You can consider Clash fans of Classic Album Sundays, the series that welcomes an audience into a snug venue to enjoy a record as it was supposed to be heard: in full, with friends, on a great system, and ideally with a little context around it. Active listening – but not in a dry, scientific sense.
CAS’s final event of 2014 is held on December 7th at London’s Brilliant Corners venue, on Kingsland Road. It features a full playback of The Clash’s ‘London Calling’, and guest contributions from longtime band associate, former Big Audio Dynamite member and BBC 6 Music DJ Don Letts. Full details.
Here, we’ve Don’s personal perspective on ‘London Calling’, ahead of CAS’s playback.
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‘London Calling’, the first single taken from the album of the same name, released December 7th, 1979
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“The record Rolling Stone magazine voted album of the decade for the 1980s, even though it was released in 1979!
“Now, I could have easily chosen The Clash’s debut album, as it’s hard to think of a better musical statement of intent. But I went for this album for a couple of reasons besides the fact I directed the video for the ‘London Calling’ single – as well as ‘Clampdown’ and ‘Train In Vain’.
“I chose this record because not only was it a quantum leap from their debut release, it was also a quantum leap for punk itself, which by this time had painted itself into a corner – you can’t do this, you can’t do that. Punk was never about nihilism and negativity – it was about empowerment, individuality and freedom, personal and musical. ‘London Calling’ embraced these ideals like no other punk record from the period.
“A double album, sold for the price of one – The Clash took a cut in royalties to make this possible – ‘London Calling’ reflected the band’s musical tastes as a group and individually. It’s a culture clash of musical styles that include reggae, old-school R&B, jazz, rockabilly, ska, pop, soul and rock that signposted new possibilities for the punk movement.
“It was produced by the legendary Guy Stevens (RIP) who came with some serious credentials as he was the ‘missing link’ in the UK beat and blues scene of the 1960s, having produced the likes of Mott The Hoople – a big plus as far as Mick Jones was concerned.
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Don Letts: “Punk was never about nihilism and negativity – it was about empowerment, individuality and freedom…”
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“Guy had been involved with some of the band’s early demos – which didn’t go as planned. Nevertheless, The Clash got him to produce the album against the wishes of the record company. Truth be told, Guy was a wild card – yet he was key to the process, and not always by design. His production methods were kind of ‘out there’, to put it mildly, as he was more into vibe than technique. This would include antics like swinging ladders around the studio and pouring wine onto the Bösendorfer piano while Joe Strummer was playing, as he thought it made it sound better. Guy was all about creating a rock ‘n’ roll atmosphere.
“Recording wise, a lot of the songs went down in one or two takes during 18-hour days over a six-week period – the band was never work shy, and they were on it 24/7. In typical Clash style, many of the lyrics and topics were about issues that had direct impact including: unemployment, drugs, consumerism, racial problems, paranoia, adulthood and even love, as demonstrated in ‘Train In Vain’.
“And then there was the album artwork – designed by Ray Lowry (RIP) as homage to Elvis Presley’s debut album. It features Pennie Smith’s incredible picture of Paul Simonon smashing his Fender Precision Bass on the stage of The Palladium in New York City – and if you wanted to sum up the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll in one picture, well, that would be it.
“From its release over 35 years ago to this very day, ‘London Calling’ is still acknowledged as one of the most critically acclaimed double albums ever, right up there with The Stones’ ‘Exile On Main Street’. In fact, Rolling Stone ranks it as number eight on its list of the 500 greatest records of all time – no shit, Sherlock.”
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Classic Album Sundays presents The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ takes place on December 7th at Brilliant Corners, London. Full details.