Today, Dec. 14, marks the 35th anniversary of the Clash's legendary third album London Calling, which saw the band expand upon their punk roots by venturing into many different styles—including reggae, jazz, ska and rockabilly among others. The album was the crowning achievement of the British punk movement, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest albums of all time in any genre, so to celebrate its anniversary, here are its five best songs.
5. The Guns of Brixton
"The Guns of Brixton" was the first Clash song to be written by bassist Paul Simonon, who like any good British punk from the late '70s, was a huge fan of reggae. Though reggae is often thought of as a rather sunny style of music, "The Guns of Brixton" is one of the darkest songs on London Calling, with its moody minor key chords and lyrics about police brutality. The opening line in particular is one of my favorite Clash lyrics ever: "When they kick at your front door/How you gonna come?/With your hands on your head/Or on the trigger of your gun?"
4. Rudie Can't Fail
If 1977 was year zero for punk rock, then 1979 was year zero for the British ska revival, with the debut albums by the Specials and Madness being released just a month or two before London Calling. The best song to come out of the Clash's fascination with ska (and Jamaican music in general) is "Rudie Can't Fail," which also happens to be the catchiest and most fun song they ever wrote as well. If I could understand what Mick Jones and Joe Strummer were singing, this would probably be my number one drunk sing-along song (I usually go with Weezer's "El Scorcho" instead).
3. Lost in the Supermarket
There are some pretty dark songs on London Calling, such as the title track and the previously mentioned "Guns of Brixton," but the Clash rarely got as melancholy as they did on "Lost in the Supermarket," Joe Strummer's lament about the ever increasing commercialization of our culture. Underneath the sadness, Topper Headon lays down a dancey, almost disco-inspired beat, perhaps a sly nod to the "hit discoteque album" that the narrator buys, a futile attempt to lift himself (and the listeners) out of the drudgery of suburban life.
2. The Card Cheat
The Ramones may have been champions of Phil Spector-style bubblegum pop, but they never wrote a song that came as close to classic Spector as the Clash's "The Card Cheat." It's got all of the trademarks: the classic "Be My Baby" beat, the Wall of Sound production, and even some vaguely orchestral instrumentation. It's almost unfathomable that Martin Scorsese didn't use this song in Casino, since he was a huge fan of both Spector and the Clash.
1. Train in Vain
On the original pressings of London Calling, "Train in Vain" wasn't listed on the album sleeve, as it was added to the album so last minute that there was no time to update the tracklist, but it's difficult to imagine the album without it, as it serves as one of the greatest closing tracks in music history. If London Calling had ended with the reggae jam "Revolution Rock," as the original tracklist suggested, it would feel somewhat anti-climactic, but with "Train in Vain" as the closing number, the London Calling journey feels complete. When that chorus hits, an inexplicable wave of nostalgia and heartbreak washes over me, though at the same time it makes the future seem strangely hopeful.
What are your favorite songs from London Calling? What did I get wrong? Let me know down in the comments section!