When it comes to crafting a career-making, era-defining rock masterpiece, an album Rolling Stone called the best of the Eighties despite its November 1979 release, it helps to hire a complete maniac as producer. Such was the case when the Clash, at loose ends after the tight but stiff Give 'Em Enough Rope, stumbled across Guy Stevens, Who consort, London scenester, and certified raving lunatic. Stevens' preferred method of producing, as seen on the DVD's The Last Testament documentary, was flinging ladders, destroying chairs, raving incoherently, and otherwise intimidating these four neighborhood kids into making the album of their lives. First, they spent the summer holed up in a room above a former rubber factory called, of all things, Vanilla Studios. Then, London's enduring legacy of class frustration and musical miscegenation came pouring out, spawning well-sculpted screeds "Hateful," "Rudie Can't Fail," "Clampdown," "Death or Glory," and "I'm Not Down," to name but a few. Amazingly, out of 19 songs, only two or three feel less than whole. That wasn't always true. "The Vanilla Tapes," disc two of Sony's lavish three-disc repackaging (London Calling was already reissued once, in 2000), plots the album's genesis via instrumentals, rough drafts, and toss-offs like Hank Williams homage "Lonesome Me." Sketchy sound quality, to be sure, but its rawness makes the final product that much more impressive. "Lost in the Supermarket" and "Koka Kola" are stinging critiques of the swelling tide of consumerism. "Wrong 'Em Boyo" demonstrates the durability of the Stagger Lee myth, "Spanish Bombs" and "The Card Cheat" the group's grasp of rock grandeur, and "Train in Vain" that Mick Jones could write a great, rootsy pop song. If, as Joe Strummer sings, "He who fucks nuns will later join the church," London Calling takes the Clash from fornicators to clergy in about 65 minutes.
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