A Lot Of People Won’t Get No Supper Tonight

A London Calling postscript. On 7th December 1979 The Clash released London Calling as a single. I wrote about the song in the first of my posts about the album here so don’t intend to add much to that. Except this, the video, filmed by Don Letts on a wet night on the Thames on a barge at Cadogan pier. Letts didn’t know the Thames was tidal and that the pier, barge and boat he was filming from would rise and fall- and then it started to rain heavily. Despite all this The Clash, all in black with brothel creepers and quiffs, filmed against the black of the night, give it all.

The B-side to London Calling is Armagideon Time, a cover of a Willie Williams song from 1977. This is politicised righteous Clash rock reggae, the world where a lot of people are going  hungry and aren’t getting any justice, where they are gong to have to stand up and kick it over. Joe had been talking before the recording about the ideal length of time a song should last- two minutes and twenty eight seconds according to Strummer- and at that point in the recording of Armagideon Time Clash fixer/road manager Kosmo Vinyl can be heard on the studio mic telling the group their time was up.

Strummer responds instantly ‘OK, OK, don’t push us when we’re hot!’ all of which adds to the take. Mick later added some electric sitar and there are the noises of fireworks and bombs going off. Armagideon Time is yet another Clash B-side that stands alongside their A- sides in terms of quality and passion. For the 12″ they pushed it even further with a nine minute dub excursion.

Justice Tonight/ Kick It Over

That’s Just The Beat Of Time, The Beat That Must Go On

London Calling side three- the shortest of the four sides of vinyl that make up London Calling, only four songs compared to five on each of the others (and one that is less than two minutes long). In a way it is the oddest of the four sides. Sides one and two, from the opener and title track through to Rudie Can’t Fail and then from Spanish Bombs on the flip running through to The Guns Of Brixton, have a real flow despite their wide range, from rock ‘n’ roll to jazz to reggae. Side three seems a bit like the place where they put the four songs that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. That’s not a criticism of any of the songs as such, more that the jumps from one to the next are bigger, they seem less sonically unified.

Side three starts with the group’s cover of Wrong ‘Em Boyo, originally by Jamaican ska outfit The Rulers in 1967. Paul had brought the song into the rehearsal sessions at Vanilla and it was still there by the time they came to record with Guy Sevens at Wessex. It kicks off with Mickey Gallagher’s organ, the band vamping and Joe bawling out the opening line about Stagger Lee meeting Billy at a card game. At thirty seconds, just like in the original, they grind to a halt and Joe calls out ‘start all over again’. Mick, Paul, Topper and Gallagher come back in with the skank, the Irish Horns are back and everything goes ska . Lyrically Wrong ‘Em Boyo calls out the cheats and the hoodlums- ‘why do you cheat and trample people under your feet?/ Don’t you know it is wrong to cheat a trying man?’ and ‘you lie, steal, cheat and deceit/ in such a small, small game’

The Stagger Lee myth goes back to the late nineteenth century. Stag, real name Lee Shelton, and Billy Lyons had a drunken altercation while playing cards on Christmas Day. Stag shoots Billy dead. Stag O’ Lee (or Stagger Lee) would be picked up later and die in prison. The myth became a standard for song writers and singers from Fred Waring in 1928 to Lloyd Price in 1959 to Nick Cave in 1996.

Greil Marcus wrote about the Stagger Lee myth in his book Mystery Train in a chapter about centred around Sly Stone. In 1991 Joe would go on to star in a Jim Jarmusch film of the same name playing a washed up Englishman freshly abandoned by both work and his girlfriend who gets caught up in a robbery.

From Wrong ‘Em Boyo we head straight into side three’s first Strummer/Jones original, the epic Death Or Glory. Mick wrote one of his best tunes with this one, a full on rocker packed with melodies, lead lines and riffs and Joe came up with a lyric that explores the entire myth of youth, ageing and rock ‘n’ roll, first expressed by The Who a decade earlier, the one about dying before getting old. Mick’s acoustic guitar opens up, Paul’s bass bouncing in too, then an electric guitar picking out a lead line before the moment with the crunching riff at twenty two seconds where they’re all totally on it and in it. Then Joe-

‘Now every cheap hood strikes a bargain with the world
Ends up making payments on a sofa or a girl
‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ tattooed across the knuckles of his hands
The hands that slap his kids around ‘cos they don’t understand…’

Clang! Clang! Chorus, Joe and Mick together, in unison…

‘Death or glory
Become just another story
Death or glory
Just another story’

For all the myth making of Rudie Can’t Fail and The Guns Of Brixton, the braggadocio, the group’s rebel image, the court case for shooting racing pigeons and love of trouble with the law this is a counter balance. The cheap hood in the first verse is a frustrated and violent middle aged man. His kids feel his wrath and they don’t know why he’s angry. The rebel rock ‘n’ rollers, the boys in the band, get the same treatment in verse two-

‘And every gimmick hungry yob digging gold from rock ‘n’ roll
Grabs the mic to tell us all he’ll die before he’s sold’

Joe is surely pointing at himself here as much as Roger Daltry or Mick Jagger and then the killer line-

‘But I believe in this and it’s been tested by research
He who fucks nuns will later join the church’

The rock ‘n’ roll dream dissected in four lines and destroyed. We always become what we once hated. Youth inevitably gives way to ageing. The hippies sold out, the punks have too. Whatever comes next will do the same. Nothing special to see here, just another story. Another crunching chorus and then the song breaks down. Topper runs round the kit, Joe squawks, Paul’s bass runs up and down, Mick peels some lines off and then they start to build back up for another chorus, Joe with a spoken section…

‘Fear in the gun sights
They say ‘lie low’
You say ‘OK’
Don’t wanna play a show
No other thinking
Was it death or glory now?
Playing the blues of kings
Sure looks better now’

After the chorus Joe shouts out to all the groups that haven’t made it, all the garage bands-

‘In every dingy basement, in every dingy street
Every dragging hand clap over every dragging beat
That’s just the beat of time, the beat that must go on
If you’ve been trying for years we’ve already heard your song’

Whether Joe’s sympathetic or thinks they’re wasting their time isn’t entirely clear, the chorus comes in again with the claim that death or glory is just another story. This verse could be a shout out to the unheard of bands or just telling them there’s nothing new under the sun. Strummer, who spent quite a few years struggling and trying to make it and who left his previous band in the lurch when the new thing came along, is saying here that it doesn’t matter, it’s all bullshit, we all kill the thing we love and grow old. I’ve never been able to decide if this is cynicism or realism. But it’s a great song, one of the album’s highlights. It doesn’t stop there either, there’s a rousing final section following the breakdown where Mick’s acoustic guitar and Paul’s bass bubble up again, Joe talking about ‘we gotta march a long way/ fight along time/ we gotta  travel over mountains… we gonna cause trouble/ we’re gonna raise hell’.

So maybe despite the hypocrisy of becoming what you stood against, the struggle is still worth fighting, the pursuit has to take place. Just another story.

The split second gap between songs occurs again, the guitars of Death Or Glory stop ringing and we’re into Koka Kola with some sound effects and Joe calling out ‘elevator going up!’. Koka Kola is a sub- two minute dash, Joe singing about the power of advertising and the corporate world (and with a mention of the White House, politics too). Coked up ad executive goes to meetings, sells products, does more drugs, hangs out with party girls, Koke adds life. It’s an album track on a side made up of of one offs and it’s all over pretty quickly as Joe shouts out ‘freeze, hit the deck’. Slagging off the world of advertising was of course just one of many things that would lead to critics of the band accusing them of hypocrisy. In 1991 Should I Stay Or Should I Go was used to sell jeans for Levi’s. In 2002 London Calling sold cars for Jaguar. In 2012 it was used again, this time for British Airways. 

Then we get to side three, track four and The Card Cheat, the least Clash sounding of any of the songs on London Calling and one of my favourites. It was recorded late on in the sessions, Mick and engineer Bill Price trying to get that Phil Spector Wall of Sound by recording every instrument twice, doubling everything up. Led by a Mick Jones double piano part and slamming drum and guitar parts and Mick’s vocal, totally overwrought but utterly heartfelt, telling the story of ‘a solitary man crying ‘hold me’… because he’s-a lonely’. He’s doomed of course, the card cheat must pay for his crimes (just as Billy did at the start of side three), and ‘he won’t be alive for long’. The card game plays out, the King of Spades is put down but the dealer has cottoned on, something’s wrong, and soon the cheat is forced to his knees and shot dead. The horns swell, the pianos pound away, it’s all very cinematic and grandiose. Apparently Joe wrote the words and Mick sang them and there’s a classic Joe lyrical switch and suddenly we’re back in Death Or Glory territory, Joe looking at the sweep of human history-

‘From the Hundred Years War to the Crimea
With a lance and a musket and a Roman spear
To all of the men who have stood without fear
In the service of the King’

In other words, this has all happened before, it’s just another story, nothing is new- like the dingy basements and dingy streets two songs before. A pointless death over a card game and pointless deaths in wars. Joe then hands out some advice-

‘Before you met your fate
Be sure you did not forsake
Your lover, may not be around’

Mick’s brilliance as a musician, an arranger and in the studio is all over this song, always threatening to cross the line but completely convincing. At the end of the song the first verse comes back in, a re-run and a loop, the solitary man crying ‘hold me’ who won’t be alive for long. Maybe this is the point of side three, the songs are linked by their lyrics and themes: the card cheat and murder in Wrong ‘Em Boyo and a myth that had already been around for nearly a century; the rock ‘n’ roll, hope I die before I get old myth; the adman who’s sold his soul to Koka Kola; the man in The Card Cheat, going through the motions that will lead to his death, the same old story for two thousand years. Everyone missing the point, looking for the quick win and easy money but failing to see that ‘their lover, may not be around’.

The Card Cheat

That’s my thoughts anyway. There’s enough room with these songs that you may have different interpretations. I’ve been listening to side three and getting different things from it since first hearing it in 1989. None of the songs are the band’s best known but two of them (Death Or Glory and The Card Cheat) are the equal of any others on this record. They also set us up very nicely for side four which comes in with a rare misstep but soon puts things right.

The Hillsides Ring With ‘Free The People’

London Calling side two, pick the arm up, place the needle carefully on the outer ring, let it find the groove, a little static, and then…  Spanish Bombs kicks straight in, Topper’s drum salvo followed instantly by organ (played by Mickey Gallagher on loan from The Blockheads) and Mick’s guitar line, a crashing, uptempo chord sequence with Joe and Mick doubling up on part of the vocals. Joe had really taken Bernie Rhodes’ advice about lyric writing to heart- forget love songs, write about the world- and Spanish Bombs is Srummer at his best, contrasting The Spanish Civil War and ‘the days of ’39’ with the growing tourist industry of the late 1970s, ‘Spanish weeks in my disco casino’. The Basque separatist group ETA were active meaning the bombs of the song could be from the 1930s and the 1970s. In the midst of all this imagery, firing out of the speakers with the music piling ever onward, Joe finds space for some really memorable lines, lines about the murdered poet Federico Lorca, a hero of Joe’s, killed by Franco’s fascists, lines about ‘bullet holes in cemetery walls’ and ‘hearing music from another time’ and the chorus in Spanish-

‘Spanish bombs, yo te quierro y finito
Yo te querda, oh mi corazón
Spanish bombs, yo te quierro y finito
Yo te querda, oh mi corazón’

Federico Garcia Lorca

In his novel Powder Kevin Sampson, writing about a fictional rock band in the 90s based loosely (or closely) on The Verve, has a character explain that the tune for Saturday Night (by Whigfield, an international pop- house hit in 1994) and Spanish Bombs are the same- you can sing the words of one over the other. Since discovering this I have never, ever got tired of singing Spanish Bombs over Saturday Night.

After Spanish Bombs comes The Right Profile, Joe throwing his subject matter net wider still with a song about movie heart throb Montgomery Clift. The song begins the staccato stabs of Mick’s guitar and a hi- hat, Joe reeling off the films Clift starred in- ‘say, where’d I see this guy? In Red River? A Place In The Sun? Maybe The Misfits? From Here To Eternity?’

Montgomery Clift (left, seated) with The Misfits including Clark Gable (right) and Marilyn Monroe (duh)

Montgomery had a car crash that left him with a broken jaw and facial scarring. He’d hit a tree leaving a party at Liz Taylor’s, pumped full of pills and booze. From then on he’d only be photographed from the correct side and angle, from the right profile. Producer Guy Stevens had given Joe a biography of Clift and suggested he write a song about the star’s life. Joe, no stranger to drugs and alcohol himself, wrote about the last ten years of Clift’s life, from the crash in 1956 to his death in 1966, a death some called the slowest suicide in cinematic history. Mick arranges the group and has The Irish Horns swinging about all over the place, everyone speeding up and slowing down, veering left and right, Paul and Topper driving things like Clift’s car with Joe garbling and gurgling the words over the top, breaking down completely for the ‘nembutal/numbs it all/but I prefer/alcohol’ part. Joe gives voices to the crowd standing and staring- ‘ And everybody says’what’s he like?’, ‘is he alright?/ can he still feel?’ and ‘it’s not funny/that’s Montgomery Clift honey!’. No other band, certainly none of the class of ’77 could have written this, the music or the words. ‘Go get me my old movie stills/Go out and get me another roll of pills/There I go shaking again but I ain’t got the chills’. Poor Monty.

Side two, track three is Lost In The Supermarket. Near Joe’s flat in the World’s End Estate was a supermarket, the International (numbers 471- 473 King’s Road). After a disorienting late night shopping visit Joe went home and wrote Lost In The Supermarket, a song about the alienating effects of capitalism, commercialisation and the way the world depersonalises the individual- Joe only came in for a special offer, ‘guaranteed personality’ and left bewildered and broken. Mick wrote a lovely, slick tune for the song, a gliding chord sequence. The rhythm section, led by Topper’s brilliant drumming, complement it completely. Joe sings about the suburbs (where he’d lived) and life in high rise flats (where Mick lived with his Nan, overlooking the Westway). As the song grooves on, a smidgen of disco in the drumming and guitars, Joe develops his theme-

‘I’m all tuned in, I see all the programs
I save coupons for packets of tea
I’ve got my giant hit discotheque album
I empty a bottle, I feel a bit free

The kids in the halls and the pipes in the walls
Makes me noises for company
Long distance callers make long distance calls
And the silence makes me lonely’

Joe gave the song to Mick to sing, a gift, saying he wrote it partly with Mick in mind. From intro to fade out Mick sings and plays beautifully and Paul’s bass playing is streets ahead of where he was two years previously.

Three magnificent songs into side two and there are a pair of songs to come that are as good as anything the band ever did. Clampdown opens with a squeal of feedback, the tsk- tsk- tsk of Topper tapping the cymbal and Mick bawling ‘1-2-3-4’ off mic before the descending riff plays through for a few bars. Joe mutters over the top, words that are almost inaudible-

‘The kingdom is ransacked
The jewels all taken back
And the chopper descends
They’re hidden in the back
With a message written on a half-baked potato
The spool goes ’round
Saying I’m back here in this place
And I could cry
And there’s smoke you could click on’

… and then the smoke clears, leaving Topper’s boom thwack boom thwack, Mick counting everyone back in again and then the question ‘what are we gonna do now?!’

Joe answers with a song about the rise of the far right, the dignity and indignity of labour, the crushing of youthful dreams and becoming what you once stood against, conformity and coercion, and a final part about ‘evil presidentes getting their due’. The band are on fire, fully amped up, Mick leading the charge, and the effect is electrifying. Paul’s bass playing is upfront and centre, especially in the remastered version from Sound System. Joe and Mick trade lines, call and response, intuitively- the segue from Mick’s spoken middle eight to Joe coming back in with the ‘But you grow up and you calm down’ is hair raising.

It’s worth pulling a few of Joe’s lines out, starting with the astonishing first line of the first verse-

”Taking off his turban
They said ‘is this man a Jew?’ ”

Joe follows it with ‘they put up a poster saying ‘we earn more than you’, the divide and conquer politics of the far right dissected in a few lines.

”We will teach our twisted speech
To the young believers
We will train our blue-eyed men
To be young believers”

Forty years on from the National Front’s resurgence we’re right back where we were. The racists and immigrant scapegoaters that have dragged our politics and public life into the gutter over the last decade are still at it, people now emboldened by the rise of the populist scaremongers. If as he said last week the Clash are his favourite band it’s pretty clear that Boris Johnson wasn’t listening to the words.

‘No man born with a living soul
Can be working for the clampdown’

Joe urges the youth not to give in, not to fall in line, warning them of the older generation-

‘The men at the factory are old and cunning
You don’t owe nothing, boy, get running
It’s the best years of your life they want to steal’

He also warns of being co-opted by them-
‘So you got someone to boss around
It make you feel big now
You drift until you brutalise
Make your first kill now’
The song was originally called Working And Waiting and the lyrics must have started as a warning about the grim realities of work. School leavers in the 70s were factory fodder and with the destruction of manufacturing industry and rising unemployment even that vanished.  As the song fades out and the group bash away Joe and Mick continue to hammer it home, ‘work, work, work/ I give away no secrets/ work, work, more work, more work’. A major piece of work by Joe (the words) and Mick (the tune) and the group rise to the occasion pulling together a hard rocking song to match the lyrics. In a way it’s a much an epic in its scope as (White Man In) Hammersmith Palais was a year before or Straight To Hell would be a few years later.


In 1980 The Clash played Lewisham Odeon, with this blistering take of Clampdown recorded on film. Is there a better sight in rock ‘n’ roll than the moment at fifty two seconds where the three frontmen, all in black, step up to the mic to bellow the first line in unison? Here.

Also in 1980 they played New York (a whole other story) and appeared on the TV show Fridays where they put everything- absolutely everything- into this performance of Clampdown. Here.
Sometime during the Give ‘Em Enough Rope Paul realised that the money came from songwriting and during the rehearsal sessions at Vanilla brought in a song, initially known as Paul’s Tune. It would become The Guns Of Brixton. Someone wrote somewhere that The Guns Of Brixton contains the greatest bassline of the Twentieth Century. Over this thundering, reggae inspired bass Mick adds some texture, some scratchy guitar and Topper splashes the cymbals. The sound of the studio chairs having their Velcro ripped apart is in there too. Joe was given an early version of the lyrics, which Paul wasn’t sure about, and Joe encouraged him to work on them. When the words were finished and the music recorded Joe was given the lyric sheet but handed it back to Paul, saying he should sing it. Paul sings/shouts his words, South London style, a song about police brutality and the ghetto, suffering and surviving. He then brings in Ivan from The Harder They Come- ‘you see he feels like Ivan/ born under the Brixton sun/ his game is called surviving/ at the end of The Harder They Come’. The dub rhythm swings and lurches, Paul throwing the bass around, moving from one foot to the other. The Guns Of Brixton sounds massive, filling the room when played loud. It is one of the most enduring of the songs off London calling, the bassline reverberating through pop culture as a sample and a cover version. The perfect way to close side two, under heavy manners.

There are five songs on side two, five standouts, five album tracks better than most band’s singles. They must have known how good they were when sequencing the album. It has flow, range and depth, showcases their quality as songwriters, inventiveness as players and Joe’s unique abilities as a lyricist.

As much as London Calling is an album about the world in 1979, the state of things in London and the faraway towns, it’s also an album about people and their lives, the way they respond and react to the world, a world which kicks them and brutalises them and threatens to flood their homes. It’s an album about Jimmy Jazz and Rudie, the narrator of Hateful and his dealer, Federico Lorca, Montgomery Clift, Ivan and Joe dazed and confused under the supermarket striplights. The Clash were a people band, they did things for their fans (letting them into gigs for free, not over charging them for albums, not stripmining albums for singles) and they wanted to reach as many people as possible. Writing about people was what they did. As Joe pointed out much later ‘without people you’re nothing’.

In a few days- side three.

Kissing In The Back Row, That’s How We Missed The Movie

Another Clash sampling song to start the week, following last week’s threesome and  also suggested by Drew. This  time it is from the righteous reggae rock of Armagideon Time, a two note organ riff played by Blockhead Mickey Gallagher and used as the basis for one of Deee Lite’s hippy-dippy house grooves Apple Juice Kissing. It’s a big jump from ‘a lot of people won’t get any justice tonight’ to ‘kissing in the back row, that’s how we missed the movie’ but it works really well.

Deee Lite are seen as a one hit wonder and there’s no doubting Groove Is In The Heart’s power to rock a party twenty five years after its release but there was more to them than that one single. The What Is Love? Holographic Goatee Mix is a bubbling, dancefloor treat.


Saturday Night Live

The Clash, live and red, red hot in Paris in February 1980. Jimmy Jazz, London Calling, Protex Blue, Train In Vain. As good as it gets.

Part Two? Koka Kola, I Fought The Law, Spanish Bombs, Wrong ‘Em Boyo, Stay Free.

Stiil here? Part three- Janie Jones, Complete Control, Garageland, Tommy Gun.

‘Tres bien mes amies. Fucking tres bien’.

Friday Night Is Rockabilly Night 27

This week’s rockabilly rave-up comes from 1981, covered in Clash connections. That’s Pearl and Mick Jones in the picture above. Pearl Harbour had fronted what the Americans call a ‘new wave’ band (Pearl Harbour and The Explosions) who made a mediocre album. By 1980 she had fallen in with The Clash, and recorded a rockabilly inspired album called Don’t Follow Me… I’m Lost Too, much of which which sounds surprisingly good today, 29 years later. It bombed at the time. Pearl’s boyfriend Kosmo Vinyl (Clash tour manager and self styled ‘consiglieri’) and Pearl decided she and the album should stand on their two feet, and so there were few credits on the album’s sleeve despite it’s stellar line-up which would surely have gained it more attention. Produced by Blockhead and Clash touring keyboardist Mickey Gallagher, and with Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon from The Clash and Wilco Johnson (ex-Dr Feelgood) amongst others playing the instruments. Pearl and Paul Simonon were married for much of the 80s, and she appeared on stage with The Clash. There’s youtube footage of her performing this song, Fujiyama Mama, with The Clash in Japan. Fujiyama Mama was a hit in the 50s for rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson, whose songs have popped up on Friday nights here before. Anyway, take it away Pearl…

02 Fujiyama Mama (Album Version).mp3