• Jeff South

10 No-Skip Albums: London Calling


My introduction to The Clash was as a high school sophomore with 1983's Combat Rock, which featured "Rock The Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" It wasn't until college two years later that I was blown away by my first listen to London Calling. The deft mix of a broad range of musical styles (ska, rockabilly, R&B, jazz, punk) and topical lyrics changed the way I viewed punk. I guess, based on research for this post, that London Calling represented a transition into a post-punk sensibility for The Clash, but I didn't know that at the time. We didn't get much punk rock in Poplar Bluff, MO.


I'm not a rebellious person by nature. I'm not one to openly rail against authority nor do I express explicit views on political, social, or cultural issues that challenge the status quo. It's a personality trait I wish I could change. Artists like The Clash (aka The Only Band That Matters) provide an avenue for rage, anger, and frustration I feel over current events. And, lately, there is much to rage against.


The tracks on London Calling dive into political unrest, racism, drug abuse, the complacency of consumerism, sex, and urban issues. And they're all great songs that employ an array of styles. It had been a couple of years since I had listened straight through, so I gave it a spin this week to prep for this post. It holds up. It's not just still relevant. It's necessary and essential.


The title song is easily it's most recognized, for good reason. "London Calling" was influenced by the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. I've loved that song since the first time I heard and I included it on my list of 100 Favorite Songs of All Time. One of my favorite Grammy moments is a live performance of "London Calling" by Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl, and Little Steven to honor Joe Strummer after his passing.


The track list is so good. "Brand New Cadillac," "Guns of Brixton," "Jimmy Jazz," "Lost in the Supermarket," "Train in Vain," "Lover's Rock." Every song is unique and rich. But, the song that really spoke to me during this most recent experience was "Clampdown," a straight up call to action to those who have forsaken youthful idealism for blind acceptance of the status quo. "You grow up and you calm down...you start wearing the blue and the brown." One set of lyrics really got me:


Kick over the wall 'cause government's to fall

And how can you refuse it

Let your fury have the hour, anger can be power

Do you know that you can use it?


Events of the past week (months, years) have tested me. At times, I venture into the fray and express my opinion on the current focus of outrage (which changes by the hour, it seems). Yesterday, I posted something about the immigration situation and that invited all sorts of commentary. I employed my usual measured, contemplative response, but the truth is I'm pissed. I am angry about so much going on right now. I used to go to social media for entertainment, but, instead it fuels the anger. I wanted so badly yesterday to rant and rave and beat my chest, but that's not my style. I admire those who can effectively express their passion and indignation in a way that is eloquent and focused, while still making their emotions clear. I tend to play the nice guy. Let's hear all sides. Let's have respectful conversation. And I still believe that should be the way the majority of the time. Sometimes, though, you gotta yell. Yesterday, I really wanted to yell on Facebook and Twitter.


Then, I listened to London Calling again, especially "Clampdown," and thought about how much The Clash would've probably hated everything about social media.



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