Sunday, 14 May 2006

'London Calling - Redux'

If the Beatles White Album needs pruning down to a single record, as The Whig The Tory suggested last week (erroneously IMHO), there is one well-known record that needs it more, much more: The Clash's London Calling.

When this first came out, records in NZ (remember records?) came out from England by slow boat, and English punk records came out by row boat, if at all. (Anyone remember standing in line at the bottom of Queen St to pick up one of the very few Joy Division imports in the country? Back when you had to save up for months and put your name down for one of the limited number imported? I tell you, those weren't the days.)

Fortunately, I had a girl-friend visiting the UK just as this came out, and she brought me back three wonderful vinyl presents*, including this one, making me one of the fortunate few in New Zealand to hear what the Clash's new record sounded like in the week it came out. My friends and I gathered expectantly around the wind-up gramophone as I unwrapped the boon, and I dropped the needle expectantly. It started well. 'London Calling' was no 'Safe European Home' -- or even a 'Janie Jones' -- but it was good and fresh and pungent, but from there it all sort of seemed to slide little by little towards limpness, from 'Brand New Bloody Cadillac' (limp filler) and ending up with the song they were too embarrassed even to include on the sleeve, 'Train in Vain.'

The Clash had gone disco. Uuurgh.

The record sat unloved for months. Even to an untrained teenage ear it was clear this was a different Clash, and a different Clash was not what I had signed up for. Eventually however, over time, its few treats won me over. This was a good record. A good single record. There was too much fluff; too much stuff that in the Age of Vinyl couldn't simply be programmed away and avoided -- the only recourse was to scratch a nail through the grooves you needed to avoid. I didn't, but I was often sorely tempted. Whatever fitness I had in in my early teenage years I attribute to getting up and down a lot to skip tracks on this album

Here then is the record The Clash should have put out, sans dreck -- London Calling Redux:

Side 1:

1. London Callng
2. Rudie Can't Fail
3. Clampdown
4. Guns of Brixton
5. Spanish Bombs

Side 2:
1. The Card Cheat
2. Wrong 'em Boyo
3. Death or Glory
4. I'm Not Down
5. Lost in the SuperMarket
6. Jimmy Jazz
*The other two records, bless her, were Stiff Little Fingers' Inflammable Material, and Buzzcocks' A Different Kind of Tension -- both also just released. Waddagirl!

TAGS: Music


  1. You can't help yourself can you? I never suggested at any stage that the White Album should have been a single album. It's the definitive double. The only songs I really hate on it are Obladi Oblada, Bungalow Bill and Don't Pass Me By. It was just a "what if" exercise.

    As for London Calling, I've never liked the Clash all that much, but I did buy it in order to understand why people think it's a "classic album". I am still scratching my head on that count. I like Guns of Brixton and Train in Vain (come on, it's not that bad) but the rest of it sounds like something they did while they were drunk. Which is very probably true.

  2. uhhh.... hello??? where's "the right profile"? you lose.

  3. Blair, you said, "I never suggested at any stage that the White Album should have been a single album."

    No? Well, it sure sounded that way when you said:

    "What would it look like as a single album? Of course, with the magic of WinAmp, we can experiment with such things. A good 44 minute version of the album would be as follows..."

    In anay case, I guess it's regarded as a 'classic album' because it's when they noticed American music for the first time, and the US noticed their version of it -- rather like the 'British Invasion' of sixties. 'London Calling' if you like was The Clash's 'Rattle and Hum,' but with tunes.

    Nathew, you said: "where's "the right profile"? you lose."

    If that's one of your favourites, then you've already lost my friend. :-P

  4. Dude if you think The White Album is when the Beatles first noticed American music, you don't have a clue. Look at early Beatles albums and notice how many of the songs are covers of American R&B works and even an American musical ("Till There was You" from Meredith Wilson's The Music Man). The same is true of the early Rolling Stones records too. No, The Stones did not write "All Over Now," the Womack brothers did!

    Obviously I differ with you on London Calling, which is fine really-that's why they call it personal taste— but I thought my own bloggy take on double albums good, bad, and indifferent from January 2005 might be of interest.

  5. you've got the wrong Clash album that needs to be whittled down to one. Sandinista! desperately needs to be one record instead of two.


  6. Funny! In the US Sandanista is a triple disc and it's got a list one lp'sworth of material too much included. You can have too much of a good thing sometimes, as it turns out.

  7. Ah, Bulb, I might have been unclear in the way I answered the questions. The 'classic album answer was in response to this comment: "As for London Calling, I've never liked the Clash all that much, but I did buy it in order to understand why people think it's a 'classic album'." Spot the difference then between 'White Album' by Beatles (good) and 'Rattle and Hum' (dreck), which is when U2 first discovered American music, as 'London Calling was for the Clash. Like I said, "'London Calling' if you like was The Clash's 'Rattle and Hum,' but with tunes."

    And Emma, you're almost right on 'Sandinista.' It would have made a good four-track EP. A classic it ain't, and a triple record it wasn't. :-)

    Here's my list of the ideal Sandinista four-track EP (what's yours?):
    Magnificent Seven
    The Call Up
    Somebody Got Murdered
    Police on My Back

    Here's a different view, someone who actually likes the whole messy sprawl -- a chap who thinks Paul Simonon was channelling Chic's Bernard Edwards!

  8. Yeah, I wondered if I was missing some kind of intertextual riffing with your interlocutor. BTW, from's review of reissued original Sandanista on 2 disc CD:

    "the Clash originally released this as a three-record set for not much more than the price of one"

    I have fond memories in college of seeing someone with those 3 slabs of vinyl and thinking wtf it's almost as bad as All Things Must Pass! ;-)


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