The Clash: Sandinista! (1980)

The Clash had already released a sensational double album, London Calling, in 1979.  Many Clash fans would call that their best album, but I believe Sandinista! is even better.  The Clash might have been the best band working during this period, they were certainly the most prolific, and maybe the most influential on the world stage.

When the Clash decided to release a three-album set, after just releasing a double-album, I imagine Epic Records was less than happy, how do you market such a thing, and the additional cost to the consumer, would hurt sales.  Some years earlier, The Beatles, a two-album set, that producer George Martin and EMI Records, tried to talk the Beatles into trimming it down to one really fine album.  The Beatles refused, as did the Clash, and they even agreed to reduced their royalty to keep the album price affordable.

Six album sides is a lot of music, especially considering a two-disc set released the previous year, but the Clash rose to the occasion.  Granted, there are a few weak songs, but by far, the album is a great success.

For those who thought the Clash were just punk rockers with some reggae thrown in, failed to see how well the band infused other genre of music into their songwriting. London Calling was brash and it tamed the Clash’s extremes to a degree to capture a mainstream audience, while telling groups like the Talking Heads and the Pretenders, that the Clash had swagger and enough commercialism to play at the top level. Sandinista! dials down some of that tough rock sound to flex their World Music strength while tacking some other genres.  If you were expecting more London Calling, you might be a little disappointed in not finding “Train in Vain 2”.  There are still plenty of treasures to make your listen worthwhile.  London Calling started the Clash in a new direction, you can hear them starting to branch out, on Sandinista!, you get the full evolution.

The Clash produced Sandinista! themselves, which might have been a mistake.  While they are more experimental than on London Calling, they were stepping outside their expertise, but the result is not disappointing.  Listening nearly 40 years later, I hear too much studio echo and processing on Sandinista!, which was typical of 1980s production.  More is not better.  See Phil Collins for proof.  London Calling had the right amount studio processing, Sandinista sounds like an echo chamber.  I will give them credit for being able to add instruments not normally heard on a Clash album, and putting them in the mix with great care. You can hear the subtleties of piano and guitar rhythm fills and the gentleness of softer melodies.  Engineer Bill Price had a lot to do with sound placement.

All tracks are credited to the Clash, except where noted.  Mostly it was Mick Jones and Joe Strummer.

Side one  The hit side.

No.      Title       Writer(s)      Lead vocals   Length

  1. “The Magnificent Seven” Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, Topper Headon, Norman Watt-Roy, Mickey Gallagher     Joe Strummer  5:28  This reggae/dub style is quite good, with a funky bass line.  This song has a great beat and melodic fills.  A charting single elsewhere but not in the U.S. A great start to the album.
  2. “Hitsville UK”   Mick Jones, Ellen Foley   4:20  A swinging bass line, with bouncy melody, with Ellen Foley on vocals.  As a single it did not crack the top 40 but it is a very good song.
  3. “Junco Partner” Traditional     Joe Strummer   4:53  One of two versions on the album, a jazz song that is given a dub/reggae treatment.
  4. “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe”   Topper Headon   3:05  A terrific song, fast with piano/sax groove, and synthesizer sound effects.  Topical lyrics as the U.S. and Soviets were sparring in geo-political battles.
  5. “The Leader”   Joe Strummer   1:41  A Stray Cats type song, 1950s rock and roll style.
  6. “Something About England”   Mick Jones, Joe Strummer   3:42  This is a more conventional pop song, more like something Ray Davies would have written about England, heavy on a pop arrangement, with a choir, horns and

 

Total length:   23:09

Side two  A strong side, but commercial songs with a surprise or two.

No.      Title            Writer(s)         Lead vocals   Length

  1. “Rebel Waltz”   Joe Strummer  3:25 A nice guitar intro, a very melodic and well-produced song, with harpsichord and horns.   Definitely a keeper.  If you think the Clash is about loud and redundant chords, you should try this one, it shows their versatile style.
  2. “Look Here” Mose Allison  The Clash, Mikey Dread   2:44  A smokey jazz, Route 66 style song.  Not at all like the Clash.
  3. “The Crooked Beat” Paul Simonon   5:29  The weakest song on the side, it doesn’t say or do much.
  4. “Somebody Got Murdered”   Mick Jones  3:34  The best song on the side, a slow build to a rocker, very melodic despite the dirty guitars.   One of the five or six best songs on the album.
  5. “One More Time” The Clash, Mikey Dread   Joe Strummer   3:32  Of the dub songs on the album, this one is the most melodic and best played.  I wish they all sounded like this one, it’s great.  Mickey Dread on vocals.
  6. “One More Dub” (dub version of “One More Time”) The Clash, Dread            Instrumental   3:34  A dub version of a dub song.  It’s a bit more raw than the version above.  Less vocals and different instrumentation.  Not better, just different.

 

Total length:   22:18

Side three  Not the most commercial of the sides, but there are some strong songs and some change of pace in style.  Very worthwhile.

No.      Title            Writer(s)         Lead vocals   Length

  1. “Lightning Strikes (Not Once but Twice)”   Joe Strummer   4:51  A harder edge rock song, there’s a melody line familiar to “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo”
  2. “Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)”  Mick Jones  4:31  Probably the most commercial song on the side, it has a driving beat and nice harmony vocals.  Great instrumental breaks.
  3. “Corner Soul”   Joe Strummer   2:43  An unassuming mid tempo song.
  4. “Let’s Go Crazy”   Joe Strummer   4:25  A more intense beat-driven song, but a lot of ska in this song, it changes tempo several times.
  5. “If Music Could Talk” The Clash, Dread   Joe Strummer   4:36  A slow dub song with Mickey Dread on-board, it rolls along with piano and sax, something Van Morrison was moving toward in the 1980s.  There’s a lot going on in this song, you need to listen to it several times to figure it out.
  6. “The Sound of Sinners”  Joe Strummer   4:00 Gospel. Yep.

Total length:   25:06

Side four  Another side of hits

No.      Title            Writer(s)         Lead vocals   Length

  1. “Police on My Back” Eddy Grant; originally performed by the Equals   Mick Jones   3:15  A police siren type lead guitar announces this song.  A tough song with a very sing-along chorus.  A really fine song, angry but not really.  This could have been a successful single.
  2. “Midnight Log” Joe Strummer   2:11  A fast, skiffle beat that bounces round.
  3. “The Equaliser”   Joe Strummer  5:47  A longer dub song.  Some nice vocal work by Strummer.  Good, but there are better songs on the album.
  4. “The Call Up”   Joe Strummer   5:25  One of my favorites on the album, a really nice anti-war song, a great beat and melodic beat.  The Clash don’t have to be aggressive to send a produce a powerful message.
  5. “Washington Bullets”  Joe Strummer    3:51  Built on a ska style but more a jazz progression.  Whatever it is, the melody is quite nice, with vibes and organ
  6. “Broadway” (features an epilogue of “The Guns of Brixton” sung by Maria Gallagher)   Joe Strummer  5:45  Perhaps my favorite on the album, a nice, gentle melody, sung with feeling by Strummer.  The arrangement is quite exquisite, with  piano, the songs builds from a soft piano to a something more rousing.

Total length:   26:14

Side five – Perhaps the experimental album side of the collection.  Very interesting arrangements, not what you would expect from the band.  If you think the band is one dimensional, you’d be wrong.

No.      Title            Writer(s)         Lead vocals   Length

  1. “Lose This Skin” Tymon Dogg  5:07  Lead vocals and violin by Tymon Dogg, this might be a song by Simply Red or Dexy’s Midnight Runners.  Very far away from a punk rock song, this is more like high energy English folk song.  An interesting inclusion on this album.
  2. “Charlie Don’t Surf”   Joe Strummer, Mick Jones  4:55  One of the best songs on the album, a combination of reggae and older rock and roll, with Vietnam references, wrapped around one of the Clash’s most melodic songs.
  3. “Mensforth Hill” (“Something About England” backwards with overdubs)     Instrumental    3:42  A very experimental arrangement, something you might have found on The White Album.  Some of the instruments are recorded and played backward, very “Tomorrow Never Knows.”  A very nice studio accomplishment.
  4. “Junkie Slip”    Joe Strummer  2:48  A shuffle beat, with a sort of rap vocal.
  5. “Kingston Advice”    Joe Strummer, Mick Jones   2:36  Heavily processed vocals, a ska beat, and the most rock sounding song on the album.
  6. “The Street Parade”  Joe Strummer   3:26  Another slice of ska/rock, with horns and ringing guitars.  The Clash can made an average song sound interesting with hooks.

Total length:   22:34

Side six – The least essential collection of songs on the set.  Several of these are versions of songs on earlier Clash albums.  This side showcases the Clash’s ability to use the dub style of music effectively.  It would be a good side to use as background music if you want some World Music to accentuate a social gathering or working on a project.

No.      Title            Writer(s)         Lead vocals   Length

  1. “Version City”   Joe Strummer  4:23  – A dub style with a funky bass, bluesy piano and harp thrown in.  This song is hard to categorize, the mix of styles is quite interesting.  A good dance song because of the bouncy bass line.
  2. “Living in Fame” (dub version of “If Music Could Talk”) The Clash, Dread    Mikey Dread   4:36  – If you like the  Specials or the English Beat, this song is close in style to the ska you get with these groups, plus the saxophone.  This song arrangement and playing a step up from how they would have played it on an earlier album.
  3. “Silicone on Sapphire” (dub version of “Washington Bullets”)   Joe Strummer   4:32  Essentially an instrumental.  One of the least interesting songs on the album.
  4. “Version Pardner” (dub version of “Junco Partner”)   Joe Strummer   5:22  A very well-produced song, but not one of their best.  Non-essential, but the Clash were very effective in creating some very distinctive World Music.  The original version was recorded in 1951 and several times since, the Clash arranged it in the dub style.
  5. “Career Opportunities” (Re-recorded version sung by as credited)  Luke Gallagher, Ben Gallagher   2:30  – A song originally on the Clash’s debut album, re-recorded here with a a more dominant piano accompaniment by Mickey Gallagher, and sung by his two sons.
  6. “Shepherds Delight” (dub version of “Police & Thieves”)   Instrumental     3:25  First recorded for their debut album, this was a version of  the older “Police & Thieves.”  Essential? No really.

Total length:   24:48 (144:09)

This album shows the Clash at their most diverse.  This might be their least rocking collection of works, but they can still cut loose.  Even if you still prefer London Calling, give Sandinista! a listen because you’ll hear some of their most impressive work as songwriters and musicians.


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