Last March, as Clash guitarist Mick Jones was rummaging through boxes in his home in London, he stumbled upon a set of homemade recording tapes that had been missing for twenty-five years. Known as the “Vanilla Tapes,” they contain demo versions of fifteen songs that would end up on the band’s classic London Calling, plus six unreleased songs, including a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Man in Me.”
The Vanilla Tapes have long been legend among fans — now they will be released for the first time as part of a three-disc package to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of London Calling, due out on September 21st. The package contains the remastered original album and a DVD with interviews and footage of the London Calling sessions.
The Vanilla Tapes were recorded in a studio built into a dingy auto garage. “I remember the dirty brown carpet on the floor, and the ceiling and the walls,” says Clash bassist Paul Simonon. It was a troubled time for the Clash: The band had recently parted with manager Bernie Rhodes and had just wrapped up its first U.S. tour, embodied by the photo that would become the cover of London Calling: Simonon thrashing his white Fender bass onstage in New York.
“In Britain, everybody thought we were over,” says Simonon. “We felt backed into a corner, so we got quite close with each other, and we just tried to go to work.”
The band’s spontaneity and invention can be heard on these tapes, especially on early versions of “London Calling” (with alternate lyrics) and “Death or Glory.” “It’s strange hearing those songs,” says Simonon. “It really conjures up another time.”