20. Brian Eno – Another Green World
I have a theory that Brian Eno is more influential than The Beatles. This is not to say that screaming young fans would have come down with Enomania in a world without the Fab Four. But when you look at the vastness of his work as a musician (or, as he calls himself, “non-musician”) and producer, and at the constellation of collaborators—David Bowie, Talking Heads, U2—Eno’s artistic gravitational pull is immense. The sun at the center of this galaxy is Another Green World. Much has been made of how Eno “invented” ambient music, a genre that consists not of songs but soundscapes—instrumentals that you do not listen to so much as wander through like a morning fog. Another Green World’s genius lies in how it is both at once. On the five pieces where Eno is singing—the ones most recognizable as “songs”—the lyrics are impersonal and impressionistic (“All the words float in sequence / No one knows what they mean / Everyone just ignores them,” he chants on “Sky Saw”), the vocals themselves becoming just another instrument in the mix. Even the guitars sound unlike guitars, and are given bizarre names: snake guitar, wimshurst guitar, castanet guitar. Just as the paintings in Super Mario 64 served as portals to faraway lands, each composition on Another Green World feels like…well, another world unto itself: the alien doo-wop of “I’ll Come Running,” the meditative serenity of “Becalmed,” the ion-splitting electricity of “St. Elmo’s Fire.” Forty-four years later, there’s still little that sounds like Another Green World, in Eno’s universe or our own. – Jacob Nierenberg
Read More: Hall of Fame—Brian Eno’s Another Green World
19. Fela Kuti & Africa 70 – Zombie
We can fool ourselves into thinking that times of great political discord in the U.S. will bring about some new renaissance in punk rock, but the truth is that most of us probably can’t even remember a time when music was actually considered dangerous. To do so you’d have to travel back to Brazil in the ’60s, Chile in the early ’70s, or—as was the case for much of the 1970s—Nigeria. Fela Ransome Kuti, born in Nigeria before attending university in London and starting his career there (and subsequently making a fan of Cream’s Ginger Baker), made a career of turning music into activism, frequently criticizing the Nigerian government and, on Zombie, the military in particular. On the title track, among the most accessible and funkiest of Kuti’s epic Afrobeat anthems, Fela uses a military-like chant to mock the oppressive regime: ”Attention! Double up! Fall In! Fall out! Fall down! Get ready!” The Nigerian people loved it; the military didn’t take so well to it, and in retaliation they raided the Kalakuta Republic, Kuti’s home and recording studio, burning his equipment and master tapes and killing his mother. It’s one of the darkest chapters of Kuti’s career, a violent and unjustified response to something Twitter trolls would likely take for granted. But Kuti still had the final word—he had his mother’s coffin delivered to the government, as documented in his later album “Coffin For Head of State.” And Zombie, itself, endures as a hypnotic, intense and deeply grooving piece of essential Afrobeat. – Jeff Terich
18. Black Sabbath – Paranoid
Heavy metal—as a style, a sound, a concept—existed for only a couple of years before being perfected. There’s a chicken-egg debate that continues after 50 years over its point of origin, whether via The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” Steppenwolff’s “Born to be Wild” or Blue Cheer’s take on “Summertime Blues,” but there’s no debate to be had over heavy metal’s flagship band, and that band is Black Sabbath. Just four months after delivering a monster debut of haunted, thunderous, bluesy rock ‘n’ roll with their eerie self-titled debut, the Birmingham, UK band rushed back into the studio with an unfinished set of songs infused with darkness, the occult, and a hangover of disaffection from the ’60s that, in the end, became their most iconic.
Paranoid is the river from which all heavy music flows, as much a driver of the sound of later metal giants such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest as it was for hardcore titans like Black Flag. It rips and it roars and it creeps and it commands, licensed exhaustively for everything from Guitar Hero to Iron Man (a little on the nose, but we’ll allow it), Paranoid never loses its bite or its novelty. And that’s due entirely to the strength of the songs, from the spontaneous psych explosion of the title track to the cosmic dirge “Planet Caravan” and the titanic air-raid siren opening of “War Pigs,” arguably the band’s best song and one of the most powerful anti-war anthems ever written. And some people still believe metal’s not supposed to be “political” after all this time. Here’s the remedial course. – Jeff Terich
17. Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life
Songs in the Key of Life should have been a disaster. After an unprecedented run of critical and commercial success with his last four albums, he found himself the subject of a bidding war. Ultimately, Motown were able to keep their cash cow, but surrendered complete artistic control and unlimited resources to him. Scheduled release dates came and went, it wasn’t long before two full years had passed. Rumours of a double album were eventually confirmed. All signs pointed to a bloated, self-indulgent backslapathon, overstuffed with ideas that had got fat on Berry Gordy’s
Not a bit of it. Over 105 minutes, Wonder covers the past, present and future, both of his own existence and of the music that he loves. It is an eye-wateringly ambitious endeavour, but driven by his passion and burgeoning spirituality and finally unencumbered by the corporate restrictions that he had grown up with during the 1960s, this was the glorious moment that the incomparable artist finally fulfilled his potential. From the broken fragility of “If It’s Magic” to the maximal triumph of “As,” the multilingual pan-musical inclusiveness of “Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing” to the intimately personal “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” there is no limit to the album’s horizons. Remarkably, he was still only in his mid-20s and sadly such heights were never scaled again, but in one galactic statement, he communicated enough for a lifetime.- Max Pilley
16. Sly and the Family Stone – There’s A Riot Goin’ On
This album is a conversation. With America, and with Black history, and with the larger world, of course, but more literally: the title of this record is an answer to a question. The story goes that Sly heard Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On—originally a statement—and offered this record as an answer. Two years rushed by between Riot and the band’s last record, Stand!, and in that time, Sly soured on pop music and on the state of the nation; the world was ugly, and his music needed to be ugly too. Riot is irresistible—immersive, bugged-out, defined by its grooves—but it doesn’t sound like it’s meant to draw the listener in. The mix is muddy, dusty, mid-heavy, purposefully messy, pushing mistakes out of the margins and into the spotlight, leaving everything serrated. And the tone matches the content: Sly uses his crooked podium to decry injustice, invoke police brutality and the crooked world, and make nihilism funky. Riot shows us that when you can’t piece through the chaos around you, you can always make your own. – Ben Dickerson
15. The Who – Who’s Next
The Who were rock and roll’s secret dichotomy. Even as they produced rousing work that rallied the fan base, guitarist-songwriter Pete Townshend cunningly wrote the style’s alternate history as a dialectic, identifying Shakespearean motivations in performers and fans too preoccupied with the brown acid to notice. On The Who Sell Out and Tommy, Townshend relied on the structures of the concept album and the rock opera to support his points. On Who’s Next—which started out as a conceptual work from which Townshend salvaged parts—the songs were all the structure he needed. The album’s heart deals with personal inquest in refuge from the madding crowd: the plaintive love wish of “Bargain,” the saddened renewal of “The Song Is Over” and “Gettin’ in Tune,” the breakdown of “Behind Blue Eyes.” Even John Entwistle’s “My Wife” fits the narrative. But the album’s bookends threw down a challenge for the hungover insurgents of Drop City. “Baba O’Riley” saw eternal youth as its own trap, a blissfully unaware bandwagon that couldn’t see its ceiling. The angry, conflicted “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is an acknowledgement that flower power left some items unaddressed, and the only reasonable responses to its failure are Townshend’s obdurate synths, Keith Moon’s sputtering drums and Roger Daltrey’s incensed scream. Ennui and danger lurked beneath the slaphappy fluorescence, and Who’s Next ensured—or tried to, anyway — that the Me Decade wouldn’t forget it. – Paul Pearson
14. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run
This is not the best album the Boss would release in the 1970s (you know which one is, and I ain’t talking about Greetings, or The Wild, The Innocent…). But it’s definitely the best-known, the best-loved and can reasonably be argued as the most capital-i Important record of Springsteen’s golden age. Born to Run is a produced-within-an-inch-of-its-life album that somehow sounds thoroughly spontaneous, an ode to teenage rebellion that’s painfully aware of such a stance’s futility, a collection of elaborate rock ‘n’ roll greaser fables that disguise crime stories and nightmares.
The leap Bruce Springsteen made from his previous work to this album is Monument Valley-sized: replacing freewheeling beatnik tunes with complex rockabilly- and R&B-indebted songs that are both diamond-sharp and operatic in scope. The title track will likely define Springsteen forever (whether it should is debatable; that’s a discussion for another day). It’s a whirlwind trip around a whole universe in three-and-a-half heartstopping minutes.
But so are “Night” and “She’s the One.” So is “Backstreets,” Springsteen’s emotionally raw ode to days spent with his best friend Terry McGovern. “Meeting Across the River” is a low-level crime film in miniature, like some impromptu but perfect collaboration between Elmore Leonard and Jim Jarmusch. But Born to Run’s bookends are what perfectly epitomize this intense journey: “Thunder Road” is one of modern music’s greatest love stories, while “Jungleland” turns the inside baseball of bands hustling to get discovered into a Homeric epic. (Also, unlike many ’70s prog wankfests, it earns every second of its runtime.) Springsteen is, of course, much more than Born to Run, but it’s hard to think of a better entry point to his discography. – Liam Green
13. David Bowie – Station to Station
Most commonly, the go-to Bowie record for people is Ziggy Stardust. For those a bit more in the know with underground music, it’s Low. And yet by and large for those who are deep into Bowie’s canon, it’s this record, Station to Station, that people grab for. This esteem was even shown by the Bowie camp when, on the eve of the now-mandatory deluxe remaster/reissue box set treatment for his body of work, it was this record that kicked off the process and not either of those other two. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the easiest summary is that Station to Station is the thesis of Bowie’s work. Sure, he would become much more explicitly experimental in his later ’70s records and prior to this he had more explicit pop, funk and soul aspects. But the entire premise of Station to Station, a premise elaborated on by the whole of his following career once he exited that purely experimental stage, was to provide a fusion of the two. Even his final record Blackstar can be seen most keenly as a mirror to this one. The Rosetta stone to David Bowie’s incredible body of work. – Langdon Hickman
Hall of Fame: David Bowie’s Station to Station
12. Led Zeppelin – IV
Yes, the is the album with that song on it. But even if it didn’t exist, the other seven here would be more than enough to justify its place as one of the greatest of the decade. In fact, you can also take the other Camaro classics, “Rock and Roll” and “Black Dog” off it and have an enduring classic. When I introduced my 9-year-old daughter to Zep’s biggest album, I did not play her the calling card FM radio ran into the ground. I played her “When the Levee Breaks,” which has the most powerful drum sound ever recorded, taking a blues classic and giving it a dark sensual throb. It also has one of the best vocals Robert Plant ever recorded, for that matter. The best ballad on this album is arguably “Going to California” and not the hedgerow bustler, more of a folk song than a mullet burner, with its share of interesting guitar playing from Jimmy Page. Led Zeppelin’s IV has been in my collection for 36 years, and “The Battle of Evermore” and, hell, the other seven songs—even that one—sound just as good to me as when I first heard them. – Wil Lewellyn
11. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
Rarely has a discography felt as much like a mad scramble to keep up with a restlessly frantic creative evolution as that of Miles Davis between 1965 and 1974. Twelve albums in nine years, many of them doubles, all of them seemingly one great leap beyond its predecessor. When blessed with hindsight, one can hear the pieces come together logically, almost naturally—from the electric post-bop of Miles in the Sky to the more atmospheric vibes of Filles de Kilimanjaro to the eventual jazz-fusion breakthrough of 1969′s landmark In a Silent Way. Yet Bitches Brew was Miles’ gateway toward rock and psychedelia as treated to an improvisational session featuring 14 of jazz’s most dynamic players: Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Larry Young, Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin—you get the idea. Calling it “bold” understates the sheer electricity—literally and figuratively—that comes alive in these sessions, turning 20-minute groove sessions into absolute heaters, cut and spliced back together with a newfound interest in tape edits, but stretching into spiritual transcendence like Indian ragas. The only album of its kind in 1970, save for the hints of what was to come in Davis’ prior releases, Bitches Brew broke open entirely new ways of hearing and playing jazz. The cover art says “Directions in Music by Miles Davis,” but only he knew for sure where he was going. – Jeff Terich
10. Talking Heads – Fear of Music
Talking Heads is a funk band. No matter what anyone says, they are a funk band at heart. Each song on Fear of Music is a jam and each song is full of that undefinable thing we call funk. If Fear of Music is scattershot, it’s only because it’s the vision of a band who is suddenly at the height of their powers. We’re listening to Talking Heads try out everything they can and then react in glee when it all miraculously works. While that neat little trick (that you can put the words “Fear of” in front of almost every song title here; “Fear of I Zimbra” doesn’t make much sense, huh?) people so often talk about is most certainly made up, the idea of paranoia runs hot throughout this record. From spies to cities to air, David Byrne can never seem to trust anything. Filtered through his eyes, the world is a dangerous place, one that you dance through until you die. – Ben Cohn
Read More: Hall of Fame—Talking Heads’ Fear of Music
9. David Bowie – Low
It took a litany of concurrent events in the life of David Bowie to produce a record like Low. His LA period had come to a very messy end; his move to a flatshare in Berlin with Iggy Pop exposed him to Harmonia, Tangerine Dream and Neu!; his discarded score ideas for The Man Who Fell To Earth had shifted his writing into a more experimental, atmospheric realm; he met Brian Eno shortly after falling in love with his Discreet Music album; even his own last album, Station to Station, had seen Bowie tampering with synthesizers and hypnotic rhythms. It’s easy in hindsight to see how something as bold as Low could have been the end result of so many colliding influences, but it was still too much of a jolt for many contemporary critics and fans.
These days, of course, Low is the connoisseur’s choice for favorite Bowie album, and for good reason. Its first side is a collection of shards and shrapnel: disjointed, spiky pop songs that channel Bowie’s legendary flair for a tune with his newfound cynicism and battle scars (the one sparkling exception is “Sound and Vision,” a studio masterpiece to rival any of its age). Side two is the highly discussed ‘ambient suite’, a beguiling, spectral series of compositions that presage an uncountable number of modern subgenres. The melody line of “Warszawa” alone makes Low one of the best albums of the 1970s. In one move, Bowie (with Eno and Tony Visconti) mastered a barely-formed musical style, just the first of three masterpieces he would craft in 1977 alone. – Max Pilley
Read More: A guide to David Bowie’s Berlin
8. Joni Mitchell – Blue
Surely one of the most supreme achievements in the history of songwriting, Joni Mitchell’s Blue provided a sublime template for a decade of sensational singer-songwriter albums. But none of them could quite measure up to the soaring highs and crushing lows of Blue, which still gives chills almost 50 years after its release. Soul-baring, confessional lyrics are matched by a crystalline voice, accompanied only by the spare sonic textures of acoustic guitar, piano and dulcimer. Listen to the way that Mitchell sings the first notes of the title track, twisting and bending the word ‘blue’ across an octave or two with astonishing ease. The breathtaking piano ballad “River,” perhaps the saddest Christmas song ever composed, begins with a fractured excerpt of “Jingle Bells” and impressionistic observations of the holiday season. And yet none of it can cure the loneliness, the heartache and the yearning to get away from it all. The album encapsulates not only a personal sense of loss and disillusionment, but also one felt universally by a generation at the end of the 1960s. – Sam Pryce
7. Stevie Wonder – Innervisions
Stevie Wonder did not need sight to see America, and to see through it. Like his Motown compatriot Marvin Gaye before him and Hanif Abdurraqib after him, Wonder saw his country ravaged by inequality and injustice, and saw his people bearing most of the burden. Innervisions is his What’s Going On, his They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, his plea to America to fix what it broke while coming to terms with the fact that it never would. As a Black man of God, Wonder searched for heaven in America, only to see hell everywhere he looked. He saw junkies on the street, getting high but not high enough to find Jesus (“Jesus Children of America”). He saw politicians swindling the people who put them in power (“He’s Misstra Know-It-All”). And he saw desperate people trying to make a living, only to be ground down by poverty and racism (“Living for the City”). The closest he comes to transcendence is on “Higher Ground,” a swaggering tale of reincarnation. Still, it’s the contemplative, flickering “Visions” that serves as Innervision’s inner light. “I am not one who make believes,” Wonder sings, “I know that leaves are green / They only turn to brown when autumn comes around,” less a statement of fact than an acknowledgement of his inability to change it. We may not be much closer today to the vision of America in Wonder’s mind, but the America he saw on Innervisions remains as truthful and soulful as the day he committed it to tape. – Jacob Nierenberg
6. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
No one will ever accuse Berry Gordy of being a sensitive man. He ran Motown like an R&B processing plant, and plenty of its artistic triumphs occurred in spite of him. So the now-infamous tale of Gordy telling Marvin Gaye that the rough mix of “What’s Going On” was “the worst song I ever heard” makes sense, even if that legendary tune’s massive appeal seems obvious in retrospect.
What’s Going On is a deeply sad album, its forlornly elegant, Afrobeat-tinged soul entirely appropriate to the woebegone days of the early 1970s. The tracks flow so seamlessly into one another that you don’t immediately register how bleak the whole picture is. Just as you start processing how devastating the apathetic dope fiend narrative of “Flyin’ High (In the Friendly Sky)” is, the record has moved on to explorations of mistreated children, the impending death of the environment, black organized crime and the drug trade. If you haven’t heard What’s Going On in a while, I can hardly think of a better time to revisit it than our current political moment, in which “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” and “What’s Happening Brother” all seem timely as ever. - Liam Green
5. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures
The 1970s were largely not a pleasant era, but Joy Division’s England was not a generous place and the lead-up to this album’s release a most unkind time. In short order the band that inspired them—Sex Pistols—talk-showed their way off of EMI, had their debut released on Virgin, imploded in the United States, and saw their guitarist Sid Vicious die. English inflation advanced, and postwar unemployment peaked. The Yorkshire Ripper and the National Front terrorized citizens. Firefighters, bakers, the BBC and truck drivers all hit picket lines presaging the public workers’ strike of 1979 and Conservative Margaret Thatcher’s election as Prime Minister.
The fresh face of post-punk to come encountered tension at best, darkness at worst in these moments. Ian Curtis was a husband with a wandering eye and a father possibly too young, a corporate and public-servant drone in the shadow of the Winter of Discontent, debilitated by illness, and thrust into artistic promise. Thatcher’s victory fit in between the band’s recording and release of Unknown Pleasures. The album feels like they, and Curtis in particular, saw their depressive recent past—record label and critical success notwithstanding—stretch into a foreboding vision of the near future.
They made music to match that vision, with producer Martin Hannett manipulating it to sound like dub recorded in a Velvet Underground studio. (As if The Police cornered the market on “white reggae,” anyway.) “A loaded gun won’t set you free/So you say,” Curtis opines on “New Dawn Fades.” “Where will it end?” he asks in “Day of the Lords.” Peter Hook’s voice comes forward to join his rubberband bass on the punk nihilism of “Interzone.” Paired throughout with the distant, despairing noises of Stephen Morris and Bernard Sumner, the words of Unknown Pleasures document disgust with one’s surroundings and, at their most emotionally extreme, a willingness to leave that setting behind, costs be damned. – Adam Blyweiss
Read More: A guide to Factory Records’ Manchester
4. David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Becoming Ziggy Stardust was a feint. Bowie was always transforming himself. It was the changing that defined him, all his personas and affectations representing not reinvention but a shift of the lens, a different part of him exposed. Ziggy was Bowie’s first and most alluring transformation, a self-declaration of otherness, otherworldliness, stardom—pushing himself further away to draw the listener closer. It also helped that Rise and Fall is basically a perfect record. The depth of detail—the half-finished milkshakes in “Five Years”; the quick allusions to extraterrestrial characters; the yelping, full-throated self-possession of Bowie and the genderless, formless shapes of his narrators. And of course, there’s the sound, the hugeness of Bowie’s and Mick Ronson’s band: the way the drums conjure thunder on “It Ain’t Easy,” the highway-rumble-strip throttle of “Suffragette City,” the stutter-step percussion of “Soul Love.” Anchoring Bowie’s fantasias to the serrated glam of the band’s arrangements turns them into high drama. The album starts with a threat—“five years, that’s all we got.” But it ends with a promise: “I’ll help you with the pain/you’re not alone.” If the world is ending, this was an invitation into a bigger world, all Bowie’s own. – Ben Dickerson
3. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
(1977; Warner Bros.)
The most striking thing about a quick revisit to Rumours is comfortably it fits into indie music culture today, from the hipster fashions of the album cover to the harmonized folk-rock melodies and mid-tempo acoustic momentum. Whether that says more about the prescience of Fleetwood Mac and their magnum-opus or the dearth of creativity in the modern culture of nostalgia remains unclear, but it leads to something even more striking. That, were it released with all that’s come and gone in the last 15 years, it’d still hands down be a better album than all of them. The hits were never in question, show me someone who can’t get into “Don’t Stop” or “Go Your Own Way” and I’ll show you a liar or a fool. But it’s what fleshes the rest of the record out that truly makes it a masterpiece. “Songbird” is Christine McVie at her stunning and moving best, while none of the fingerpicked ditties Fleet Foxes released can hold a candle to “Never Going Back Again.” Rumours swaggers through genres with effortless ease, a collection of masterful songwriters at the top of their game. Glorious fun on the surface but surging with anguish underneath, anthemic but handled with gentle restraint; it’s a masterclass in sincere songwriting. Truly classic. – William Lewis
2. Funkadelic – Maggot Brain
Funkadelic have been known to ask the important questions, such as “Who Says A Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?!” and “Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic?” The answer to the first question, at least on Maggot Brain, is a pretty easy one: Nobody. Not a goddamn person. But the second one, well, that’s something that takes a bit more explanation.
Formed in the ’60s as the backing band for George Clinton’s Detroit-based doo wop group The Parliaments—later spaced-out and funkafied as Parliament—Funkadelic in the early ’70s came to lean much heavier on the “-adelic” part of their name, filling the pocket with soaring and otherworldly flights of acid-laced fancy without letting go of the groove. Maggot Brain, above all, proved just how deep Funkadelic could freak the funk out, riding an LSD trip into the beyond with brief forays into pop songwriting.
And about that pop songwriting—it’s phenomenal. “Can You Get to That?” is immortal funk-folk of the highest order, “Hit It and Quit It” is all groove, and “Super Stupid” picks up where the late Jimi Hendrix left off (and ultimately where Rage Against the Machine would pick up the baton). Yet there’s no trip that soars so high as the title track, ultimately a 10-minute guitar solo following a spoken introduction about the inevitability of World War III. On paper it seems indulgent; in practice it’s the most emotionally wrenching instrumental rock song ever recorded, thanks in part to Clinton, deep into a trip, telling guitarist Eddie Hazel to play as if his mother had just died. It’s a sublime piece of music, but more than that it’s an introduction to a strange yet utopian (and sometimes dystopian, as on “Wars of Armageddon”) world where rock and funk are just two pieces of a bigger, weirder, dirtier, deranged and maximalist picture. So, what’s a Funkadelic? Just put this on, kid, and it’ll all make sense. – Jeff Terich
1. The Clash – London Calling
December 1979 was a weirdly expectant month for music. Rock could legally drink, Elvis was dead, and disco wasn’t feeling so hot itself. The ‘80s had been fetishized as “the future” more than any other decade of the 20th century, which was probably George Orwell’s fault. Punk had done its job—above and beyond really—and ideas were just emerging about how post-punk might look. But the visions didn’t include many of the bigger bands most obviously defined as punk. The style seemed to hit a cul-de-sac in which only the Ramones could turn a profit (so to speak).
The Clash had already toured America with opening acts (Bo Diddley, Sam & Dave, Joe Ely) who spoke to broader bases than punk purists. So the table had been set to link punk’s subtext to past rock traditions, an act that opposed just about everything punks believed they stood for. But when London Calling was released in England two weeks before the end of the decade, it had the same effect on new musical forms that Bob Dylan’s mid-‘60s work had on rock lyrics: It blew the palette and possibilities wide open.
It would have been one thing if Joe Strummer and Mick Jones had only adapted rock ‘n’ roll’s early mythologies (Elvis, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Link Wray, etc.) for their purposes, as they do on “Brand New Cadillac,” “Jimmy Jazz,” and “Hateful.” But London Calling’s sources were ridiculously varied. The title track and “The Right Profile” put the squeeze on bouncy Britpop; “Rudie Can’t Fail,” “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” and “Revolution Rock” incorporated reggae; “The Card Cheat” was a sour dream cut from Phil Spector’s cloth. That the Clash were able to absorb such disparate styles into their own unique sound over a span of less than 18 months is confounding.
London Calling also took apart punk’s subject bent, training the Clash’s magnifiers on politics of the self. Consumerism’s emptiness has never been related more sadly than in the disco-fed “Lost in the Supermarket.” Many of the most searing moments on the album chronicle the struggles of one person against brigands that aren’t easily named, and usually come in more than one shape: glossy and blank advertisers and pushers in “Koka-Kola,” cold authorities and casino dealers in “The Card Cheat,” expectations and substances in “The Right Profile,” paranoia and police in Paul Simonon’s “The Guns of Brixton.” Lessons of public policy still loom in the title cut and “Spanish Bombs,” but for the most part, many of the distress calls on London Calling were coming from inside the house.
With London Calling and its wanton 1980 follow-up Sandinista!, the Clash inhaled stylistic diversity as smoothly and fully as any band since the ’65-’66 Beatles. In doing so they didn’t just dismantle the ramparts of dogmatic punk and finical new wave, but the entire curve of rock and roll. – Paul Pearson
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