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The Clash's London Calling 25 years on

Review by Alex Billet | October 22, 2004 | Page 13

The Clash, London Calling, 25th Anniversary Legacy Edition, Sony, 2004, box set includes two CDs and one DVD, $29.90.

JOEY RAMONE once said, "The Sex Pistols were a cool band...but The Clash were a great band." Today, 25 years since the release of their greatest album London Calling and two years after the death of Clash frontman Joe Strummer, time has proven him right.

The Clash helped pioneer the punk sound, broke down musical boundaries and delivered a wake-up call to the sterile, corporate stadium rock of the 1970s. Now, on the 25th anniversary edition of London Calling--a box set that includes a CD of previously unreleased songs and a documentary DVD--the band sounds as fresh as ever.

And if there were ever a time that we needed The Clash's message, this is it.

The late 1970s were a time of crisis for working people in Britain. Waves of strikes were going down to defeat, and the leadership of the Labour Party were sitting on their hands. It was "the winter of discontent," with no turnaround in sight, especially after Margaret Thatcher took office in 1979. Internationally, Iran erupted in revolution, the left-wing Sandinista government came to power in Nicaragua, and the Three Mile Island radiation leak reminded the world how close it was to global meltdown. All this affected the members of the band back home in London.

Musically, London Calling is a brilliant piece of work. Not just limiting itself to punk, the band branched out into ska, reggae, jazz and soul. Lyrically, this is the band at their most politically outspoken. They skewered the privileged elite, spoke of alienation and rejection, and tapped into the widespread anger just below the surface of society.

They also tried to point a way forward. "We were always of the left," Strummer said years later in an interview included in the new edition. "We were trying to grope in a socialist way toward some future where the world might be a less miserable place."

They held up the example of the Spanish revolution in "Spanish Bombs." "Clampdown" urged young workers stay strong and not sell out. And "Guns of Brixton" predicts the uprising against racism that town would experience two years later. The song is a brilliant reggae-fuelled anthem: "When they kick at your front door, how you gonna come/With your hands on your head, or on the trigger of your gun/When the law break in, how you gonna go/Shot down on the pavement or waiting on death row."

Aside from giving a much rawer image of the band, the extra CD of unreleased material hammers home their commitment to social justice. One never-before-heard track is called "Where You Gonna Go (Soweto)," a reference to the struggle against South African apartheid. The DVD also provides some great insights into the band's history, as well as some fun extras.

This album reminds us that we can fight to win a better world, and that rock n' roll isn't just a marketing term.

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