Arguably the quintessential musical portrait of late 20th century urban life in London, The Clash’s third album London Calling is a thrilling kaleidoscope of varied sounds and styles, from punk to rock to ska to reggae to jazz and pop. In theory, blending such a motley mixture of musical ingredients into one stew may seem like a recipe for a hodge-podge disaster of an album.
But in this case, the band’s ambition and experimentation that extended well beyond their punk rock pedigree pays off in a big way. Originally released in the UK in December 1979, the double-album never sounds cobbled together or disjointed, instead it’s one of the most cohesive and invigorating listening experiences you’ll ever lay your ears on.
Collectively, the Joe Strummer and Mick Jones penned compositions (save for bassist Paul Simonon’s sole songwriting credit on “The Guns of Brixton”) offer poignant perspective into the social, racial, economic and political agitation that pervaded London as the metropolis approached the new decade of the ‘80s. But while London is the thematic inspiration, the common threads of urban disenchantment, class divide and distrust of authority are universal phenomena, which is largely why the album—still to this day—is so broadly accessible and appealing.
Completing the whole package is the iconic cover art, which embodies the band’s passion & ferocity, manifested in the form of Simonon slamming his bass guitar on stage at New York City’s Palladium a few months prior to the album’s release. What some may not know is that the cover design—and specifically the perpendicular pink and green type—also serves as an homage of sorts to the cover art of Elvis Presley’s self-titled debut album.
Back in 2004, Sony Music celebrated London Calling’s 25th anniversary by releasing a deluxe Legacy Edition of the album that came equipped with a bonus DVD featuring the Don Letts directed documentary, The Last Testament – The Making of London Calling. The short film features interviews with Strummer, Jones, Simonon, and Topper Headon, as well as rare live performance and in-studio footage of the album’s recording sessions. “The best point of The Clash is probably the London Calling period,” Simonon confides in the film’s closing moments. “That was the most consistent period when everybody was close with each other.”
No small wonder that London Calling is frequently cited as one of the greatest albums ever made, by music critics and fans alike. From the first to last song, it’s simply a brilliantly executed record that warrants all of the acclaim and then some.
Watch the documentary below and join us in revisiting the story behind this masterpiece of an album.
Part 1 (of 2)
Part 2 (of 2)