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THE CLASH - London Calling + The Vanilla Tapes   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Wednesday, 22 September 2004
"London calling to the faraway towns....."

For a Clash nut like me , once the treasured bootlegs worn thin, the prospect of even more of their seminal "London Calling" is a mouthwatering prospect.  



The original LP was 33.3 revolutions per minute of sheer wax gold. A concise 61 minute, world-changing, dose of concise, pure, utter genius. Many regard it as The Clash's best work : the instant where anger and ability met in an articulate howl of guitars. And revolutions per minute was right : it was almost as if someone's life changed for every 1.8 seconds on this record. There were 33.3 revolutions per minute when you came to The Clash.


This remains unchanged by time and countless remastered, remixed re-releases. If you don't have "London Calling", you can't be taken seriously, though we'd like to point out, it's more than acceptable not to have any Van Morrision. Not everything deemed a classic in Q  truly is a classic, but this one certainly is.


However, time hits the hardest blows, and often below the belt. Despite the presence of numerous b-sides on the numerous boxsets and compilations - and an archive full of legendary lost out-takes not heard here - disc 2 of this utterly superflous reissue is what can only be politely described as "The Vanilla Tapes", raw one-take rehearsal recordings of the band bashing out new songs, dumped straight to a cheap and crappy ghetto blaster in the corner of the room. Despite massive remastering, these one-off moments capture the band at their rawest. Vocals are hoarse, often out of tune, and lyrics are fluffed often, leading to wordless cacophonies. Wrong notes and bum drum rolls are all over the place.


In effect "The Vanilla Tapes" are the band bootlegging themselves : the musical quality is mixed, the recording is cheap and would've stayed in the vaults had time and legend not been so kind. Despite an obvious and labourious attempt to bring the old C90 tape from Mick Jones loft from hissy obscurity into digital age, old fashion hiss, dropouts and retro, out of tune blunders ultimately make the "Vanilla Tapes" a curiosity, a listen once-or-twice curio for the hardened that remained deservedly unreleased : particularly galling is the section during "Death or Glory" where the battered tape recorder suddenly starts recording in stereo, instead of a monoaural rumble, and the instrumental, premature forms of many songs that show that genius does not fall out of the sky fully formed. It's a listen-once-and-file-away bonus disc.


The extra DVD meanwhile, offers an interesting but uncompelling rehash of old studio stories, promos, and some black-and-white unwatchable guff of the band pissing about in the studio. Close, but no Cuban Cigar, however interesting it may be. 


Quite why the next stop isn't a long overdue release for the original mix of "Combat Rock" and the dozen or so unreleased songs from that I don't know. A Clash Concert DVD would be nice, and a proper official release of the promo only soundtrack for the film of "Rude Boy" , featuring the band working on the "London Calling" LP and live cuts, would be even better. But I am getting greedy here. And there's already a DVD and a CD of demos to chew on as well as one of the greatest albums ever made by anyone anywhere.


"The Vanilla Tapes" then, all quibbles aside, is a record that would never have seen release had either Strummer been alive, or CBS not wanted to fleece the faithful. I've heard better bootlegs. The previously unheard songs, a clutch of five, played-once-then-forgotten covers and half-finished originals are hardly essential to The Clash's history, but interesting footnotes in the history of The Greatest Gang Of All Time. 


Unlike many, this era of The Clash (1977-83) was truly a Gang, four likeminded souls burning themselves out before age and compromise poisoned them, and "London Calling"(in it's original form), is their most concise statement of brilliance. If you don't have "London Calling", GO TO THE SHOP NOW AND BUY IT - and get the mid-price 5.99 single disc version. If you don't like it, your ears are made out of Keane and Snow Patrol, but you have a record you can pretend to like and that everyone will love you for. If you do like it.... Then you use it to educated a Clashless friend at some point in the future. Come out of the cupboard boys and girls, London is calling, and phoney beatlemania has bitten the dust..... 


 The Clash were not just the self-proclaimed Last Gang in town, but one of the best too. London Calling is the proof.

I'm wondering
Written by Guest on 2005-05-01 04:57:36
Hi... I have the original 'The Clash' LP.... bought it in London in the 70's.... just played it last week for about the 2nd time.... is it collectable now??

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