The Last Testament

#8: London Calling by The Clash

London Calling

The Clash’s third album was begrudgingly added to the Top 10 of Rollingstone’s 500 albums list whereas here it occupies its position as a proud addition. To look at it in contemporary terms The Clash were looking at dire straits. They were running without a manager and Mick Jones had been living with his “nanna” at the time. What could be more humiliating?

Still the self-touted “Most Important Band In The World” or “The Only Band That Matters” or whatever soldiered on, asking their label if their new album could be a double-album. The label rejected this idea. The band asked if they could press an album with a free single included. For whatever reason the record label said “sure” to this even though singles cost about as much to produce as albums. Anyways the “single” part of the album came with a number of B-sides. In fact there were so many that altogether the songs necessitated an entire disc. The band wanted the whole package to go out for the price of a single album. The label, probably exasperated at this point, agreed.

It was another risk altogether that the band had used a mock-up of Elvis Presley’s first LP as its cover. “Don’t worry, we’ll get Paul Simonon, the band’s most photogenic member, on the cover.” Instead of the bassist shown with an acoustic bass yelling his heart out, the cover depicted him, no physiognomy showing, smashing his bass at The Palladium or the Odeon or the Apollo or where the fuck ever. (Honestly, who gives a shit?)

Anyways, the band went into the studio with psycho producer Guy Stevens. Seriously, this guy may not be quite on the level of Phil Spector in terms of psycosity but he was pretty fucking close. He was fighting with the engineer during recording, he would verbally challenge the band during performance, and he even poured wine all over the piano Joe Strummer was using to compose “Lover’s Rock” ruining what was undoubtedly a relic and an important architectural build.

Still, the producer, who I think fell down some stairs and killed himself (prompting the tune “Midnight To Stevens” – fact check me), psyched Strummer into composing a tune about Montgomery Cliff (again, please look this up, I’m too lazy) with “The Right Profile.” The album’s best song, “Spanish Bombs”, manages to incorporate the immortal Lorca. And while the title track and “Train In Vain” make up the album’s bookends (one of them even being a secret track) as the two biggest singles, pretty much everything in between is again a filler-less affair.

Tracks like much of the second disc (the “B-sides” again) may not immediately be recognizable but they all stand the test of repeated listen. I may have said this elsewhere but to me the best albums often play like collections of elite B-sides. It’s not that every song is an obvious single, but that the ones that aren’t are growers and those growers often grow in esteem past the singles. Just look at “I’m Not Down” (superior to “Train In Vain”) and Topper Headon’s drum and percussion concerto “Revolution Rock” for proof of that. It’s not even so much what’s immediate and what’s not immediate. What you have in the end is that all the best tracks are right here. And that’s what you want a band’s best work to do. I wouldn’t even think to replace a track from London Calling with one from their triple-LP follow-up Sandinista! or from their two prior albums. And in a sense that really is the best compliment a given album can receive. London Calling is both album and era at the same time. Another title was The Last Testament.

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