Sunday, December 14, 2014

london calling

The Clash had no fear and threw off the shackles of punk with the diversity and depth of this mythic rock masterpiece.  The band had cleaned up the raw sound of their seminal debut 'The Clash' with 'Give 'Em Enough Rope'; but it was during their extended tour of the US that they became obsessed with rockabilly, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll.  When they returned to the UK, they began working on new material at a new rehearsal space called Vanilla Studios, in the back of a garage in Pimlico.  Recording began in August of 1979 at Wessex Studios with producer Guy Stevens.  CBS Records was not pleased with the choice, due to his alcoholism and erratic behavior.  

Joe Strummer:    "They hate his guts! They said they wouldn't use him again until he was bankable. We plan to use him again, and we're going to get all of CBS's acts to use him. We're gonna make him their house producer.  It gives me heart when Guy tells us about his business history.  At least there's someone around who's as bad as us if not worse. All the dreadful, life-wrecking things that've happened to him...I well remember searching through all the pubs in Oxford Street looking for him.  I found a row of blokes sitting slumped over the bar staring in their beer. I looked down this row and I spotted him because of his woolly hat. I went up to him and tapped him on the shoulder, he looked round and it was like son-finding-father in one of those corny films. He looked up at me and said, 'Have a drink.'... People tend to be afraid of him because he's off the wall, to put it mildly. And they should be. There's a little bit of an act in there, but it's not entirely an act. It puts a lot of people off. They just think, 'Christ, get this man home.' ... We highly recommend him to anybody who wants to make a record."

Mick Jones:    "He had a few rucks during the sessions.  He had one with Mister Oberstein [Maurice Oberstein, big boss man at CBS] where he lay in front of Mister Oberstein's Rolls Royce. He had fights with Bill [Price]...There was this big pile of chairs all stacked up on top of each other like at school and he rushed out during a take and grabbed for the top chair and they all started to come over, so he pushed them back, then went for the top one, pulled it down and smaaaassssshhl Then he says, 'I'm Guy Stevens and this is what I do ... especially when I'm thinking about my mother' and then he starts behaving...eccentrically...Like blowing the desk up. Like hitting the guitarist with a ladder. All these I could take, but not pouring beer into the piano. I nearly killed him...His presence in a studio definitely makes all the differ­ence. It's like all the mess goes to him like Dorian Gray's portrait or whatever. All the messy sound goes and it becomes him, and what's left on the tape is ... clarity."

Paul Simonon:   "Really it was Guy's injection of a live energy and enthusiasm that was contagious. We tended to stand up when we were playing a number, and occasionally sit down, but once Guy was in the room there was no time for sitting down because either a chair or ladder might crack you on the head. The thing about London Calling is that it has the quality of a band playing live then and there, which comes down to Guy Stevens, as opposed to the different role of Sandy Pearlman on the previous album. Sandy Pearlman was able to extract the live Clash performance and produce it in a very technically spot-on way, whereas Guy's approach was to go in all directions, leave the tape running, charge ahead and everything would be great. Record one song, move onto the next one. Give 'Em Enough Rope is a solid rock record but it was quite different to our debut too. Sandy Pearlman wanted to put the lab coat on and create this supersonic sound, which I think he achieved, but on London Calling Guy was able to translate what we were trying to do in a more human form."

'London Calling' features Joe Strummer on lead vocals, backing vocals, rhythm guitar,and piano;   Mick Jones on lead guitar, piano, harmonica, and lead and backing vocals;   Paul Simonon on bass guitar, backing vocals, and lead vocals on "The Guns of Brixton";  and Topper Headon on drums and percussion;  with Mickey Gallagher on organ, and The Irish Horns on brass.   Bill Price was the engineer, assisted by Jerry Green.  Ray Lowry did the album design, based on the cover of Elvis Presley's first album.  The photography was done by Pennie Smith.   The album was released on December 14, 1979 in the UK and two weeks later in the US.  The album went to seventy-two in Switzerland, fifty-two in Spain, twenty-seven in the US, seventeen in Austria, twelve in Canada and New Zealand, nine in the UK, four in Norway, and number two in Sweden.  

Topper Headon:    "I think 'London Calling' is where we peaked with the chemistry between the four of us. Bill Price was a fantastic engineer. We had this attitude we wanted to record all these different types of music. Guy Stevens kept the whole thing live."

"London Calling" became the band's biggest hit (while they were together) in the UK, going to number eleven.

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
London calling, now don't look to us
Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain't got no swing
'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growin' thin
Engines stop running, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning, and I, I live by the river

London calling to the imitation zone
Forget it, brother, you can go it alone
London calling to the zombies of death
Quit holding out and draw another breath
London calling and I don't want to shout
But when we were talking I saw you nodding out
London calling, see we ain't got no high
Except for that one with the yellowy eye

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running, the wheat is growin' thin
A nuclear era, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning, and I, I live by the river

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running, the wheat is growin' thin
A nuclear era, but I have no fear
London is drowning, and I, I live by the river

Now get this

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?

I never felt so much a' like a'like a'like

"Armagideon Time" is a cover of the song by Willi Williams.  It was the b-side to the single of "London Calling".

"Spanish Bombs"
"Yo te quiero y finito. Yo te quiero, oh mi corazón"

"Lost in the Supermarket"
"guaranteed personality"

"Hey, hey!  Ooh!  The kingdom is ransacked, the jewels all taken back and the chopper descends.  They're hidden in the back with a message on a half-baked tape with the spool going round saying I'm back here in this place and I could cry and there's smoke you could click on"

"Guns of Brixton"
"When they kick out your front door, how you gonna come?  With your hands on your head or on the trigger of your gun?"

"Train in Vain" was the last song cut for the album.  It didn't appear on the original sleeve, because it was already being printed when the song was recorded.  The song was going to be given away as part of a promotion with NME; but the deal fell through and they tacked it on the end of the album at the last minute.  The single was the first to break the band into the US top thirty, peaking at number twenty-three.

'London Calling' 
full album:

All songs written and composed by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, except where noted. 

1. London Calling 
2. Brand New Cadillac (Vince Taylor) 
3. Jimmy Jazz 
4. Hateful 
5. Rudie Can't Fail 
6. Spanish Bombs 
7. The Right Profile 
8. Lost In The Supermarket 
9. Clampdown 
10. The Guns Of Brixton (Paul Simonon) 
11. Wrong 'Em Boyo (Clive Alphonso) 
12. Death Or Glory 
13. Koka Kola 
14. The Card Cheat 
15. Lover's Rock 
16. Four Horsemen 
17. I'm Not Down 
18. Revolution Rock (Jackie Edwards, Danny Ray) 
19. Train In Vain 

'The Last Testament'

home video footage of sessions at Wessex

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