500 Greatest Albums of All Time

8

The Clash, 'London Calling'

Epic, 1980

Recorded in 1979 in London, which was then wrenched by surging unemployment and drug addiction, and released in America in January 1980, the dawn of an uncertain decade, London Calling is 19 songs of apocalypse, fueled by an unbending faith in rock & roll to beat back the darkness. Produced with no-surrender energy by legendary Seventies studio madman Guy Stevens, the Clash's third album skids from bleak punk ("London Calling") to rampaging ska ("Wrong 'Em Boyo") and disco resignation ("Lost in the Supermarket"). The album was made in dire straits too. The band was heavily in debt and openly at war with its record company. Singer-guitarists Joe Strummer and Mick Jones wrote together in Jones' grandmother's flat. "Joe, once he learned how to type, would bang the lyrics out," Jones said. "Then I'd be able to bang out some music while he was hitting the typewriter." Strummer, Jones, bassist Paul Simonon and drummer Topper Headon spent nearly three months rehearsing and demoing songs in a garage in the Pimlico section of London – "with one light and filthy carpet on the walls for soundproofing," recalled Strummer in 1989. "We felt that we were struggling," he said, "about to slide down a slope or something, grasping with our fingernails." But Stevens was on hand for inspiration. He threw chairs around the room "if he thought a track needed zapping up," according to Strummer. The album ends with "Train in Vain," a rousing song of fidelity (unlisted on the back cover because it was added at the last minute) that became the sound of triumph: the Clash's first Top 30 single in the U.S.

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