September 21, 2004

London Calling: it was 25 years ago today

In 1979 The Clash recorded their classic London Calling double lp. The 25th Anniversary Edition package is a cool threesome: the original 19-song album, a 21-track disc containing rehearsal sessions for the record ("the long lost Vanilla Tapes"), and a DVD of The Last Testament, Don Letts' 30-minute, after-the-fact documentary about the making of London Calling.

As always, London Calling's title track holds steady as the record's cosmic lynchpin: Horrifyingly apocalyptic, "London Calling" is riddled with weird werewolf howls and big, prophetic hollers, Mick Jones' punchy guitar bursts tapping little nails into our skulls, pushing hard for total lunacy. Empowered and unafraid, Strummer reveals self-skewering prophecies, panting hard about nuclear errors and impending ice ages. He also spitefully lodges some of the most unpleasantly convincing calls to arms ever committed to tape, commanding his followers-- now, then, future-- to storm the streets at full, leg-flailing sprints. Even if The Clash were more blatantly inspired by the musical tenets of dub and reggae, "London Calling" unapologetically cops the fury of punk's blind-and-obliterate full-body windmilling, bypassing the cerebral cortex to sink deep into our muscles. From "London Calling" on, The Clash do not let go; each track builds on the last, pummeling and laughing and slapping us into dumb submission.

And now, we get to watch how it fell together: Using only a Teac four-track tape recorder linked up to a portastudio, The Clash inadvertently immortalized their London Calling rehearsal sessions at Vanilla Studios (a former rubber factory-gone-rehearsal-space in Pimlico, London) in the summer of 1979, several weeks before the album sessions officially opened at Wessex Studios.

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