Clash’s ‘London Calling’ gets reissued
TORONTO — London Calling by the Clash has been described as “one of rock’s best albums ever,” “the greatest album of its time” and “scientifically proven to be the best album of the 70s.”
While the scientific method used to determine that last accolade can only be guessed at, London Calling does more than stand the test of time.
The album sounds as relevant today as it did when it was first released in September 1979.
But while London Calling’s frantic fusion of rock and politics can still be heard in today’s young punks, bassist Paul Simonon says the album’s longevity is due to something much simpler.
“What seems to count these days with the album is that there’s some really great songs,” Simonon says from London. “I think at the end of the day that’s what counts — great songs. Songs that were recorded by four human beings with a passion and not over-produced.”
To mark the 25th anniversary of the Clash’s third album, Sony will reissue a special edition of London Calling on Sept. 21. When Sony first approached the surviving band members about doing a reissue, Simonon says he, guitarist Mick Jones and drummer Topper Headon offered more than just their support.
“We figured we’d like to get involved and maybe add something to it,” Simonon says. “And at the same time, Mick Jones was moving homes and he had a lot of boxes. In one of these boxes he discovered the demo tapes that we’d prepared before we went to make the album that we thought had been lost.”
Simonon says the band also found film footage that had been shot during the recording of the album by a friend in New York. That footage has been included as part of a 45-minute documentary DVD along with the two-CD digipack reissue. Disc one contains the original album, while disc two features the Vanilla Tapes demos.
Simonon credits the semi-live sound to unorthodox studio methods by producer Guy Stevens.
“He would, in the middle of recording a song, charge into the room and start throwing chairs around or swinging a ladder around,” says Simonon. “It was not the normal producing procedure. So it’s what you would call a live injection of enthusiasm and energy.”
When the Clash arrived on the music scene in the late 1970s, they fused politics with punk to create songs that combined rock, reggae, soul and funk. Simonon is modest about the band’s impact on the history of popular music.
Simonon says London Calling’s innovative style came about quite by accident and they “were just four blokes in a rehearsal room or a studio just making our music.”
As for the album’s political overtones, Simonon said the Clash was not a political band.
“We never thought of it at the time. We were just reacting accordingly to our own environment,” he says.
“When you’re talking about London Calling or the Clash, generally it was always sort of personal politics really,” he continues. “We’re four blokes from London with guitars so we’re not politicians but we respond as a human being would to an injustice one way or another.”
Clash frontman Joe Strummer died of a heart attack at his home in southwest England in December 2002 at the age of 50. In March 2003, the other members of the Clash dedicated the band’s long overdue induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame to his memory.
Twenty-five years on, Simonon is still impressed when new fans discover the Clash, as he hears from his 12-year-old son.
“He said to me the other day, Dad there’s some friend of mine in school, he’s just bought your album,” says Simonon, now 48. “So there’s obviously a new generation of kids that are buying our records and for them it’s like a badge of saying, ‘Well actually I adhere to this idea, this is where I stand.’ ”
So how does Simonon feel about today’s so-called resurgence of punk: is it the real thing or just a reaction to the prevalence of pop?
“The whole idea of punk is that there are no rules. You just have to follow your own heart and your own mind and make your own course,” he says. “Categories are all fine, but truly if you’re a creative person, it is to sort of transcend that.”
These days, Simonon is more likely to be found painting than playing music. “I went to art college to be a painter and Mick Jones went to art college to get a group together, and we met halfway,” he said.
“Mick’s still making music because that’s his passion. I’ve jumped ship and I paint pictures and that’s my passion.”
“We arrived, we turned up, we played what we felt, and we’ve gone,” says Simonon, although he admits the Clash and London Calling will always be an important chapter of his life. “People seem to be affected by it and that’s good because if you can move people emotionally one way or the other that is a positive thing.”
Clash’s ‘London Calling’ gets reissued