Another landmark album in the “punk rock” movement, we have “London Calling” from The Clash. This double-album release is highly regarded by most, as it is rated as the #16 album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It also rates as the #4 punk rock album of all time by loudersound.com.
I will take minor issue with both of these ratings in my assessment here. To start with, in my view, it is a good but not great record. I will explain more on that as I go through the list of songs. As for punk rock, as much as The Clash originated from punk rock roots and Joe Strummer certainly captures the attitude with his vocals, most of this album is frankly much more refined and musically diverse than what I would associate with punk rock. The caliber of instrumental performance is really high, and the diversity of songwriting style and delivery transcends the boundaries of punk rock, at least in my book.
Let’s talk a little more about where I struggle at times with The Clash. It all boils down to the vocals of Joe Strummer. His range is extremely limited, and he frankly sounds like he has a really bad cold most of the time. Like I noted above, a lot of his delivery centers around attitude, but ultimately, if I’m going to listen to an album, much less a double album, I would like to be able to say I enjoy the vocals, and I can’t say that about that a lot of this album. It definitely works on some of the songs that I will highlight below, but I also find it confining and a bit redundant on some of the less impactful tunes.
That criticism aside, it is not comprehensive, and there are songs on this record I really like. I think I have been conditioned to embrace the title track as one of the signature sounds of the genre and era, particularly as it foot-stomps the UK origins of much of this sound. “Jimmy Jazz” is a creative tune, complete with horns! “Clampdown” is a really strong rocker, and we then go into a good run with the funky “The Guns of Brixton”, pub-anthem “Wrong ‘Em Boyo”, and the refined pop-rock song “Death or Glory”, which has an outstanding chord structure.
The album ends with what I consider to be their best and not surprisingly, most well-known song outside their core audience, “Train in Vain “(Stand by Me)”. It is a truly beautiful song that celebrates the very best Joe Strummer has to give us, and I’m glad they stretched themselves to give us this timeless hit. Overall, a lot to like on this album, even if it isn’t quite the standard-bearer for me that it is for many others.