Gonna have to start with a little housekeeping: because it came out in the U.K in December of 1979 but came out here in the Colonies in January of 1980, I’ve spent most of my life going back and forth as to the actual release date of London Calling for any kind of Best Albums of the Year / Best Albums of The Decade list I might be making.
Despite the fact I bought London Calling on January 22, 1980 — the week it came out in America — and despite the fact that I’ve historically considered it a 1980 album (especially by the Pazz and Jop criteria where you consider the year a record made its “impact”) (however you describe that slippery term), I’m going to put the “Year” as 1979 for the several London Calling entries I’m about to write. But be aware I’m going to do the same thing with Sandinista!, which I bought as an import in December 1980.
And now, a confession. 17-year-old Jim was confused about London Calling when it came out: the guitars were there, but they weren’t front and center on a lot of the songs and even on songs where they were front and center, they were … well, weird. Now it all makes sense, but in 1980, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. Where was all the hard rock that I’d loved?
In retrospect, it was all right there, if you knew how to look. 17-year-old Jim was an idiot (in so many ways) and it took him a couple of years to properly grok the greatness of London Calling the album.
That said, I’m pretty sure I was instantly down with “London Calling” the song. What a way to begin a record: a guitar riff stabbing at you like a serial killer suddenly being wrestled to the ground by the bass and drums only to escape to come at you again and again.
And of course, a chorus for the ages:
The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in
Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear error, but I have no fear
‘Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river
There is so much going in every single second of “London Calling”: the backing vocals chanting the title; Topper’s marital drumbeat; “phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust;” Joe’s war cries; Paul’s bass hook and Mick somehow creating what sounded like the world’s first non-psychedelic backwards guitar solo, because that was the only way to properly compliment the apocalyptic lyrics.
It all adds up to the absolutely perfect way to open one of the greatest albums that anybody would ever record.
Official video for “London Calling”
“London Calling” performed live on Fridays, April 1980