KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #16: London Calling by The Clash.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #16: London Calling by The Clash.

“London Calling”, the album, was a double album released in 1979 by The Clash. It was their third release. In the time since its’ release, this album has been hailed as being the very best album of the 1980s and one of the Top Ten albums of all-time, according to Rolling Stone Magazine, who had it at #8 in their latest rankings. This was a very important album because it took an entire genre of music….Punk Rock….and re-positioned it for future growth in the decades to come. “London Calling” has been described as the first real Post Punk album. It showed the world that the sensibilities that drove the Punk movement forward could happily co-exist and share musical space with other genres such as Reggae, Ska, Rockabilly and even, Rock n’ Roll, itself. The whole album is noteworthy for many reasons; one being the variety of musical styles it explores as the track list unfolds. There were many hits from this album including, “Rudy Can’t Fail”, “The Clampdown”, “Guns of Brixton”, “Train in Vain” and, of course, the title track, “London Calling”. The album is also revered because of the iconic photo on the album cover. It shows bassist, Paul Simonon, smashing his guitar on stage. Many critics point to this photo, with its interplay of light and shadow, as being the photo that best captures the essence of Punk Rock; its energy and violence and passion. For those Elvis lovers in the building, the font type and colours used to spell the words, “London Calling” were inspired by how Elvis used to do his own album covers. In any case, the album, “London Calling” is terrific and showed much musical growth for The Clash.

The song, “London Calling” has its roots firmly in the news of the day in 1979. But first, in order to understand that, we have to travel back in WWII. If you know your history then, you will be aware that, for a time during WWII, Britain found itself alone against Germany who, at that time, had conquered and occupied all of the European countries directly to England’s east. But, as we discovered recently with Edith Piaf and her song, “La Vie En Rose” *(which you can read about here), music played an important part in helping conquered citizens to maintain their morale. In addition to music, the BBC news out of London played a part, too, by broadcasting into France and Holland, specifically, with news of Allied advances and other topics of interest. In order to send a clear message to those in captivity that they were being seen and thought about, the BBC always began their reports with the words, “London Calling”.

Fast forward to 1979, there came a time during the year’s events when a series of calamities all happened at the same time, which caused the boys in the band to feel as though Life was spinning out of control. The event that acted as catalyst was the nuclear meltdown at the Three-Mile Island Nuclear Reactor in Pennsylvania. Then, there was a climate-related emergency which, at the time, caused people to believe that London was about to be flooded. Add to this, the general discontent that many in the UK felt toward the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and you had a perfect storm of misery closing over The Clash as they began to work on their album. Thus, when The Clash start off this song, they borrowed the old WWII BBC clarion call that London was calling with important news…..and then, the song begins. All throughout the song, the band speak of apocalyptic events such as Ice Ages, nuclear meltdowns, floods and many things out of their control.

It may sound funny that such a downer of a song should be such a hit but, then again, fans of The Clash didn’t look to them for romantic ballads. They came to the band’s shows to hear about songs that reflected the reality that they were experiencing in real life. The Clash were one of the few bands to consistently speak to the need for social change and to willingly use their platform to campaign for that through music. As such, when they sent out the clarion call of “London Calling” they were tapping into something from within the fabric of the nation that immediately took the events of the day and linked them in historical context. That they could do this and still produce a rocking song was a bonus that helped elevate their message of the need to change the way we are all living before it is too late.

As a band, The Clash moved into their Post-Punk phase of their career with their integrity intact. They evolved without selling out, which isn’t as easy a feat as it may sound. Their songs lengthened, the musical structure became more varied and complex but, they never stopped singing about injustice and the hope that change could be brought through music. It may be almost forty years since they played their last concert together but they have remained a band that mattered all through the years that followed. It is not by fluke that this band and this song, have found themselves so close to the top of a list that purports to be a record of the best and most important music of all-time.

So, without further delay, here are The Clash with their most famous and well-known tune, “London Calling”. Enjoy.

The link the video for the song, “London Calling” by The Clash, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Clash, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for playing the best and most important music of all-time. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #260: Rock the Casbah by The Clash.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #260: Rock the Casbah by The Clash.

“Rock the Casbah” was released from an album by The Clash called “Combat Rock”. The song is somewhat unique among Clash songs because of the way it was written. Normally, most songs released by The Clash were Joe Strummer/Mick Jones collaborations. But, in the case of “Rock the Casbah”, the musical structure was created first by drummer, Topper Headon. He found himself alone in the studio one day and started playing around with a piano segment and decided to record it. He, then, recorded his normal drum track and several other instrumental tracks as well. When everyone else showed up at the studio, Headon played them the completed instrumental version of, what ended up being, “Rock the Casbah”. The rest of the band liked what they heard but they rejected Headon’s lyrics, which were about his girlfriend at the time. Instead, Joe Strummer spent a few hours alone and wrote the lyrics to what is, arguably, one of the most well-known songs in the entire Clash catalogue.

Like many songs from The Clash, “Rock the Casbah” is based on real life events. In this case, if you can believe it, the lyrics for this song were inspired because of the way the winds of History were blowing in a country called Iran. Iran is located in the area of the world known as The Middle East. It has been an Islamic country for many centuries. If you know anything about the religion of Islam, you will be aware that there are many aspects to it that are quite beautiful. But, like all matters pertaining to religion, from all regions of the world,(including where we live), there are always those who take a harder line when it comes to their interpretation of the laws or rules for their particular religion. After World War II, Iran was lead by a man known in western society as The Shah of Iran. The Shah married a lady who presented as glamourous, in the mold of a Jackie Kennedy. The very broad strokes of the Shah’s reign saw Iran move away from strict orthodox Islamic teachings and laws, to a more western-influenced, secular nation. One of the most dramatic moments in this transformation occured when the Shah’s wife appeared at a function without wearing the traditional veil worn by all women in accordance with strict Islamic law. Soon, women were appearing in short skirts, men were wearing casual slacks and open neck shirts, schools were allowing women to enroll and so on. Iranian society was becoming cosmopolitan.

But, the Shah’s reign was also characterized by the manner in which he enriched his own bank account from the national treasury. As public opinion began to sour on the Shah and his family, Islamic fundamentalist clerics (who had been appalled at many of The Shah’s modernizations) started to actively campaign to overthrow him. If you know your History at all then, you may know that an uprising eventually happened, The Shah fled from Iran and an Islamic cleric named the Ayatollah Khomeini became ruler. In accordance with Islamic laws, all modernizations enacted by The Shah were declared illegal, as were, all activities of any type that contained any hint of influence from western civilizations. One of the big areas that faced a crackdown was in the playing/listening to music from the West.

“Rock the Casbah” is Joe Strummer’s take on the situation that was unfolding in Iran. “Rock the Casbah” deals with a King who seeks to ban music but, who ends up being defeated, time and time again, by those who believe in the power of Rock n’ Roll. The song is a little cartoonish but, the idea of the power of music to move the masses, as it were, is strong and forceful. As an ironic aside, several decades later, when the U.S. invaded Iran’s neighbour, Iraq, as part of a campaign known as “Operation Desert Storm”, the phrase “Rock the Casbah” was painted on to some of the bombs the US pilots dropped on Iraq. This action mortified Joe Strummer who always believed in the power of music to unite people, not hurt them.

In the historical DNA of many nations, there are cyclical spasms of individual liberty and freedom, contrasted with periods of societal restrictions that often appear, dressed in the uniforms of the religious and the pious. As you read these words today, the Taliban are re-introducing harsh Islamic law unto the citizens of Afghanistan. Just like in the Iran of the 1970s, all traces of western influences are being scrubbed clean from Afghani life. That includes Rock n’ Roll, too. So, as a symbolic recognition of what in Iran and what is happening now, in Afghanistan, I present “Rock the Casbah” by “The Clash”…..not as a way of putting down The Taliban but, in fact, the opposite, which is maintaining Hope via the power of music. Many blessings are given to all those involved. May they find safety and peace.

The link to the video for the song, “Rock the Casbah” by The Clash, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Clash, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting the power of music to inspire others for the greater good. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #318: Guns of Brixton by The Clash.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #318: Guns of Brixton by The Clash.

Brixton is a borough or suburb of the city of London, England. It sits just to the south of the city proper. It is close enough that you can walk from the centre of Brixton to #10 Downing Street in only a matter of a few hours. Pre-WWII, Brixton was a thriving commercial and cultural centre for the area. It was claimed that the Brixton Market was the largest in all of England. However, during The Blitz in WWII, Brixton sustained heavy property damage. In addition to the lives that were lost in these raids, the biggest issue turned out to be loss of housing. In the years that followed the War, as much of the UK underwent a massive restoration movement, many of the buildings that had housed the citizens of Brixton fell under the wrecking ball’s swing, to be replaced with cheap, Council-Tenancy buildings. At the same time, the end of the War saw massive immigration changes around the world. One of the biggest that affected Brixton concerned the arrival of hundreds and hundreds of people from the Caribbean. As with any influx of immigrants, they soon began to settle in and started to bring their customs and cultural practises to bear. One of the ways this manifested itself was that Brixton became the Reggae hotspot of the UK. The famous Brixton Market and local park became home to all sorts of Reggae-flavoured festivals and other cultural events such as movies. However, if you were to look at an aerial map of Brixton, one of the things you would notice is how little green space there is. It wasn’t long before Brixton started becoming overwhelmed with the number of people moving to the area. With any situation in which overcrowding is a factor soon, crime became a problem. The Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher responded punitively and enacted search and seizure powers for the Police that ended up being a form of racial profiling. Tensions between Caribbean immigrants and the local police were rising daily. It was during this time that Paul Simonon, bassist for The Clash, wrote his most famous song for the band called, “Guns of Brixton”.

“Guns of Brixton” is a defiant song that asks residents:

“When they kick at your front door,

How’re you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

or on the trigger of your gun?”

The song name-drops a character from an influential movie from the Caribbean called, “The Harder They Come” by Reggae pioneer, Jimmy Cliff.

*We talked about him and the importance of this movie in Post #451, which you can re-read in the comments section below.

In the movie, Cliff plays a character called Ivanhoe Martin (based upon a real-life Jamaican criminal). The song talks about him, as follows:”

The Money feels good and the life, you like it well

But surely your time will come

As in Heaven and in Hell.

You see, he feels like Ivan

Born under the Brixton sun

His game is called survivin’

At the end of The Harder They Come.”

That reference was a pointed show of support by The Clash for their friends in Brixton. The Clash always were drawn to the Reggae culture and had always hoped that Blacks and Whites would find common ground through Music and, in doing so, would be able to be a strong enough force to cause social change to come to the UK. Not long after “The Harder They Come” was released and made the rounds and, “Guns of Brixton” was released by The Clash, violence erupted in 1981 in an event called The Brixton Race Riots. Many people were injured and much property was damaged as History, of a sort, repeated itself in Brixton.

To this day, racial tensions remain high and there are flare-ups, from time to time across England. As for The Clash, “Guns of Brixton” turned out to one of their most popular songs ever and a huge concert favourite. Sometimes, you have to stand up for your beliefs and in support of others, even if, by doing so, you fail to stem the tide against them. At least your friends know who their friends are. For what it is worth, that still matters. Here are The Clash with “Guns of Brixton”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Guns of Brixton” by The Clash, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Clash, can be found here.

The link to the review of the song, The Harder They Come” by Jimmy Cliff, as referenced above, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for playing the very best music from across the Pond and around the world. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP-Sing #469…White Riot by The Clash.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #469: White Riot by The Clash.

There is a long, rich legacy of political songs based upon real events. “Biko” by Peter Gabriel and “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” by U2 are just two examples that spring readily to mind. I have always maintained that poets and artists, singers and writers are among the most dangerous forces allied against oppression because they have the power and skill to put into words what so many people feel and, in doing so, rally us into action.

“White Riot” by The Clash concerns real events that took place in England at the end of the 1970s and into the early 80s. As mentioned in previous posts, this was the era of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was a time of austerity. Unemployment was high. Poverty was on the rise. Ordinary citizens were growing frustrated. Throughout History, times such as this often give rise to political scapegoating. In this specific case, the scapegoats were immigrants. Politicians on the Right gave speeches extolling actions designed to “Keep Britain for the British”. ***It is sad how History repeats. “Make America Great Again” and “America First” policies introduced by Trump were, in fact, nothing new on his part. They were a repeat of what transpired in England in the late 70s and in Germany in the 1930s with Jewish people as the scapegoats then.

In the case of this song, the tipping point for many people opposed to racism was a concert given by the legendary singer/guitarist, Eric Clapton. At a concert, he gave an anti-immigration speech from the stage and re-iterated his support for policies to “Keep Britain for the British”. Around the same time, there was to be a music festival celebrating Jamaican culture. As you know, Reggae was very popular in the UK and this festival had been a regular event for several years. However, in this tense political climate, hundreds of police officers descended on a parade being held to lead festival attendees to a park for a concert. A riot ensued. Joe Strummer and Topper Headon of The Clash were in the parade because of their love of Reggae and, as such, they became involved in the riot.

Arising from this incident was a group that called themselves, “Rock Against Racism”. Their slogan was, “Love music. Hate Racism”. One of their first organizational events was to host an anti-racism concert. The headliners of that concert were The Clash. The song “White Riot” premiered there. There is a full documentary about this race riot and the anti-racism concert. I will post the trailer below and then, in the comments section, I will post The Clash actually performing this short, two-minute burst of rebellion.

Sometimes we are guilty of judging books by their proverbial covers. In the case of some of the early Punk Rock bands, we have labelled them as uncivilized and as anarchists. In the case of The Clash, they were actually trying to change the systemic nature of their government’s policies so as to protect immigrants from being singled out for abuse. Like many good musicians, they used the power of their words to chronicle a case of injustice. “White Riot” was their battle cry. The documentary below tells this story.

The link to the trailer for the White Riot Documentary, featuring The Clash and many others, can be found here.

The link for archive footage of The Clash premiering White Riot at the Rock Against Racism Festival can be found here.

Rock Against Racism have a website that can be found here.

The Clash have an interesting website that can be linked to here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for creating their own list of 500 great songs and inspiring me to create my own. A link to their website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP Song #485…(White Man) at Hammersmith Palais by The Clash.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #485: (White Man) at Hammersmith Palais by The Clash.

I love this song!

The storytelling in this song is fantastic! It speaks, perhaps better than any song I know, to that moment in all of our lives when the idealism of our youth smacks headlong into the reality of how the world really works. Dealing with that sudden sense of disillusionment often comes to define the shape our adult lives take. Let’s take a look at the context in which The Clash told this story so well.

The Clash are generally considered to be one of the first successful Punk bands to emerge out of that scene in England in the early 80s. The Clash consisted of singer/guitar players, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, bassist, Paul Simonon and drummer, Topper Headon. To The Clash, music was always political. But what ended up separating them from other punk bands at the time was their desire to, not just rail against perceived injustices engrained within society’s rules but, to actively seek alternative solutions. The Clash began writing music in England at the same time as Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sat in the leader’s chair in the UK Parliament. That time in England’s history was marked by racial tension and class strife. As a consequence, many early Clash songs spoke to the topics of race and class, (such as “White Riot” and “Guns of Brixton”). One of the ways that The Clash sought to make things better was by uniting the races through music. It was their contention that the Punk movement and the various manifestations of the Reggae movement shared much in common and, therefore, were natural cultural and musical allies. If Black and White could rally around songs then, perhaps, that could form a positive foundation upon which to build a better, more just society.

“(White man) at Hammersmith Palais” describes a real incident that illustrated to Joe Strummer, in particular, how hard it was going to be to overcome the racial divide that the government sought to exploit. In the song, Strummer describes going to a Reggae concert at The Hammersmith Palais. He went in hopes of the crowd being a mix of blacks and whites. But, when he got there, he found that he was one of the only white people in attendance. Reggae hadn’t become “the people’s music”. It remained predominantly Black in appeal. That was disheartening. Furthermore, he was found the performances underwhelming and ended up being hassled by the crowd for having been there in the first place. Upon reflection, Strummer ends the song by examining the worth of what The Clash were trying to accomplish and then turned his steely gaze toward other bands, like The Jam and Joy Division, and notes that they were already moving in ways that he feels are co-opting their integrity, as they begin chasing fame and fortune, instead of social justice.

The final note of importance about this song is that it was written in a Reggae style. Initially, Joe Strummer feared that there would be a backlash to having a white band release a Reggae-influenced song. But, it turns out that this song was well-received by audiences and ended up being one of Strummer’s favourite Clash songs of all time. In fact, this was one of the songs played at his funeral a few years ago.

Unfortunately, racial tension and class division continue to serve a useful purpose for those who seek money and power and control. Hopefully, somewhere out in our world, there is some young person who believes that our society can be a better, more equal and just place for us all to live. Maybe, they will write a story or a song or a poem that will move us in ways that cause us all to be better people. If they do, hopefully, the idealism that exists within their heart will win the day and they will never have to write a new song about how growing up can truly suck sometimes, as The Clash did so well in “(White man) at Hammersmith Palais”.

The music video for (White Man) at Hammersmith Palais by The Clash can be found here.

The Clash have a website in which you can learn more about why they were one of the most vital and important bands of all time. The link to their website can be found here.

KEXP!!!! You folks are the best. Thanks for helping to inspire me to create this post and, all of the others in this music series. A link to their great website can be found here.