Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and London Calling

Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and London Calling

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by Marcus Gray

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Twenty-eight years after its original release, The Clash’s London Calling was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a “recording of lasting qualitative or historical significance.” It topped polls on both sides of the Atlantic for the best album of the seventies (and eighties) and in publications as wide-ranging as Rolling Stone,

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Twenty-eight years after its original release, The Clash’s London Calling was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a “recording of lasting qualitative or historical significance.” It topped polls on both sides of the Atlantic for the best album of the seventies (and eighties) and in publications as wide-ranging as Rolling Stone, VIBE, Pitchfork, and NME, and it regularly hits the top ten on greatest-albums-of-all-time-lists. Even its cover—the instantly recognizable image of Paul Simonon smashing his bass guitar—has attained iconic status, inspiring countless imitations and even being voted the best rock ’n’ roll photograph ever by Q magazine.

Now the breakthrough album from the foremost band of the punk era gets the close critical eye it deserves. Marcus Gray examines London Calling from every vantage imaginable, from the recording sessions and the state of the world it was recorded in to the album’s long afterlife, bringing new levels of understanding to one of punk rock’s greatest achievements. Leaving no detail unexplored, he provides a song-by-song breakdown covering when each was written and where, what inspired each song, and what in turn each song inspired, making this book a must-read for Clash fans.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Clash fans will welcome this comprehensive exploration of the band's landmark album London Calling by journalist Gray (It Crawled from the South), who has twice previously tried to tell this story, with mixed results. Gray kicks things off this time with biographies of Strummer, Jones, Simonen, and Headon. "There is...enough crossover of the four individuals' experience to provide pointers for the album's lyrical concerns," Gray says, rather dryly, positing that "if four musically creative people with such histories went into a rehearsal room they would almost inevitably" emerge with something like London Calling. At the heart of the book is a 200-page in-depth exploration of every London Calling track. Gray also discusses production details, the punk scene, promotion and touring, and the famous album image. London Calling continues to inspire today because "it looks anger, fear, impotence, and self-doubt in the eye, then pulls on its boots and goes out to face the day." Engaging and well-written, and rife with half a century of music scene details, Gray's third attempt at capturing The Clash is the one that fans have been waiting for. Photos. (Oct.)
Library Journal
The Clash's album London Calling has been acknowledged as one of the best albums of all time by such publications as Rolling Stone and NME. Gray (The Clash: Return of the Last Gang in Town), in another stunningly well-researched book, uncovers every fascinating and minute detail about the recording of London Calling, dissecting the lyrics, the music, and the design of the album. Clash fans will devour the track-by-track analysis, and Gray is so successful that readers will want to travel Route 19, a London bus route along which much of the album was written and recorded. More than just a look at London Calling, the book begins with biographies of the band members and includes discussions of the music that influenced each member and the cultural climate at the time that helped to create this landmark album. VERDICT Essential for Clash fanatics and punk music aficionados.—Troy Reed, Southeast Regional Lib., Gilbert, AZ
Kirkus Reviews

The 1979 punk classic gets a trainspotter's treatment.

Having profiled the Clash in two editions of the group biographyThe Last Gang in Town, British music journalist Gray now turns his attention to the band's most enduring album.London Callingwas formulated at a critical juncture in the band's career. The group was coming off an unfocused sophomore album and adrift without any formal management after a split with their Svengali, Bernie Rhodes. Drawing on sources that ranged through rockabilly, R&B, blues, funk, reggae and jazz, band members Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon thrashed up enough material for a two-LP set during protracted rehearsals at London's Vanilla rehearsal space. After a relatively brisk setup surveying the album's oft-arduous sessions with unpredictable producer Guy Stevens, Gray brings the narrative a grinding halt with 200 minutiae-filled pages devoted to the set's individual tracks. No fact is deemed insignificant enough to be omitted, and no research is left unutilized, no matter how irrelevant or expendable. The book becomes mired in a series of digressions about such subjects as English rockabilly star Vince Taylor, American R&B rocker Bo Diddley and his eponymous beat, Jamaican "rude boy" songs, England's Two-Tone ska-punk movement, the Spanish Civil War, Coca-Cola, actor Montgomery Clift, etc. While some of the material has a bearing on the record at hand, it is left unsifted. Worse, Gray ignores the relationship between the Clash's original "Jimmy Jazz" and its inspiration "Staggerlee," a provocative connection that goes unmentioned until a later passage about a quotation from the reggae cover "Wrong 'Em Boyo." Like his track-by-track explication, a chapter devoted to the imagery and marketing ofLondon Calling—with an emphasis on the package's iconic photo of Simonon smashing his bass—and a painfully attenuated charting of the band's later history bog down in a sump of unedited detail.

Bloated and unfocused—for die-hard Clash fanatics only.

From the Publisher
"Meticulous detail."

"There are amazing stories." 
— Andrew Perry, Mojo

"Well written and thoroughly researched, it is also perspicacious and ambitious in its placing of an hour of guitar music in the context of individual lives, post-war Britain, the heady power of American popular culture over British teenagers, and -- that redoubtable cliché of the rock 'n' roll life -- the trappings of fame... This seems to be the kind of celebratory chronicling that [lead singer Joe Strummer himself], who died at the age of fifty in 2002, might have welcomed."
PJ Carnehan, Times Literary Supplement

"Gray's book is a triumph in that his obsessive detail enhances and illuminates a classic record."
— Alasdair Mabbott, The Herald

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Product Details

Soft Skull Press, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.02(w) x 8.82(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

MARCUS GRAY is the author of The Last Gang in Town, perhaps the best ever book on the Clash. He lives in Belfast.

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