The Clash’s London Calling and Bob Dylan’s Electric Era

“I ain’t go no time to do battle!” Joe Strummer snarls at the end of “Revolution Rock” the last ‘official’ song on London Calling.   While he’s being serious in the song, it’s clear that The Clash were declaring a war on music with London Calling, which they won with one clean swoop.  

In America, The Clash are either known for their radio hits to the mainstream (Should I Stay I Should I Go, Rock the Casbah) or their eponymous 1977 debut to the punks who sometimes refuse to acknowledge they did anything worthwhile afterwards.  The Clash is a great album containing some of The Clash’s best songs.  It’s an album full of rage and disillusionment pointed directly at the heart of the Thatcher Administration.  

Much like Dylan and Joan Baez in the folk movement in the 1960’s, The Clash and the Sex Pistols were the two biggest names in the UK punk scene in the late 1970’s.   But just as Dylan did with Baez, The Clash outdid the Sex Pistols in every possible way leaving the other in the dust. Their songs were less about anarchy, and more about solutions.  Just as Dylan virtually decimated the folk movement that made him star by going electric, The Clash ended punk-rock as a movement in 1979 when they put out London Calling.  

London Calling like Highway 61 Revisited  and Blonde on Blonde, is an ambitious sprawling album that shows a band taking on the world, and also spawning a new musical revolution at the same time.  Their first two albums were focused mostly on punk, but London Calling proved that the Clash could play any type of music and make it their own.  It covers everything from rockabilly (Brand New Cadillac), ska (Rudie Can’t Fail), hard-rock (London Calling, Four Horsemen), reggae (Revolution Rock) and contained perhaps the best non-Dylan protest song (Clampdown).  

While there wasn’t the knee-jerk reaction to The Clash’s change in sound like Dylan’s, London Calling proved that they were willing to take risk for the sake of their art, everything else be damned.  But it certainly changed the music scene dramatically.  Without London Calling, there would be no Smiths, or early R.E.M. albums, or any post-punk for that matter.  And anyone who tells you that The Clash were better when they were punk, or just like those who say that Dylan was better when he was just a folk-singer – they’re missing the point.  

(Okay, I know it’s not fully realized.  Maybe I’ll really dive into it a later time.)


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5 responses to “The Clash’s London Calling and Bob Dylan’s Electric Era

  1. Indyzen

    Being both a huge Clash fan and Dylan fan, I found this short comparison in their evolutions from punk to something else and from folk to electric intriguing. I do believe that Dylans move toward mainstream rock had perhaps the greatest influence of virtually anything in popular music history besides The Beatles. When Dylan went electric/pop, he moved popular music out of the bars and danceclubs into something far more cerebral. It is easy to see that without Like A Rolling Stone, we would have waited far longer to hear thinking bands like The Velvet Undergroud…which leads us almost directly to Punk.
    London Calling is perhaps the great pop-rock album in the history of the genre. Moving punk from the dark recesses of alleyways and tenements, to the mainstream…and spawned a slew of music from U2 to The Hold Steady.
    But, I do believe the fact remains that without The Beatles and Dylan merging the popular music form into something beyond 4-beat feel-good dance music, a band like The Clash would not have had the opportunity to do what they did with London Calling. The Beatles and Dylan blazed a trail that would make anything and everything possible in popular music.

  2. andy panda

    the clash are so minor it isn’t even funny. bob, on the other hand, from 1964-66 has no equal. not then, not now, not ever. end of story.

  3. W.P.

    Dylan has performed “London Calling” in concert a few times.

  4. smiley

    give me a smile…baby! 🙂

  5. Matt Satterfield

    The idea wasn’t that they were equal per se. It’s just they turned the music that made them famous in the first place, spun it on its head and created some of the best rock and roll in the process.

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