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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