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79/80

The Clash: London CallingWhile I was getting coffee at Toscanini's today, I heard "Lost In the Supermarket," a song which really connected with me back in 1980. How could I resist this perceptive, dare I say sensitive evocation of suburban anomie ? My hometown wasn't all postwar developments and malls, but it was still someplace where things didn't happen. It was expected that the interesting things were going to have take place somewhere else.

Although for some bizarre reason, the local Cumberland Farms convenience store where I used to work stocked Boston Rock in the magazine rack, and that rag was a great chronicle of the local and US "new wave" scene back then. WBCN would play new music (Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was a hit !) and if the weather was cooperating the home stereo could pull in the then 50-watt WMBR in glorious mono.

Luckily it was close enough to Boston that with a short lift and a ride on the T, we could get into Boston, and Harvard Square, which was definitely a more exotic place back then.

Anyway, I distinctly remember buying this album at the Coop in the spring of 1980 (my senior year in high school), then going over to Sanders Theatre where my girlfriend was rehearsing with a youth orchestra, going over all the artwork and lyrics as I sat in the balcony.

London Calling was the album that actually managed to get them to be played on the radio (of course, it was the unmarked track "Train In Vain", a/k/a "Stand By Me") and that rescued them from being a Mere Rock Band after the stodgy Give 'Em Enough Rope. They stopped trying to be a doctrinaire punk band and let their American, pop, reggae, and r&b influences expand their sound and subject material. I loved it then and despite the Clash's sometimes overly romantic politics, it has aged pretty well. Of course, things would started loosening up a little too much on Sandinista ! and then it all came apart. But I think that although the Clash might have been trying just a little too hard to be meaningful a lot of the time, like some kind of punk Springsteens, and they really didn't have an aesthetic the way Buzzcocks or the Sex Pistols or Devo did, they still did pretty well by me.

The Slits: Cut The Slit's Cut has just been reissued in the EU. This is one of those albums I always meant to get (and it appeared on Spin's "100 Greatest Punk Albums of All Time" if you care about that sort of thing), but even with Boston's good record stores, it became hard to find even shortly after its release. I did pick up the "Typical Girls" b/w "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" single, which came out on Antilles US, folded into a poster-size reproduction of the LP cover's photograph, which featured the three female members covered in nothing more than mud and grass skirts. I was such a mild boy back then so I figured I had to hide it from my respectable acquaintances. I'd hate to think what would happen to women attired like that if they were to get anywhere near the moshpit of the last Woodstock during Limp Bizkit's set. There really is a huge contrast now between the crude and whiney boy's club that commercial US "alternative" has become (local exhibit A: WFNX now vs. WFNX two years ago) and the free and open spirit that showed up in a lot of different scenes since punk rock.

So what about the music, man ? Well, it's pretty cool. Back then, reggae was to UK [post]punk what the blues was to rock after 1965, the motherlode to steal from. But for the Slits reggae beats were the closest thing to the "skippy rhythms" (as they say in the reissue booklet) that they wanted. But this is not a white reggae album although it could be considered to be part of the wave of UK bands that took reggae sounds into some odd places (like the Pop Group). So producer Dennis Bovell and future Banshees drummer Budgie helped to produce an unslick, odd album that is confident, witty and definitely one of a kind. A lot of the lyrics are pretty funny while critiquing the place of women and consumer society, and I could even imagine Hole or perhaps Babes In Toyland covering "FM" if they haven't already.

Interesting connection: Don Letts is thanked on the sleeve of Cut, and later he joined the Clash's Mick Jones in Big Audio Dynamite. It's a small world after all...

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