One of the greatest parts of music is discovery. Uncovering some new song, album, band, or entire genre which you hadn’t before been exposed to, and just becoming overwhelmed as it changes your entire listening-life forever.
Recently, I have discovered The Clash. Their whole discography had only been around for my entire life, plus about ten years. Whatever. It’s all new stuff to me.
Well, not all new stuff. I’ve known of The Clash, obviously. I’m not entirely oblivious. I’d heard “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” “Rock the Casbah,” and “London Calling”—it’d be basically impossible to live in our culture and not get exposed to those songs, they’re pretty ingrained at this point. Furthermore, I’ve actually owned the album London Calling for somewhere around five or six years at this point, but, who doesn’t own London Calling? It’s one of those albums everyone owns, its greatness so well-known it is taken for granted. I know that I had. I’ve listened to it for years, always enjoyed it, but for one reason or another, never really thought about the band behind it.
At least until a couple months ago when, driven by forces unknown, I felt compelled to see what else the minds behind London Calling had produced. First, I picked up their self-titled, debut album. Hard and fast, The Clash sees the band at their most stylistically punk. The lyrics are still powerful today, and while generally uncomplicated, songs like “Career Opportunities” and “London’s Burning” will stay trapped between your ears for days at a time, demanded to be listened to over and over.
Next, I grabbed Combat Rock, home of previously mentioned perennial favorites “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Rock the Casbah.” The rest of the album is pretty great as well, though doesn’t reach the level of London Calling—it lacks a sort of cohesiveness that London Calling has. Still, overall a good album, and “Straight to Hell” is fucking excellent.
Then, came Sandinista!. For those who don’t know, Sandinista! is The Clash equivalent of jumping into the deep end—a triple album covering a plethora of divergent styles, released only a year after London Calling; it is nothing but bizarre, genre-schizophrenic madness. It is simultaneously the least and most punk thing ever.
What follows is not an intellectual dissection, but pure emotional reaction.
It’s kind of amazing, even the parts that are no good (and they are there). A common criticism of Sandinista! I’ve read, is that it’s one good album in three albums worth of music, and that’s probably true, but what interests me, is I bet if you asked around, everyone would give you a different list regarding what that good album consisted of. Sure, songs like the “The Magnificent Seven” and “Police on My Back” would probably universally make the cut, but what about others. Like this song.
Listen to that. That is “The Sound of the Sinners.” It is a no fooling gospel song, as recorded by The Clash, and I fucking love it. Only three years previous, The Clash’s lead off single was this song, “White Riot,” and then they went and recorded something like “Sinners;” or this. Or this.
The album is so diverse, it’s like The Clash decided to absolutely push their artistic abilities to their limits, just to see if they could do it. It doesn’t always work (there are a couple covers of their own songs on this album—as sung by children), but when it does, the results are spectacular. The only other band I can think of that has this sort of growth in so short a period of time is The Beatles. The more I listen, the more I see how The Clash could get away with calling themselves “The Only Band That Matters”—it’s true.