My summer listening has been eclectic and an exciting mix of old and new recordings. Some of the music was mesmerizing and played over and over. Some albums barely made it through the first listen. Some music was part of my project of listening to my record collection front to back, every record, even the not-so-good ones. Many events in my life also impaired my writing. Some were good. Some not so good. Some were a little in column A and a little in column B. Sometimes, I visited a dry well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaVQUbiQbEY As of today, August 16, I am so far behind I think I’m winning.
As a consolation for the music that I have intended to write about but never got around to, I will give a short, hopefully sweet, compilation of what I have been spending my summer listening to. I’ll start with the vinyl slabs.
Over the time span of about two weeks, I listened to my collection of The Clash on vinyl. They released six studio albums over the tumultuous six years they were a band. In chronological order, I listened to these.
The Clash (1977)
Give ‘Em Enough Rope (1978)
London Calling (1979)
Combat Rock (1982)
Cut the Crap (1985)
The Clash is a band that I have been listening to consistently since the early 80s and still enjoy throwing on the platter these days. Their self-titled first release, The Clash, has a fascinating history. This is a copy and paste from Wikipedia: “The album was not released in the US until 1979, making it their second US release. The US version also included a significantly different track listing, changing the track order and swapping out several songs for non-album tracks recorded in the interim.”
This release mish-mash is why I own multiple copies of this album, and it makes listening to all the variants necessary due to the different tracks. I prefer the original UK release, but they are all good.
November 1978 saw the release of the second album from The Clash, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, their first release in the good ol’ US or A. Their second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, is interesting because it feels crushed between the two heavy albums sandwiching it, The Clash and London Calling. I liked this album, and it received good press and many accolades. It has held up well over the years and can still hold its own. It maintains the punk ethos that The Clash were initially identified as a part of, especially in their live shows where they were in-your-face punk all the way.
The album marked the first album appearance of drummer Topper Headon, who joined the band shortly after the recording of their first album. Most of the tracks, as with the prior album, were written by guitarists Joe Strummer and Mick Jones with the exception of English Civil War is a traditional song derived from an American Civil War song, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” written by Irish-born Massachusetts Unionist Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore. It was popular on both sides of the conflict.
“Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad” (known as “Julie’s in the Drug Squad” on the original American release). I can put this song on repeat on Apple Music and listen to it a dozen times without getting tired of it.
“All the Young Punks (New Boots and Contracts)” (known as “That’s No Way to Spend Your Youth” on original American release). Every time I hear this song, I hear a nod to David Bowie and Mott The Hoople with their song All the Young Dudes. It also makes a synapse connection to New Boots and Panties by Ian Dury, another good album you should give a listen to.
Moving along, we come to the album that most people would associate with The Clash, London Calling. I even heard the song London Calling on Muzak, for Pete’s sake. Is nothing sacred? I think this is the album that got me listening to The Clash. A band that I was a minor member of played our interpretation of the song London Calling. I am still trying to nail down the lead guitar parts. London Calling is a double album that gave The Clash plenty of room to develop their music in new and exciting ways. They moved away from the Punk movement they most strongly identified with in their first two albums and their live music. In London Calling, we can hear the band playing around with rockabilly, pop, reggae, and hard rock. With Mick Jones composing and arranging much of the music and Joe Strummer writing most of the lyrics, they started addressing social issues, including racial conflict, drug use, and the responsibilities of adulthood, such as having steady employment and paying the bills. The more I listen to London Calling, the more I appreciate the artistry of this recording.
If a double record release wasn’t enough, the next album from The Clash is the triple album Sandinista! This album took The Clash and their fans in a whole new direction. Sandinista! is not a punk rock album. It has funk, reggae, jazz, gospel, rockabilly, folk, dub, rhythm and blues, calypso, disco, rap and even punk. Your favourite genre doesn’t matter; it will get some air time on Sandinista!
It gave artistic freedom to all the band members. A generic credit for The Clash replaced the band’s traditional songwriting credits of Strummer and Jones for the first time. Sandinista! is the only Clash album on which all four members have a lead vocal. Drummer Topper Headon made a unique lead vocal contribution on the song “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe,” and Paul Simonon sings lead on “The Crooked Beat.”
Sandinista! is an album that never gets old for me. Mick Jones said, “I always saw it as a record for people who were on oil rigs. Or Arctic stations. People that weren’t able to get to the record shops regularly.” I can get to the record shops, but I can’t afford to buy records anymore, so I listen to the ones I have, and Sandinista! is a deserted island album.
It is always difficult to follow a fantastic recording with another equally amazing. Very few bands or artists can pull that feat off. Pink Floyd did it more than once. They moved from their breakthrough album, The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), to Wish You Were Here (1975), followed by Animals (1977) and closing with The Wall (1979). The Clash did it with Sandinista! Following on the heels of London Calling and leading us into Combat Rock. That’s ten sides of vinyl that nail it. Nineteen songs that give us 1 hour and five minutes on London Calling. Sandinista! gives us 36 songs and 2 hours and 25 minutes of listening time. Hot on their heels, we have a third stellar album, Combat Rock. The Clash are clocking in at 46 minutes over an additional 12 songs. If my math is correct, they give us three outstanding albums containing 67 songs and 4 hours and 16 minutes of listening time. That’s a pretty solid lineup.
And then the wheels fall off. The train derails. The shit hits the fan. Cut The Crap is the dying gasp of what remained of The Clash. Cut the Crap did not receive an excellent reception, with most reviews being in the lacklustre 2 out of 5 on the charts. I think Mike Laye sums up the consensus—a writer, photographer and Clash insider—said the band should “just drop the ‘Cut’ from the title because to me this [is] Crap. iWow! That was a lot of music and time well spent; for the most part, even Cut the Crap had its moments. Onward to some more of my summer listening with bands that I got to listen to through some wonderful folks who sent their music to me.