The Clash followed up the magnificent London Calling with one of rock’s most interesting and frustrating albums –Sandinista! A triple disc, 36 song set Sandinista! found the Clash taking the multi-genre experimentation they explored on London Calling and taking it to its (often illogical extreme). It’s been called the punk-rock White Album due to the few numbers of great songs piled in between loads of filler. I’m not quite sure I’d agree with that – I’ve grown to like The White Album more in recent years, and Sandinista! just seems misguided, and egotistical to me. The one thing I really do like about the album overall though is the production.
That being said – there are shades of brilliance, and “The Call-Up” is the best example of that and ranks among the Clash’s best work. Musically, “The Call -Up” is one of the Clash’s better reggae/dance experiments. It’s almost danceable, and its laid back and dreamy groove almost entirely glosses over the bitterness in the lyrics. It’s a rallying cry for blind-patriotism that often sends young kids to their death “You must not act the way you brought up,” Joe Strummer sings softly, almost with a hint of sympathy. Later he laments, “All the young people down the ages/they gladly marched off to die/Proud city fathers used to watch them/Tears in their eyes.” Sometimes The Clash could be too specific in their attack, but lines like these transcend time, and still applicable almost 30 years later.
I’ve got to admit that “The Call-Up” didn’t even really register on my list of songs from Sandinista! until I saw the Pogues a few years ago. The connection between the Pogues and The Clash is no secret. Shane MacGowan is known to have attended their shows in the late ’70s, and Joe Strummer took over the singer’s duties when he was forced out of the band. Before the show started, the PA blasted “The Call-Up” and I realized how powerful of a song it was. It’s dark groove proved a perfect introduction for the Pogues – fun sounding songs with serious lyrics. As John Lennon once said, “Imagine was an anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic [song], but because it’s sugar-coated, it’s accepted.”