Michael Goldberg

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 419

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[With London Calling, the] Clash have created a classic rock album which, literally, defines the state of rock and roll and against which the very best rock of this decade will have to be judged. (p. 32)

On this new album, the Clash explore the terrain of American music, even as they reshape it to fit their own purposes. Brand New Cadillac may be an out and out rockabilly song that Carl Perkins could appreciate, but the lyrics are as contemporary as, well, women's lib….

Wrong 'Em Boyo updates the folk song Stagger Lee with a ska beat and the punch of Stax Records style horns. Jimmy Jazz finds the group working in a near blues idiom, while Revolution Rock comments wryly on the "punk rock revolution," as the Clash dive into a rock-steady reggae groove.

Lyrically, the Clash remain the outstanding social conscience of rock and roll, railing against materialism, sexism, stardom, capitalism, nuclear power and more. Not only do they make their smorgasbord of subjects and styles fit in a loosely conceptual way, but they stamp all the songs indelibly with their own identity. Probably, it is Joe Strummer's unforgettable voice that gives the Clash their unique sound. On previous tracks, Strummer's singing style was memorable as a raging howl. Now, though he still carries the authenticity of London street fights in his voice, he shows a mellower, more controlled side when he offers a Tom Waits-like approach on The Right Profile, a loving, slightly silly tribute to Montgomery Clift that sounds as though it was recorded in a London pub.

The killer, however, is the title track, London Calling. Set to a military beat, Strummer sings of impending world crisis…. Guitars come crashing down with relentless fury. This is rock and roll to start a revolution; powerful stuff that exhales the intense fire that has been the mark of classic rock and roll: songs like My Generation by the Who, Money by the Beatles and Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones.

Certainly the socially conscious lyrics, breadth of musical styles, sense of humor and strong group identity are reasons why I value this disc so highly, as well as the way the Clash weave fact and fiction, seriousness and fun into an immensely playable album that you can think about or just dance to.

This is, simply, the best rock and roll album since the Rolling Stones early '70s masterpiece, Exile on Main St. (p. 35)

Michael Goldberg, "The Clash," in down beat, Vol. 47, No. 5, May, 1980, pp. 32, 35.


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