Surviving Members of The Clash Recount the Making of “London Calling” & Discuss New Box Set

Some of the great­est rock and roll songs are also dire apoc­a­lyp­tic warn­ings. When rock stars pull their heads out of their hedo­nis­tic you-know-whats and look around, things can look pret­ty grim indeed. Think, for exam­ple, of The Stones’ “Gimme Shel­ter” or CCR’s “Bad Moon Ris­ing.” Nei­ther is either band’s scari­est song, but they’re both chock full of dis­as­ter, nat­ur­al and oth­er­wise, speak­ing to the sense of doom most every­one seemed to feel in 1969 when both tracks were released.

Fast for­ward ten years and rock and roll is most­ly dead, punk has peaked, and The Clash are try­ing to make it all new, inject­ing their music with reg­gae and rock­a­bil­ly and a lot of right­eous out­rage (tem­pered by a healthy sense of humor). In 1979, the band released their sem­i­nal dou­ble album Lon­don Call­ing, with its dire, apoc­a­lyp­tic title track (above), warn­ing of an ice age, the sun’s end, and a “nuclear error.” (Read the lyrics here.)  No longer are we just deal­ing with ho-hum war and mur­der or Bib­li­cal plagues. Joe Strum­mer and com­pa­ny took on the end of the world, ini­ti­at­ing the late cold-war nuclear anx­i­ety in 80s punk and new wave lyrics from The Dead Kennedys to The Smiths.

In a recent inter­view with the Wall Street Jour­nal, the three sur­viv­ing mem­bers of the band, all near­ing 60, looked back on the writ­ing and record­ing of that anthemic song, dis­sect­ing the line about “pho­ny Beat­le­ma­nia” and recall­ing the eco­log­i­cal and eco­nom­ic crises that angered and fright­ened them into inspi­ra­tion. Co-writer and gui­tarist Mick Jones dis­cuss­es the influ­ence of six­ties rock on the song’s com­po­si­tion, say­ing, “As musi­cians, you take the past with you, don’t you? The Bea­t­les, Stones, Kinks and Small Faces had done some­thing new and dif­fer­ent and I want­ed us to do that, too.” Bassist Paul Simonon, whose icon­ic bass-smash­ing pho­to graced the cov­er of the album, talks about the band’s his­to­ry and con­text:

In the ’70s, when we formed the band, there was a lot of ten­sion in Britain, lots of strikes, and the coun­try was an eco­nom­ic mess. There also was aggres­sion toward any­one who looked different—especially the punks. So the name the Clash seemed appro­pri­ate for the band’s name.

Drum­mer Top­per Head­on talks tech­nique, and all three mem­bers are open about their influ­ences and inspi­ra­tions for the song. The inter­view comes along just as the band pre­pares to release a 13-disc box set, Sound Sys­tem that Mick Jones—in a Rolling Stone interview—promises will be the band’s final state­ment. “This is it for me,” says Jones, “and I say that with an excla­ma­tion mark.” Read about his inten­tions for the col­lec­tion and more Clash his­to­ry in that excel­lent short inter­view here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rare Live Footage Doc­u­ments The Clash From Their Raw Debut to the Career-Defin­ing Lon­don Call­ing

“Joe Strummer’s Lon­don Call­ing”: All Eight Episodes of Strummer’s UK Radio Show Free Online

The Clash Live in Tokyo, 1982: Watch the Com­plete Con­cert

Mick Jones Plays Three Clas­sics by The Clash at the Pub­lic Library

The Clash Star in 1980′s Gang­ster Par­o­dy Hell W10, a Film Direct­ed by Joe Strum­mer

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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