Search This Blog

Monday, May 04, 2009


London calling (1979): my vote for Most Overrated Punk Album of All Time.

I love British punk rock, but I have never quite understood the across-the-board worship of the Clash. I like their first album and a handful of their subsequent songs, but other than that I just don't get it and would take the Damned over them in a heartbeat. My old friend John Bligh, on the other hand, fucking loves the Clash in general and their 1979 "London Calling" album in particular, and over the years he's played it, or a handful of cuts from it, so many times in my presence that I swear I could live the rest of my life without ever hearing it again (with the exceptions of the track "Clampdown" and their cover of Vince Taylor & His Playboys' "Brand New Cadillac").

Yesterday afternoon while out shopping in Hove with JWP, I found a book entitled CAN'T BE ARSED: 101 THINGS NOT TO DO BEFORE YOU DIE by Richard Wilson, in which the 48th thing on his list is the Clash. I don't agree with every word he writes on the subject, but I'm with him most of the way. Here's what the man has to say:

#48 London Calling

The title track of this album is a cracker, but I don't know how the Clash came up with it because the rest of their stuff is terrible. I'm in dangerous territory here because for some middle-aged men, to insult the Clash is like ripping the ear off their favourite childhood teddy bear. The Clash have shouty choruses so it reminds a lot of men of their early youth, walking round the playground in a gang of mates shouting, 'All-join-on-to-play-at-war!' You can sing this along to most Clash records.

The Clash were as guilt as all the other early punk bands of sounding like drunks or mentals in a shopping precinct but as they grew in popularity and made a bit of money, they were allowed enough time in the studio to experiment with all kinds of drivel. There are a couple of reasonable rockers here like 'Brand New Cadillac' and 'Death or Glory; but I've no idea what you'd call songs like 'Koka Kola' and 'Revolution Rock.' The bonehead pro-terrorist politics of 'Spanish Bombs' would make a sixth-former blush, but then with stuff like 'Rudie Can't Fail' and 'The Guns of Brixton' we see the Clash continue to fanny around with one of the most cringe-making musical genres of all time - white reggae. 'Bank Robber' and 'White Man in Hammersmith Palais' (neither on this album) were two of the worst examples of it, but by being one of the first punk bands to make white reggae appear cool, they gagave Sting (shudder!) and the Police some very bad ideas. Joe Strummer seems to have thought the only way he, as the son of a diplomat who went to boarding school, could get 'down' with black people was to play their music. It's a bit patronizing to start with but when you perform it so badly, it becomes an insult. It's not an exaggeration to say that a more successful attempt at a black/white crossover was made by Rick Astley with Stock Aitken Waterman.

1 comment:

Ravens said...

I'm in agreement. Never understood why The Clash was "the only band that matters," nor why the Brit press still continues to measure the life and death of Punk by the London scene of the mid-1970s(*)... and then list albums by X, the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag as "essential Punk albums."

For my time and listening pleasure, The Clash were wildly overrated. Give me G.B.H., The Damned, The Plasmatics, Ramones, Kennedys and so forth over the quickly-stale antics of Strummer's house band. Hell, I even once saw a bootleg album called The Clash: Great Disco Songs, featuring "Rock the Casbah," "Ivan Meets G.I. Joe" and "Train in Vain." Yeah, THERE'S Punk cred for ya!

* - According to every British article I've read on the subject, Punk was born in the Bowery at CBGB's, relocated to England when The Ramones and The Runaways toured there in '76, and was dead by the time Sid Vicious kicked it in 1979. Um... no, 'frayed knot, boys!