What is Punk music? Punk is often thought of as a loud, aggressive and stripped down sound, frequently performed by people who only loosely grasp the title of “musician”. Yet Punk is so much more than that, as The Clash definitively proved with their late 1979 (released in 1980 in the US) London Calling.
The album starts off with the hit title track, a look at the media’s fear stories of apocalypse, preceding to cast a cynical eye over the masses’ dependence on the numbing effects of pop music. It’s a phenomenally good rock song, a testament which has seen it being covered by the likes of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
The majority of this double LP moves into more reggae and ska territory, with tracks like ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’ and ‘Revolution Rock’ and their prominent horn sections. Although the band experimented with earlier work, this made a much larger impact on the overall sound of this album, and a great, innovative sound at that.
There is a more emotional side shown in songs like ‘Hateful’, inspired by the death of the Sex Pistol Sid Vicious – a close friend of The Clash’s frontman Joe Strummer – by means of drug overdose. Understandably, therefore, the song carries a suitable anti-drug message. Their lyrics also move into a more soppy area with the hidden track ‘Train in Vain (Stand By Me)’, as the singer questions the loyalty of a lover; but they maintain integrity all the same.
Political and social comment is a mainstay of punk songs, and normally represents an anti-establishment view. ‘Lost In The Supermarket’ is a softer sounding song, which is critical of commercialism and an overload of advertisements. It was written by Strummer, and blends both his and guitarist Mick Jones’ childhoods together, despite being very different. Elements of social comment are present in the reflective song ‘Death or Glory’ (originally written as a piano ballad), where the lives of rebellious teens that became authority figures themselves are questioned through an aggressive church-related metaphor.
Overall, this is a great album – 19 tracks that expanded the definition of punk and made The Clash world-famous. London Calling is a truly immersive listening experience, with each track complementing the one before it, making it greater than the sum of its considerable parts.
What is Punk? If this album is anything to go by it is not a genre that is confined to a single definition, but is more a questioning (and arguing) state of mind that has ultimately produced incredibly good and revolutionary recorded music.
5 stars ★★★★★
If you have a couple more minutes to spare, why not check out the past week’s other content?