Readers Poll: The Best Album Covers of All Time - Rolling Stone

2020 Album Draft- Round 4- Pick 2- Hanspostcard selects- The Clash -London Calling.

First off the cover- one of the greatest album covers in rock history. On the cover we have Clash bassist Paul Simonon smashing his bass against the stage at the Palladium in NYC in September 1979. He was frustrated that the bouncers at the show would not allow the audience members to stand up out of their seats. Pennie Smith who photographed the band for the album took the photo. Smith didn’t want it used for the cover- she thought it was out of focus but Joe Strummer and graphic designer Ray Lowry said it make a good cover. Indeed. Q magazine in the early 2000’s named it the greatest rock photograph ever. There was also a tribute to Elvis on the cover- the pink letters down the left side and green text across the bottom- just like on Elvis Presley’s self-titled debut.

The Clash's London Calling album to inspire new exhibition at the ...

The greatest double album ever in my opinion- is The Clash’s 1979 album- London Calling. While I love The Beatles and their White Album I must admit it has some disposable tracks. Sure I am glad “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” and “Wild Honey Pie” are on the album they are among the worst cuts The Beatles ever made. There are a number of great double albums- but London Calling- which clocks in at 65:07 doesn’t have a second of fat. There are 19 tracks on the album and all are essential.

The Clash were- front man Joe Strummer -rhythm guitar, lead and background vocals and piano. Mick Jones- lead guitar, piano, harmonica, backing and lead vocals. Paul Simonon- bassist and backing vocals[ lead vocals on “Guns Of Brixton”” and Topper Headon -drums percussion.

London Calling! Here's a look inside The Clash's brilliant new ...

This is my first selection which is in my own time. My previous picks- Van Morrison “Astral Weeks”, The Beatles “Revolver” and The Band’s “The Band” I all discovered a decade or so after they were originally released. Many of my favorite albums and songs were released ‘before my time.” London Calling was released on December 14, 1979 in the UK and in January 1980 in the United States. I was already a fan of The Clash’s- but this album made me a fanatic.

The Clash in America- an odd release history. Their debut album in the UK- the self-titled The Clash- for my money the best punk album ever was released on April 8, 1977 in the UK. In the U.S. their second album Give ’em Enough Rope” released on November 10, 1978 was actually the first U.S. release with The Clash released in June 1979- and when the debut album was released it was a bastardized version not the original- I would have to wait for years to get the album the way it was in the U.K. I had both these albums by the time the third album- London Calling came out.

song of the day – “Train In Vain (Stand By Me)” | THE CLASH | 1979 ...

London Calling was produced by Guy Stevens- who had previously worked with Procol Harum and Mott The Hoople. Stevens once said that “There are only two Phil Spector’s in the world and I’m one of them.” Confidence he didn’t lack. Stevens production certainly had a lot to do with the success of the album.

There are a variety of styles of music on London Calling- The Clash were never just a punk band- and London Calling took them to a new level. They became for a brief time The Greatest Rock Band In The World- I’d say from 1980-82. On London Calling you have punk, reggae, rockabilly, ska, R&B, Pop, lounge jazz and hard rock.

The Clash in New York, 1981 | Morrison Hotel Gallery

Uncut Magazine’ special edition on The Clash said in a review that the title track which was track 1 on side 1- is the greatest opening track on any album ever. I have to agree with them- I can’t think of one that can top it. Urgent and furious-it’s shouting out a warming. The Clash-especially front man Joe Strummer was far left-leaning in their politics, Strummer being a committed socialist. In late 1979- Maggie Thatcher was the new Prime Minister of the UK and Ronald Reagan had been elected POTUS- the times they were a changin’- and Strummer seems to be sounding out a warning. The song fades out with the Morse code signaling S-O-S.

I wrote earlier about the different styles of music on London Calling. Strummer was something of a musical historian and during his too short life- he was influenced by everything he heard. Also lyrically the songs on London Calling cover a lot of ground for example “Hateful” is about a junkie, Strummer was listening to the radio news heard a story about terror bombings in Spain and wrote “Spanish Bombs.” The Right Profile is about old 50’s actor Montgomery Clift. “Lost In The Supermarket”- about increasing commercialism in the world. “Clampdown”- about government establishment clampdowns on the public. “The Card Cheat” was influenced by Strummer reading Sylvia Plath.

One song I want to feature {I feel like I could feature them all-} is one written and sung by bassist Paul Simonon- a song about discontent in the area of Brixton because of the heavyhandness of the police. This reggae influence song has always been one of my favorites on the album- it was also influenced by the movie The Harder They Come. “The Guns Of Brixton” would be a big influence on the great single by The Specials- “Ghost Town.”

The third key song I want to feature is “Death Or Glory” which comes at the middle point in the album- a song about a generation of earlier rock stars who swore they would die before growing old- and about the complications of adulthood. Simply one of the best songs The Clash ever did.

There are three covers on London Calling- and all three I thought for the longest time were songs written by The Clash themselves- “Wrong ‘Em Boyo”- a song The Rulers first recorded, “Brand New Cadillac” a late 1950’s song by Vince Taylor and the longest song on the album- “Revolution Rock” originally done by Danny Ray.

At the last minute and on the vinyl album I bought in 1980- they added a late song called “Train In Vain’- it wasn’t even listed on the original album- kind of a hidden track. Sung by Mick Jones it would become the first Top 40 hit by The Clash in the U.S. and along with “London Calling” the most recognizable radio song from this album.

In closing- this was The Clash’s finest hour. They would release a couple more albums which I am a big fan of- but London Calling was the high water mark. Hard to believe but in December 1980 they would release a triple album- the highly controversial at the time -Sandinista. Now Sandinista in my opinion is there White Album. Maybe it could have used a little editing but I am glad it is what it is. Then came their final album Combat Rock- and I finally got to see them on that tour. This I will never be able to top- at the same venue on back to back evenings- The King- Elvis Costello and the next night The Clash. It was 38 years ago this month but still feels like yesterday.

The Clash London Calling- released over 40 years ago- at least in my opinion there hasn’t been an album released since then that is equal or better.


  1. An excellent write-up Hans. I’ve long loved The Clash, and even own “Sandanista!”, but have never listened to all of “London Calling”. (I’ve just never been much of an album person, and even hate writing album reviews, other than for ones I love). The song “London Calling” is a masterpiece, and it and “The Magnificent Seven” are my favorite of their many superb songs. I agree with you that they were the greatest rock band of the early 1980s.

    • Thank You. Yes “Magnificent Seven” is fantastic. A real accomplishment is listening to Sandinista at one sitting!

  2. That was a good listen this late morning. I haven’t heard the full album in ages, and actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard every song in order. I loved The Clash (what little I heard from them in Kansas), and I’m really glad this album has continued to be respected. Your write up made me re-listen to Death and Glory. The call out to The Who is evident from the opening notes, imo. I hadn’t ever given it any thought. Guns of Brixton is also still compelling.

  3. Excellent choice, glad someone covered it! Wouldn’t have been in my all-time top 10 but it would make my 100 for sure. A lot of great songs- “Lost in the Supermarket”, “Guns of Brixton”, one of the best angry punk songs with a brain, “Spanish Bombs” and of course the most famous “hidden track” in rock history, “Train in Vain.” I’d heard a little of The Clash before, and didn’t care for them, but this changed my opinion. It also really set the pace for punk bands who had talent and didn’t want to live their lives in a little musical box. So many musical stylings and influences here. Good writeup and album, Hans

  4. Nice review, Hans. I didn’t fully appreciate them in their time, but grew to do so. Rock the Casbah was my introduction to the Clash. I was probably 12 at the time. London Calling is the one album of theirs in my collection.

  5. When you open an album with a killer lead track you know you’re in for a special listen. I love albums and this is a good one. Lots of musical ideas (I agree they all work for me too) but when it comes down to it they are a rock band. A good one. It’s like they explore their creativity and then it’s” Hey lets rock” and they kick into ‘Brand New Cadillac’ Great choice Hans.

  6. Great choice Hans. I never thought of them with the other punk bands…they had too much talent…they had the punk spirit but good musicians behind it. My friend and I would listen to this album surrounded by rock posters into the night…good write up Hans.

  7. I LOVE The Clash. “London Calling” is my favorite album by them. I saw them in 1980 right after it came out. To this day, I still listen to it from time to time.

  8. I know this is heresy, but I think the dub version of ‘Armagideon Time / Justice Tonight / Kick it Over’ is the best thing they ever did. I think London Calling flags a bit towards the end – my London Calling would kick out ‘Lover’s Rock’ and ‘Revolution Rock’ and drop in that lengthy dub monster instead.

  9. Great write-up Hans. The last song is quite a departure from the sounds of the other ones. Didn’t realize they had so many political songs but their name should have been a tip-off. They sound great and one day there will be time to listen to the whole album. Excellent choice!

  10. You certainly made a great case for your pick, Hans. It’s also clear you truly love The Clash. I’m mostly familiar with what I guess are their most popular songs. On this album, it’s the title track and “Train in Vain.”

    To me The Clash prove punk doesn’t need to be limited to loud and fast music. Of course, it may also be a bit of a misperception to associate punk with these attributes in the first place.

    The nod to Elvis in the cover art is pretty cool. As a hobby musician, I always have mixed feelings seeing artists destroy their instruments. I get the idea of energetic stage performance/show when Pete Townshend smashes his guitar, though it sounds like in this case bassist Paul Simonon did it out of frustration.

    Regardless, part of me feels instead of smashing their instrument, why didn’t they give it to a disadvantaged kid who would love to play but doesn’t have the means to buy a guitar or bass? I know it may sound a bit naive, but I just can’t help it!

  11. I love The Clash too. I was living and working in London at the time the song came out, so I really felt part of it. We had always felt we were on the edge of some kind of “nuclear error” at the time. So many songs about nuclear destruction back then. Another similar one which comes to mind was “99 Red Balloons.” I also have a Clash album.

    • That Cold War era we had always seemed to be living on the edge of nuclear catastrophe. London Calling seemed to pretty much sum up the feeling in the air at the time. I love Rock The Casbah and Should I Stay or Should I go too. I actually went as far as buying the album of their singles collection. I haven’t listened to it in a while. Time to listen to it again, I think.

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