by Chloe Kallberg
It’s mid-February of 2017, and the music wing of my high school is fraught with pacing theatre kids waiting perilously for their spring musical audition slots. Some are sussing out the competition, eyes wandering and hands wringing, others are facing a wall while reciting their minute-long monologues, but one thing is for sure: none of them are listening to influential godfather punk albums. That is, until you pan over to fifteen-year-old me.
Having done everything I could to prepare for the audition, I decided to calm my nerves with an album that can’t often be described as comforting, but served as a security blanket for me throughout high school. The chaos of its disorienting vocals, the conversation between screaming guitars and forceful bass, the drums marching along to keep everyone in line. There’s not much about this album that promotes concentration, but its innate chaos continues to put me more in control of my own life. For the record, my audition kind of sucked and I didn’t make the cast.
That misfortune was no fault of The Clash, though. Their chart-topping album, London Calling, has kept fans in good company for almost fifty years, with the noteworthy singles “Clampdown,” “Train in Vain,” as well as the album-opening title track.
It would be a mistake to refer to the Clash as just a punk band. Undeniably, they had the Attitude and the look, but this band doused their craft with an experimental nature that’s not often replicated in the world as successfully as for the London Callers. At any point, your ears can be hit with notes of hardcore, reflective pop rock, jazz (but that’s Jimmy Jazz to you…), and even reggae.
Genre aside, the band didn’t shy away from making music on behalf of social causes. Many songs from the Clash, especially those on London Calling, focus on the issues of growing up in the late seventies, a time of social upheaval and stark youth disenfranchisement. “The Guns of Brixton,” the first song written and sung by bassist Paul Simonon, focused on the fear he held while growing up in an area under heavy threat of violence.
The song makes reference to the movie The Harder They Come, in which a Jamaican immigrant undergoes hardships that resonated with Simonon enough to produce the lyricm “You see, he feels like Ivan/Born under the Brixton sun/His game is called surviving/At the end of The Harder They Come.” This song solidifies the band’s impact on reggae music, as does another London Calling track, “Rudie Can’t Fail.”
The lyrics of this song also follow a storyline of restlessness, but with a more chipper and celebratory tone than Sinomon’s track. A brass section, dynamic bassline, and a rebellious mentality produce an anthem inspired by Jamaican youth. The subject of this song, a young Jamaican man, is insulted by his elders for not growing up in the way that they deem suitable. The song makes reference to many aspects of the Clash’s legacy, including a nod to Ray Gange, who starred in Rude Boy as a Clash fan who quit his job to follow the band on tour. This song has also gone on to inspire the name of a diner that is partly owned by Green Day’s bassist, Mike Dirnt. The Rudy’s Can’t Fail diner resides in Northern California and serves as a daily reminder for the impact the Clash has had on popular culture.
The mood of the album undergoes drastic changes with every song, but one theme prevails overall: the chaos of rock’n’roll. London Calling’s album cover features a picture taken by Pennie Smith, who took the iconic shot of Paul Simonon roughing up his Fender Precision bass guitar. While the picture was at first considered too blurry for an album cover, it’s since been hailed as an album cover that “captures the ultimate rock’n’roll moment- total loss of control,” according to Q magazine.
This hyper accurate compliment is barely a drop in the bucket of compliments that have been thrown at London Calling. In Rolling Stone’s 2003 and 2012 rankings for 500th Best Albums of All Time, London Calling ranked 8th, and in the 2020 edition, it ranked 16th. Longevity should never be the only accolade on which a band is judged, but the Clash’s impact on punk music cannot be ignored. The Clash is a storied band, one that’s continued to inspire generations of rebellious music lovers.