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Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and London Calling
Twenty-eight years after its original release, the Clash’s London Calling was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Route 19 Revisited is about the making of this iconic album, detailing the stories behind its songs and placing them in contexts personal, musical and socio-political.
||November 23, 2009|
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2 of 2 found the following review helpful:
Excellent Account of an EraJul 06, 2011
By Eric Gilliland
Are rock albums worthy of a 500+-page book? In the case of The Clash's landmark 1979 album, London Calling, Yes! Marcus Gray's detailed study of London Calling is much more than a by the numbers "making of" account, but a portrait of an era similar to our own. The year 1979 witnessed the Islamic Revolution in Iran, a near nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island, fears of climate change, massive unemployment in the West, the end of detente after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and the rise of right wing leaders Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. All the songs on London Calling were a partly a response to those events, but also a dialouge with the past that offered some glimmers of hope for the future. Route 19 Revisited will immerse you into the world of The Clash and make you reexamine your own environment - in a good way.
The Clash (1976-1985) Joe Strummer (guitar, vocals), Mick Jones (guitar, vocals), Paul Simonon (bass), and Topper Headon (drums) burst onto the scene in 1976 as part of the punk movement. By the mid 1970s many were disillusioned at the direction of popular music with corporate rock bands that played safe middle of the road music (Boston, Wings), ego driven bands who made thier millions and then ignored their fans (The Rolling Stones), and pretentious "art" rock (Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten was noted for wearing "Pink Floyd Sucks!" t-shirts). The release of Never Mind the Bolloks by the Sex Pistols in 1977, dubbed "Year Zero," in the punk manifesto, sent a sledgehammer into the music industry. All the songs were under three minutes with sneering vocals spitting bile at the bourgeois. The punk manifesto divided the world up between the loves and the hates. The hates were establishment and "soulless consumerists", while the loves charismatic outlaws, amoral, unconventional.
The Clash's self titled debut, The Clash (1977) was well received as a punk masterpiece, but also hinted at an ambition to go beyond the confines of punk. Tracks like "Remote Control," "I'm So Bored with the USA," and "Career Opportunities" all fit into the anti-authoritarian punk ethos. One of the last songs recorded for the album was a reggae cover "Police and Thieves," that ran for six minutes signaled their independedence from the punk scene. After touring America with Bo Diddley, Strummer and Jones traveled to Jamaica to prepare for an album of all reggae music. Their sophomore LP, Give Em' Enough Rope, which featured a cover with an army of Maoists marching over a dead American cowboy, flopped with critics and nearly forced the band out of their recording contract with CBS.
In 1979, the Clash regrouped and wrote one of rock's all-time classic albums. The iconic cover, with Simonson smashing his bass guitar, symbolized their rage at the bleak world of 1970s Great Britain. But as Gray points out, a recurring theme through the album is dealing with anger and channeling it towards positive ends. All nineteen tracks are given their own essays that go into great detail about the influences behind them. The styles of the songs move from 1950s rockabilly, disco, reggae, ska, rock - blurring genres and styles in a way not seen since the Beatles. Many of the songs originated from newspaper articles, books, and movies they were watching - with subjects running the gambit from the Spanish Civil War, Montgomery Clift, consumerism, coca-cola, and revolutionary politics.
In the essays, which comprise half of the book, Gray delves into the cinematic, literary, and musical influences. Like The Beatles, the Clash rarely created anything original, but took all their influences and shaped them into their own distinct style. For instance, on "Death or Glory," Gray connects the ideas in the song to Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" and the 1942 film Casablanca. Strummer wrote "Spanish Bombs" after reading Orwell's Homage to Catalonia.
This book is a must read for anyone interested rock and roll history. Gray wrote that London Calling continues to endure not because of its dark themes, but its "defiant spirit, its power to uplift, and determination to lead by example . . . it looks fear in the eye, then pulls on its boots and goes out to face the day." Like any great album its meaning will change after repeated listenings to the album and anyone who reads this book will immediately go out and buy a copy.
2 of 2 found the following review helpful:
Rock and Roll HistoryMar 13, 2011
Fascinating account how "London Calling" was made. In particular, I enjoyed the lowdown on every song: who wrote it, the inspiration behind it, and so on. Any fan of the Clash will really enjoy this book.
A good companion to this book is the London Calling - The Legacy Edition (Bonus CD). This 25th Anniversary edition of London Calling includes three discs:
* CD one: the original London Calling album (both the original records fit on one CD).
* CD two: the "Vanilla Tapes," demo rehearsal recordings of London Calling songs before the Clash went into the studio to record the album.
* DVD: a 30 minute documentary on the making of London Calling, along with videos of three songs: London Calling, Train in Vain, and Clampdown.
I found myself playing bits of these discs as I read through the book. Don't fall for the 30th anniversay edition, which only has two discs. The one released in 2004 has the three discs. Enjoy!
4 of 5 found the following review helpful:
The only band that matters indeed.Nov 01, 2010
By Car Guy
The Clash are now notorious for having been labeled "The Only Band That Matters", as other reviewers have pointed out. And it nearly was true. The slogan was in fact devised by the band's label, Epic Records before "London Calling" was even issued! When it was issued in December 1979 the LP was plastered with stickers asserting The Clash were indeed the only band that mattered.
As a record store clerk in snow-bound Duluth it took me only one listen to know that the promo jerks finally got one right. I can also remember telling anyone and everyone who came into the store that this LP was the best album of the Eighties. Remember it was still 1979. Was I wrong?
In the next 18 months The Clash released a total of 63 (+/-) songs, includng "London Calling", "Black Market Clash" and "Sandinista". "London Calling" was by far the best, and it deserves a book such as this.
4 of 5 found the following review helpful:
Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and London Calling - Marcus Gray (Soft Skull Press)Oct 29, 2010
Much like the famed 70's London grafitti that once declared "Clapton is God," in the 80's, England's Clash picked up the appellation "The only band that matters." If that was the case, the work that mattered most was their seminal third album "London Calling."
"London Calling" was the band's first (and only) double album and a piece of work that cemented the band's reputation with both fans and critics alike (planting itself at or near the top of every critics list from the revered Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll to the Rolling Stone Critic's poll.)
Gray, who already tackled his subjects in the volume "The Last Gang in Town," drills deep into the ultimate moment for this historic punk unit. From the days leading up to the historic recording (the so-called Vanilla Sessions) to the actual machinations surrounding the recording (producer selection, in-fighting between leaders Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, battles with CBS UK over the length and delivery date of the album, etc.) In "Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and London Calling," Gray captures every minute detail of the evolution of this record and, for this period, this band.
So many circumstances make the album one of the most important musical documents ever made and Gray gets it all correct. Characters like manager Cosmo Topper, producers Guy Stevens (Mott the Hoople) and Bill Price, photographer Pennie Smith and everyone from the Slits to John Lydon play a role in the period of creation of this masterpiece. The fact that the album (and subsequent touring) played such a role in the history of rock were suspiciously evident at the time, but even clearer in the retrospective filter of Sandinista, the 25th Anniversary edition, Strummer's premature death, etc.
The fact that someone actually went back and captured it in extreme and accurate detail all these years later is a tribute to the band and the author as well.
1 of 1 found the following review helpful:
Less informative than you're hoping for.Jun 19, 2012
By Shane Slayton
It's a big book. It must be chock-full of new information and in-depth interviews with the surviving band members, engineers, and friends, right? Wrong. It's almost a vanity book, peeling off-topic into tangents and reaching far, far, far into obscure reference and history. It then tries to assert that these were the basis for the ideas behind the songs on London Calling. The song histories go like this: Mick only vaguely remembers who wrote what. Paul doesn't care- he likes the sound of it. Topper remembers specific songs, vaguely. His own parts, anyway. The engineer, Bill Price, is the most illuminating and insightful. He remembers what effects are on what songs. Sometimes. Guy Stevens is soundly dismissed and made to sound like an incompetent buffoon. Fact is, The Clash had a manager that told them how to sound, what to sing about, how to look, and what to read. They fired him. Then they were left to their own devices, and decided to celebrate the music that they grew up with. The results speak for themselves. The book, however, goes to great lengths to sound important and historical, but ends up falling flat. It'll start a chapter with a history of the skull and crossbones. 4 pages later, it implies that The Clash ripped off the idea for Death or Glory from the Knights Templar of the 14th Century. The Clash, or at least Joe, were aware of history, but c'mon... This is a book about the authors ego; trying to cash in on a timeless album while, at the same time, denigrating almost everyone involved with its creation. You could buy the Nuggets compilation, any 70s reggae compilation, and a lot of gangster films, and you'll end up with a lot more insight into the making of this album than this tome provides. Not that it's a bad read, but there are 36 pages of biblio from elsewhere, pictures that were too boring to be used in other books, and the greatest sin- an almost complete disregard for band interviews. Seriously, the comments from the actual people involved could probably fit on 20 pages. The rest are history essays. I like history essays, but not in a book about a band and an album that showed me that history also ROCKS. This book doesn't rock.
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