August 3, 2021

The Clash and ‘London Calling’: punk settles in the museum

It is more, surely, the fact of being an inescapable reference of the genre and, nevertheless, it does not seem exactly like a punk album. Not in the form, not in the merely musical.

When in 1976 the British music scene languished under the dominance of progressive and symphonic rock and its boring and endless instrumental developments, the Clash were at the forefront of the punk revolt alongside The Damned and Sex Pistols (and soon many others), putting it all upside down and giving the last great turn of the wheel in the direction of popular music.

Although Malcolm McLaren’s cunning and outstanding marketing skills made the Pistols the great reference of that new generation, the first Clash album was just as good as the formidable and overwhelming Never Mind The Bollocks, the same can be said of his second installment, the already somewhat more sophisticated but certainly sharp and combative Give´em Enough Rope. The next was something else. It was so much more.

For its third installment, some Clash in a true state of grace had traveled, in just a couple of years, a path in which others would have had to pawn decades. His first two installments were magnificent punk catechism records: angry songs, fiery social proclamations, nonconformity and agitation, dirty and fast guitars, simple melodies; urgent, unprejudiced and vital music.

Happily, the London quartet would go much further with London Calling. Although it would continue to kick off for a while longer (“punk’s not dead” could be read on the walls of the London suburbs –and Madrid, for example–), at the end of 1979 punk had given way to the new wave, which, broadly speaking, , combined the recovery of the melodies of the classic sixties pop format with the extra dose of energy typical of the new times.

With their perfectly adjusted and oriented radar, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon absorbed the influences of almost anything that lay ahead of them, conforming an absolutely unbeatable repertoire that hardly resembled the formal and aesthetic criteria of the primal punk. Yes, he certainly remained a challenging and critical attitude, although in the face of the somewhat obtuse nihilism of most of his generation companions (“no future”), his proposal was rebellious and rebellious, but encouraging and combative, not exempt, moreover , with an attractive halo of leftist romanticism.

Outside of all convention and driving away all kinds of complexes, London Calling he demolished all the formal limits of punk by bravery, forming a splendid collection of formidable songs in which rhythm and blues, reggae, soul, the most accessible pop and classic rock and roll coincided, which landed on the album by the fast track, with that excellent and unexpected version of Brand New Cadillac, the most iconic piece signed by one of the genre’s few British glories, Vince Taylor.

With all those fabulous ingredients, the only thing missing was a cover that had become an icon of the time (a somewhat blurred snapshot of Paul Simonon smashing his bass against the floor during a performance framed by the letters that made up the group’s name and image title and resemblance to those on Elvis Presley’s first album) and a producer fearless and moronic enough to, for example, throw beer bottles at the group while recording because that, he said, “will awaken your aggressiveness.”

Apart from those peculiar motivational techniques, the truth is that Guy Stevens, musical agitator at the time of “swinging London” and later producer of bands such as Procol Harum, Free or Mott The Hoople, extracted the best of himself from the Clash themselves, giving homogeneity and coherence to an album that wastes vitality, energy and freshness and that, above all, is full of enormous songs.

Forty years later London Calling it keeps all its might intact and continues to shine as one of the masterpieces of popular music of all time. And the Museum of London scores an accurate goal with an attractive exhibition whose audience is not precisely limited to the brotherhood of the safety pin.