Twenty-five years after the release of the landmark album, London Calling, this commemorative 3-disc package has been issued, containing the original CD, as well as a 45-minute documentary DVD about the making of the album. Its third disc contains tracks that are the long lost Vanilla Tapes, named for the studio in which the rehearsal sessions it contains were recorded. Found roughly six months ago by the band’s guitarist Mick Jones, it yields five new songs, one of which is a remake of Bob Dylan’s “The Man In Me.” Also among the newly uncovered tracks made during the Vanilla sessions are the countrified “Lonesome Me,” and a very roots rock influenced “Walking The Sidewalk,” dripping with a relentless guitar solo.
The DVD, directed by John Letts, is a further reminder of what a great band this was. Rolling Stone had named this disc “the most important album of the ’80’s,” to which the late Joe Strummer is seen responding, “I thought it came out in 1979.”
Among the group’s other achievements, the eponymous first album released by “the only band that matters” still holds the record of having the most sales of any import album ever in America. The film yields an intimate portrait of rebel rock at its finest, as it is being created in the studio. The documentary’s tone is largely set by the late producer, Guy Stevens, who had the goal of extracting the band’s emotions on onto vinyl. Mind boggling footage emerges as he throws a ladder and smashes chairs during sessions. Amused band members watch him as he angrily wrestles with the sound engineer during a heated scene about the sound of the bass. Another Stevens outburst is captured on film as the producer pours a bottle of wine onto a keyboard, causing six thousand pounds in damage, all while Joe Strummer is playing it.
The mesmerizing, raw concert footage in the film is nothing short of captivating. Music videos in the set include “Clampdown” and the title track.
Strummer is asked about his feisty brand of combat rock, which is often mixed with politics. He modestly responds, “We didn’t have any solutions to the world’s problems,” and that they were just four musicians from London. He then adds, “But we did try.” We know this story well. A street fighting man, what can a poor boy do but to sing for a rock and roll band?
Certainly, the time is still right for “Revolution Rock” 25 years later, and somehow, this album still feels like a “Brand New Cadillac.”
The disc, with its indelible tracks like “Train In Vain,” was originally slated to be titled “The Last Testament.” This would ultimately have been a fitting moniker, as the resulting tracks would be the final word on rock that influenced a slew of countless new bands for years to come.
Photographer Pennie Smith’s photo of Paul Simonon smashing his bass out of frustration, which was used for the album cover, reverberates much like an image of Moses smashing the tablets, before delivering that which would change the face of the world. As if by yet another heavenly decree, in delivering their “Last Testament,” the Clash would forever change the face of rock and roll.
Phyllis Pollack is a publicist and music critic based in Los Angeles, California.