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For the new generations, the concept of punk has not disappeared. However, it is not because they have brought back the music and the destructive, revolutionary attitude of this social movement that began in the mid-1970s, but rather because—for the new generations—punk can still be seen as a logo on a t-shirt made by huge multinational textile companies, by which they show their rebellion on Instagram. And it makes sense somehow as the current context is a long way off what young people were going through in a decade that was golden for music, but dark grey in all things social. After the 1960s counterculture’s failure to produce the world of rainbows and unicorns that it had foretold, the new generation came up hard against a reality that pushed them into a life of hardship, or at best, boring bourgeois routine. This frustration manifested itself through a new movement that took looking different to the extreme and proclaimed anarchy as its way of life.
Out of this cauldron a lot of new bands emerged, most of them lacking any musical sense whatsoever but overflowing with a brute energy that—in addition to being contagious—was therapeutic in exorcising one’s day-to-day frustration. Although in the beginning there was talk of it being politically motivated, the truth is that the real aim of those groups was to live out to the maximum expressions such as “sex, drugs and rock n roll” and “live fast and leave a beautiful corpse”. With slogans such as these, it is not surprising that the pioneers of the punk movement fell into a spiral of self-destruction bathed in heroin.
In 1979, the atmosphere surrounding the punk scene was depressing: with the break-up of the Sex Pistols and the rise of Glam Rock, many bands dissolved, or radicalised, or opted to transform into something different. The Clash was included in the latter group, although who knows whether it was by chance, by conviction or simply by survival instinct. The end result of this movement created a genre called post-punk, turning The Clash into a cult band.
On many occasions, human beings give their best in the worst of situations and the situation of The Clash at that time was pathetic. Fighting among themselves for creative leadership, hooked on different substances, disenchanted with the punk movement and unable to compose a song that sounded fresh. In punk there are few nuances, which is why trying to create something different out of its chords is an absurd task. That is why the band, facing a job that meant all or nothing, decided to set aside their punk music soul to soak up the essence of reggae, rockabilly, ska, R&B, pop, lounge jazz, and heavy rock. Even though their sound changed, their message through the lyrics did not let up, continuing its commitment to racial conflict, unemployment, poverty, drug use and the anger brought about by day-to-day frustration. It meant lots of material that finally had to be included on a double LP with 19 tracks.
Like any historical album worthy of its name, London Calling had a wonderful producer behind it. The Clash was not exactly a band with virtuous musicians, which is why Guy Stevens’ work at the production table was even more worthy of merit. His fame for being an alcoholic genius who suffered outbreaks of anger preceded him, and during the recording of the album he gave plenty of examples of it. Histrionic, tormented, totally crazy but brilliant. His inebriated state during the five weeks of recording the album managed to infect Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon with the kind of unconsciousness feeling that led them to record the songs in just one or two takes.
Another of the iconic elements of London Calling is its cover. The snapshot was captured on September 20, 1979, when, without warning, the bassist Paul Simonon shattered his Fender bass guitar on the floor of the New York Palladium stage during the Take The Fifth tour. That outburst occurred because the event’s security staff prohibited those in the crowd from getting up from their seats, and the band's response was to stir up those present with an action that triggered their rebellion. The lucky photographer was Pennie Smith, although at first she was not convinced by the image because of the fact it was blurry. Luckily for her, she ended up letting them have the photograph and it became a symbol that surpassed the realm of the purely musical.
London Calling, like good wines, has matured with the passage of time to become a legend. Its repercussion has been so great that even the London Museum is dedicating an exhibition to that phase of The Clash. In this exhibition, you can see Strummer’s first notebook and typewriter, Topper Headon’s drumsticks, Mick Jones’ manuscripts and the bass guitar that Paul Simonon smashed in front of the public.
It is clear that the mid-life crisis (i.e. reaching your 40s) has not affected London Calling by The Clash at all. It is an album that has to be revisited to enjoy its many nuances and sounds, but above all, to realise that a masterpiece can arise when and where you least expect it.Read more Close