Gimme a Reason takes classic albums celebrating major anniversaries and breaks down the reasons we still love them so many years later. Today, we celebrate 40 years of The Clash’s London Calling.
In England, the 1970s were quite an eventful decade.
The seemingly untouchable power of the British Empire had taken a massive blow in the wake of World War II, and 1976 specifically saw a national descent into economic disarray despite both Labour and Conservative Party leaders promising to salvage the nation’s fiscal health. This resulted in a spike in unemployment that not only widened the class divide, but also disproportionately impacted young people about to enter the workforce at a time when employment options had effectively vanished.
(Listen: The Opus on The Clash’s London Calling)
At the same time, Margaret Thatcher was rising through the political ranks, becoming the Conservative Party leader before beginning her notorious run as Prime Minister in 1979. The onset of Thatcherism blended with a resurgent sense of nationalism that had sprung up as a result of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee, which had taken place just two years prior.
Combined, each of these elements created a rigid climate that many found difficult to live under.
As the decade was drawing to a close just over seven months after Thatcher’s election, The Clash unveiled what they had brewing at Vanilla Rehearsal Studios all year: London Calling. Their third LP lyrically mirrored the events of the past decade, touching upon economic hardship, classism, drugs, violence, politics, and global conflict. However, The Clash dove deeper than the traditional “us versus them” approach to societal commentary through song. Whether it be done through the vehicle of a character (“Rudie Can’t Fail”) or a strong personal connection (“The Guns of Brixton”), each track on London Calling feels notably comprehensive.
Moreover, The Clash accomplished this feat while simultaneously throwing the coolest of curveballs into the idea of what could be regarded as the traditional “punk” sound, broadening it to include influences from reggae, jazz, rockabilly, and more. This willingness to experiment made The Clash something of the mad scientists of ‘70s punk … and London Calling their laboratory.
London Calling initially succeeded because it was very much a product of its time, but it sustains because it is also very much a product of the human experience. The events that occurred in England during the 1970s may have directly influenced London Calling, but the emotions that resulted from the time — feelings of dread, determination, fear, triumph, existentialism, powerlessness, and injustice — have permeated lives, cultures, and communities around the world for as long as memory goes back.
And as long as those feelings are alive anywhere in the world, in anyone in the world, London Calling will be, too.
Click ahead to see why London Calling is still the only album that matters. Also make sure to subscribe to the latest season of The Opus, which further breaks down the band’s seminal album.