If you were to ask me to name a truly perfect album, it would take a very quick punk-rock-beat to say “London Calling!” Released on December 14, 1979, this iconic album has been called the first post-punk album; “merry and tough, passionate and large-spirited” by one reviewer; and one of the five greatest albums by Rolling Stone. While the band spent considerable time in the Village, recording their album Combat Rock and the single “This is Radio Clash” at the Village’s iconic Electric Lady Studios, for London Calling it’s the album cover that ties the record to the Village, and the lyrics (cue Joe Strummer drawling “Manhaaaaatan” in Koka Kola) that speak to the Clash’s time in New York City.
The When, Where, and What
London Calling was recorded at Wessex Sound Studios in London in August, September, and November of 1979. The album brings many other genres into the room along with punk, which is how it got its “post-punk” classification — the songs mesh and play with reggae, pop, ska, lounge jazz, and hard rock. Also loveable about the album is how the lyrics tackled real-life issues of their time, many of which still feel relevant — alienation, unemployment, labor, capitalism, unemployment, drug use, and the (sometimes tedious) responsibilities of adulthood.
London Calling Album Art
The album cover has become almost as iconic as the album itself. The photo on the cover was taken by photographer Pennie Smith in the lost, iconic Village performance hall The Palladium, located on East 14th Street. In the photo, bassist Paul Simonon smashes his Fender Precision Bass on the stage of a grainy, hazy, show-lit scene. The photo holds immense energy; we never actually get to see the destruction of the instrument, but we get to very vividly imagine how it went. The Clash played there in September of 1979 during their The Clash Take the Fifth tour, and this particular shot was taken on September 21. The album cover is still in circulation, gracing t-shirts (I’ve got one!) and posters, memorializing a moment of Village music history, and the bass itself, which now, in all its pieces, resides in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
The NY Daily News wrote a short history of the Palladium:
Located on the south side of East 14th Street between Irving Place and Third Avenue, the hall was originally called the Academy of Music. Designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb, the Academy first opened in 1927 as a movie palace operated by William Fox, who founded the Fox Film Corporation in 1915. The Academy functioned as a cinema until the early 1970s. Shortly before that, however, it found new life as a rock concert hall — especially once Fillmore East closed in 1971. It was in 1976 when it was renamed the Palladium.
New York’s influence can be felt all over the Clash’s work. From their time in the Village recording albums at the Electric Lady Studio, to their touring, to… just the way they were.
The connection was best put into words by Crispin Kott in Pop Matters:
New York was never the Clash’s official headquarters, but in many ways the pair were more intertwined than bands with an allegedly rightful claim to the city. It’s there in their sonic composition, whether in crunching riffs or insistent rhythms. It’s there in the grit and grime of Strummer’s lyrics, and a voice that wavers between primal howl and weary solitude. It’s in the rags to riches excess of Jones, the melting-pot soul of Simonon’s bass and the street beats of Headon. It took them from the Palladium to Bond’s, from Electric Lady Studios to Shea Stadium.