The "Clash" "London Calling" (33 1/3)

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London Calling was a grown-up record. The Clash explored their place in the world, and flexed their muscles in the process, challenging punk dogma and ruling circles at the same time. Rock believers have debated the impact and influence of cultural heroes who preach from the pulpit for generations, and clash fans and foes have had plenty to say. 30 years down the road, the band's music continues to fuel politically charged debate.London Calling, was the band's masterwork, and demands a place in Western culture that's occupied by Picasso'sGuernica, Tony Kushner's Angels In America, and the films of Costa-Gravas.London Calling was a smart, tough album. Its grim, sometimes apocalyptic vision is no less relevant today than it was in 1980.

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"London Calling" is the great album to emerge from the 1970s British punk scene, a record that transcends its place and time to become a universal expression of both rage and hope. A deeply political record ("Kick over the wall / cause governments to fall"), it is also a profound musical statement, in which the Clash shed their status as noisy punkers and quite literally explode outward, trying on a variety of forms and genres from 1950s style R & B to rockabilly, reggae, and anthemic rock. What's so astonishing about "London Calling" is its aura of possibility, the way we can feel, at nearly every instant, the propulsive tension of a band pushing beyond its own parameters, exploring the limits of creativity and control. It is this that makes the album sound so urgent nearly a quarter century after its original release. This book focuses on the album's coherent vision, which melds references to Montgomery Clift, the Spanish Civil War, Madison Avenue advertising culture, neo-fascism, and British racial politics, as well as the quiet desperation embodied by songs like "Lost in the Supermarket," "Hateful," and "Train in Vain."

Coming out of what was, by any standard, an insular culture - first generation British punk - built on shock value and adolescent rebellion, "London Calling" remains a strikingly mature declaration of allegiance to a more extensive bohemian ethos, in which punk becomes one part of a continuum, rather than the literal end of everything, the "No future" of Johnny Rotten rants. This is an album with roots, in other words, with a sense of place, of interaction, a record made by grown-ups who understand more than a little something of their place within the world.

About the Author:

Tommy Tompkins has, since the mid-80s, been a managing editor on weekly magazines and newspapers in the San Francisco area. He helped nurture the careers of music writers like Ann Powers, Jeff Chang, and Oliver Wang. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

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