The Clash: London Calling Page 2

'I found this astonishing, as I knew Paul had studied at the private Byam Shaw art school in Chelsea, where [he said] "I used to draw blocks of flats and car dumps".'

All this reverse oneupmanship couldn't go on forever. Mark Perry opined that punk died when The Clash signed to CBS for their debut album, but certainly by 1978 when the group – now with Nicky 'Topper' Headon on drums – recorded their second album Give 'Em Enough Rope with Blue Oyster Cult producer and lyricists Sandy Pearlman, it was more polished and veered towards hard rock territory.


By 1979, for many, punk was last year's thing and groups who were more imaginative and creative, like The Clash, were keen to move into new areas and did so with some speed. On their third album, London Calling they found their true voice.

Rehearsals and writing sessions for the album took place between May and August 1979 at Vanilla Studios in Pimlico, South West London. After the new material was tried out at a gig at Notre Dame Hall in the city and demo recordings were made, actual production of the LP took place at Wessex Studios in Highbury. Released that December, the album was something of a musical leap. On the opening title track, Jones's staccato guitar chords and Simonon's ominous bass lines provide a platform for Strummer to deliver lyrics full of apocalyptic portent, foretelling a new 'ice age' – which was what climate change scientists thought was on the agenda at the time – and atomic arsenals set for what was known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Strummer's lyrics also warn of a 'nuclear error', but the overall mood is one of cool defiance.


Throughout the album's four sides – a format that CBS initially baulked at – it was clear that their songwriting had peaked and they were now skilfully synthesising elements of rock 'n' roll, R&B, reggae and ska, with even hints of some New Orleans funk and rather rough-hewn jazz thrown in.

They weren't so bored with the USA now and were absorbing its many influences. They even expressed more personal sentiments on the soulful, poppy 'Train In Vain', which was released as a single in the US and made it to the Top 30.


The Clash had demonstrated their interest in reggae via a version of Junior Murvin's 'Police & Thieves' on their debut album and although it had sounded a bit stiff-limbed, their punky-ska reading of Danny Ray's 'Revolution Rock', powered on by The Irish Horns, is one the highlights of London Calling and shows a group full of confidence and ambition.


Elvis Tribute
The album was highly regarded in the States where it reached No 27 on the Billboard 200, with Rolling Stone naming it the best album of the 1980s. In this country it made No 9 in the charts and regularly features in 'greatest album' polls.

The Clash proclaimed that there would be no Elvis on the track '1977' – and those lyrics proved all too literal as The King died a few months after '1977' was released. But by 1979 he was posthumously back in favour and in a tribute, the pink and green title font on English illustrator Ray Lowry's cover for London Calling – framing Pennie Smith's famous photograph of Simonon smashing his bass on the stage of the New York Palladium – was borrowed from the cover of Elvis Presley's 1956 debut album.