first released in 1979, and five years since Sony reissued The Clash’s albums, along with a number of compilations. It was time for another look back and another cash in. This pack consists of two CDs: a remastered version of the album, and ‘the vanilla tapes’, rehearsal recordings long thought lost. Also included are a DVD, an informative printed booklet and the standard liner notes.

Not many albums are worthy of such in-depth examination (or such a shameless cash-in), but London Calling is an exception. The sound quality on the Vanilla Tapes are not particularly great, but it is interesting to hear what are now classics still under construction, sometimes with different lyrics and sometimes with none, as well as a couple of previously unheard tracks. These are not lost genius (‘Lonesome Me’ in particular is a very banal love song) but after so long, and after so much Sony raiding of the Clash archives, any new material is a novelty.

“The Last Testament” (which had been a working title for the album originally) is the DVD in this package. It contains some black and white rehearsal footage, mainly notable for the antics of producer Guy Stevens, busy swinging ladders about and smashing chairs in an attempt to inspire the band to greater energy. Three out of the four members of The Clash are still around, and the interviews with them are interesting – footage of Joe Strummer shot before his death in 2002 completes the line-up. There are also lengthy interview segments with Kosmo Vinyl, the bands minder at the time, who comes across more like a disturbingly obsessed fan who has read and memorised their stories, rather than actually someone who was actually there.

Despite this wealth of bonus material, the high point of this collection is the album itself. By 1979 The Clash were far more polished than they had been at the beginning, but were still possessed of great energy. London Calling is the band hitting the big time, but before they started falling out with one another, kicking each other out of the band, and declining musically.

London Calling captures the band at an unusual moment – their slogan originally had been ‘no Elvis, Beatles, and the Rolling Stones’, and indeed, in the title track of this album they sang ‘now don’t look to us, phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust…’ But at the same time, the album cover, the title graphics and photo of Paul Simon about to smash his bass, of the album is a reference to an Elvis’ record cover, where Elvis is holding up his guitar. The Clash are placing him at the start of rock and roll and themselves at the end, something the original album title ‘The Last Testament’, makes even more apparent.

The Clash transcending their rabble-rousing punk roots had both its good and bad aspects. No band can remain unchanged without becoming a parody of itself, especially one based around being young and rebellious. Eventually everyone has to grow up.

By the time of London Calling, instead being ‘so bored with the USA’ as they had been in their 1977 debut, they were now singing about American legends (Wrong ‘em Boyo) and about American movie stars (The Right Profile). They had toured and recorded in the US, grown in musical sophistication, left behind the paint-spattered op shop clothes they first wore for a variety of ever fancier and more expensive costumes. They were becoming one of the groups they started out railing against. These things would eventually lead the group off the rails, further from their roots, to increasingly commercial music, the shedding of core band members and the loss of a meaningful identity – a classic ‘gaining the world but losing the soul’ type of deal.

But all that was in the future in 1979. The album opens strongly with the title track, to the yob celebration of the rocker lifestyle and drinkin’ brew for breakfast in ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’. In all honesty it is a little strange listening to ‘Lost in the Supermarket’, which criticizes consumerism, on a fancy 25th edition three disc set, a product designed to be bought for those who already possess the album.

‘Clampdown’ is one of the best songs The Clash ever did, and still comes through loud and clear as a scream of youth who don’t want to be condemned to a lifetime sentence in the factories. The band themselves were not in this position, but they sing a great song about it, a song that maintained the punk spirit of their first album. ‘Death or Glory’ contains some of the most depressing lines about shattered dreams, and some of the funniest words about rock and roll, that have been put to music. There are 18 songs here, and all are worthy of comment – but even more worthy of being bought and listened to.

London Calling is a great album, worthy of further examination, but unless you are an utter Clash fanatic, it is probably not worth picking up this 25th anniversary cash-in. However, it is always a good time to listen to this album again, or to pick it up if you don’t happen to own it yet.

DVD Extras

Disc 1 - The original album
Disc 2 - The Vanilla Tapes and a DVD portion, including a 45 minute Don Letts produced doco.

The documentary includes newly discovered footage of Guy Stevens and The Clash in the recording studio, previously unused live performance footage, interviews with Mick, Paul, Topper and Joe and for the first time ever Kosmo Vinyl telling his side of the story.

CD2 The Vanilla Tapes are recently discovered, previously unheard ‘London Calling’ demos found in Mick Jones’ lock up which include a number of tracks that never made the final cut of the album. There is also an expansion on the original packaging including rare Pennie Smith photos, notes by Tom Vague and a lyrics booklet.