There’s a thing with punk rock. Anarchy is good, authority is bad, drugs are good as well as sex, and of course rock and roll can be good or bad depending on who’s doing the shouting. Playing your instrument and/or singing well is considered bad both by the punks themselves, and certainly by anyone who was not a part of that whole thing. It wasn’t called a counterculture for nothing.
Nearly every punk song ever written was simple stuff about all the things that were cool to hate; that could be mom or dad, certainly the government, any and all ex’s and anything else that you could throw in there for a laugh.
So in punk’s dying days, there was one band that stayed around long enough to get really good at telling how bad everything was.
The Clash were the last ones standing when the punk movement self-destructed. Punk, which had been the biggest thing in England two short years before, was quickly falling out of favor with music fans on both sides of the Atlantic. The band was also in turmoil when they recorded and released their masterpiece London Calling in 1979, going through a change in management and watching the whole thing collapse around them.
“London Calling” is the stunning result of all this tumult’s being focused into a three minute, 19-second anthem for all that’s wrong with the world.
From the first note of the guitars and drums, the intensity is right there in your face. There’s nowhere to hide from this one. Bassist Paul Simonon jumps in with some slides that seem to draw the whole thing along into the first verse.
“London calling to the faraway towns.
Now war is declared – and battle come down.
London calling to the underworld,
Come out of the cupboard,you boys and girls.”
The long predicted cold war apocalypse has begun.
“The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in.
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin.
Engines stop running, but I have no fear,
Cause London is drowning and I, live by the river.”
The effect of this fait accompli as sung by Joe Strummer is chilling.
“London calling, yes, I was there, too.
An’ you know what they said?
Well, some of it was true!
London calling at the top of the dial,
And after all this, won’t you give me a smile?”
Strummer’s vocals are so matter of fact through all this Armageddon and terror it adds to the discomfort level to the point of truly being disturbing. When the guitar solo, such as it is, arrives, its an amazing cacophony of screeches and wails combining with Strummer’s howls and shrieks to really make the listener nervous.
One of the most powerful and truly unsettling songs ever written.