Most Influential Modern Rock Albums, Part 3

The Clash, Lon­don Call­ing : When­ev­er I hear the open­ing bars of this album, my pulse quick­ens and my hand reach­es for the vol­ume knob. The range of musi­cal styles the group takes on is absolute­ly amaz­ing— Rock­a­bil­ly in Brand New Cadil­lac, reg­gae in Rudy Can’t Fail, dis­co in Lost in the Super­mar­ket, and even the Phil Spec­tor-ish Wall of Sound in The Card Cheat.

On Call­ing, the band bor­rowed heav­i­ly from the past, but fil­tered and sharp­ened the music through their late-70s, malaise-cloud­ed lens. Even the album cov­er design was an homage to Elvis’s first LP—however, the smil­ing por­trait of the 50s rock­er was replaced by a now icon­ic pho­to of Paul Simonon, smash­ing his bass on stage.

As you lis­ten track by track, Strum­mer and Jones’s vocal har­monies inter­twine like a twin-head­ed monster—completely synced, but so dif­fer­ent in tone. Jones’s Train in Vain sounds a lot like a bounc­ing McCart­ney tune turned sour, while tracks like Lon­don Call­ing and Death or Glo­ry strut Strummer’s lyri­cal wit and cool­ness. This jux­ta­po­si­tion of song-writ­ing per­son­al­i­ty always inter­ests me in the great bands—like Bono & The Edge, and Lennon & McCart­ney, Strum­mer & Jones seem like an odd pair­ing. But per­haps this ten­sion fos­ters an unusu­al cre­ative chem­istry, I don’t know.

I do know that there was a time in the late-70s, not short­ly after I was born, when the world seemed to be a mess. There was Three-mile island, war in the Mid­dle-East, Thatch­er, Rea­gan, and the demise of the polit­i­cal Left. In many ways, it reflects our times… which is why I think this album sounds as fresh and rel­e­vant today as it did 25 years ago.

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