By 1980 The Clash was regarded as the main exponent of rock. The band had outgrown the confines of punk and had released the fantastic London Calling on the brink of the 1970s and 1980s, which was followed by the single Bankrobber in August of 1980. So, what would be next?
Following the release of London Calling The Clash went on tour. Due to an injury of Topper Headon some shows were postponed, so what did the band do? Go back to the studio of course. The recording sessions were fruitful, very much so. The band had proposed record company CBS to release a single every month over the course of 1980. The band was impressed by the Jamaican way of producing and releasing: short cycles, ensuring songs could be about current affairs. Bankrobber was to be the first in line. CBS, who had already expressed their concern with double album London Calling, balked at the idea. So, what did The Cash do? Record, record and record some more. In record time the band laid down one album, two albums, three albums worth of music to tape!
The fact is that we recorded all that music, in one spat, at one moment. In one, three-week blast. For better or worse, [Sandinista!] is the document.
After the elaborate recording sessions in New York, Jamaica, London and Manchester the band had recorded over 30 new songs. They all sounded completely unique, nothing like The Clash and by no means a London Calling part 2. Hip-hop, jazz, dub, reggae, gospel, funk, rap, rockabilly, calypso, rock and disco, it had it all. Mick Jones bought in hip-hop, which was public in the streets of New York, Paul Simonon was hooked to reggae, Topper Headon to soul and Joe Strummer to rock and R&B. The combination made for an irresistible and original melting pot.
At the start of the recording sessions Paul Simonon was replaced, as he had accepted a role in a movie. It would be a prelude to an enormous number of guests, who all played a part in The Clash’s creative explosion. Everyone brought along their own distinct background, preferences and signature. It only enhanced the album’s eclectic character even more. Most of the songs, parts and contributions were played only once and immediately put to tape.
On December 12th, 1980, the fourth Clash album was released, three double album Sandinista! appeared within a year (minus two days) of double album London Calling. Five albums in one year! The Clash had truly struck a creative vein of gold.
Sandinista! contained six record sides, each consisting of six songs: 36 songs in total, an amount that was hardly comprehensible. The songs were credited to The Clash, instead of to individual band members.
“Ring! Ring! It’s 7am, move yourself to go again. Cold water in the face, brings you back to this awful place”. And, we’re off: The Magnificent Seven opens the record: a revolutionary song, the first rap song by a British band ever. Great production, funky, fantastic rhythm.
What a shock it must have been for the (oftentimes short sighted) punks at the time. The Clash had already turned into a rock band with London Calling, which was questionable, now it seemed like the band had lost its marbles and sold out completely. Song two: Ellen Foley? Didn’t she sing on Meat Loaf’s Paradise By The Dashboard Light? Then reggae, followed by Ivan Meets G.I. Joe: disco?! And it didn’t stop there: calypso, gospel (!), dub, soul, funk. Wasn’t there even one punk song on display here? No. Rock then? Yes: Somebody Got Murdered, Up In Heaven (Not Only Here), Police On My Back, but not much more. And why were classics like The Guns Of Brixton and Career Opportunities sung by children?
But, what’s the album like? Was everything on it good/bad? No, of course not, but if I’m being honest, Sandinista! is the one Clash album I keep going back to, much more so than London Calling. I love the album’s flow and I think all music on the first four (vinyl) sides is truly magnificent. The lyrics are of an exceptionally high level, telling tales of an enormous wide scope. If there is a unifying theme on the album, it’s (the consequences of) war, the power (and its abuse) of the US (listen to Washington Bullets) and the hope the Sandinista freedom movement seemed to represent at the time.
From side 5 onwards the album gets a bit volatile, but even then highlights can still be heard, like Lose This Skin, Charlie Don’t Surf and Junkie Slip. Even side 6 has its moments with Version City and a number of fine dub versions of previous Sandinista! songs.
The standard claim when it comes to double albums, is that, with some editing down, it would have been a genius single albums. That very same thing is said about Sandinista!. I couldn’t disagree more. Sandinista! (still) is an unprecedented listening experience, showing a band that can do it all, dares everything and subsequently records and releases it as well. Or, as Joe Strummer puts it:
I stand proud of it, warts and all. It’s a magnificent thing! I wouldn’t change it even if I could. And that’s after some soul-searching. Just from the fact that it was all thrown down in one go. It’s, like, outrageous. And that it was released like that, it’s doubly outrageous – triply outrageous.
But, if I have to name some favorites, there are too many, so limiting myself to one of each side: The Magnificent Seven, One More Time, Let’s Go Crazy, The Call Up (my favorite Clash song), Charlie Don’t Surf and Version City, they are all equally brilliant. But, I really do the album an injustice here. Sandinista! is the recommendation of recommendations, it holds the 14th position in my favorite albums of all time for a reason!
In the US the album was reviewed in Rolling Stone. Click the line below to read the review.
By John Piccarella
Nothing could have helped get me through the unreal mass depression — the mourning ten years too late for the death of the Sixties and the Beatles that grew out of the grief over John Lennon’s murder — than the release of the Clash’s Sandinista! a few days later. Its three records — thirty-six tracks to get lost in — ask and answer some of the right questions about violence and nonviolence, history and the future, crime and the law, revolution and fascism, worldwide angst and hope.
If the Clash, by insisting on their own heroism, continue their willingness to gamble it all away and still keep winning, they may yet inspire a viable rock-culture politics. Last year’s standard-setting — and standard-bearing — London Calling was a bold show of strength that doubled the stakes in bravado (taking Tiger Mountain by brute force). A year later, on the heels of Black Market Clash (their specially priced ten-inch B-side collection). Sandinista! is an everywhere-you-turn guerrilla raid of vision and virtuosity. Produced with greater care but taking more risks, the new LP is a sprawling, scattered smoke screen of styles, with an expanded range that’s at once encyclopedic and supplemental (taking Tiger Mountain by surplus).
In the initial critical confusion over their postpunk leap of faith, the Clash embraced both reggae-dub and mainstream moves for a combination of rhythmic immediacy (which they already had) and studio sophistication (which they didn’t). London Calling achieved the champion status its grand gestures aimed at by Clash-ifying the extremes of white-black, popular-obscure rock history and bringing them to a common higher ground. Without London Calling’s machismo, Sandinista! tries harder and goes further. While London Calling was a flexing of muscle that claimed Clash style could pull off anything, Sandinista! says to hell with Clash style, there’s a world out there. By featuring odd instrumentation (violins, steel drums, bagpipes), different production values in different studios, and guest musicians, Sandinista! gives the unsettling impression that this isn’t necessarily the band you expected to hear when you bought the album.
There’s rarely been an LP this big or far-reaching. As three-record sets of new material go, the only pop-music competition I can think of is George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and Frank Sinatra’s Trilogy. And, like each of these, Sandinista! is about two-thirds real. On first listen, it’s obvious that its thirty-six titles don’t mean you’re getting thirty-six separate songs. Eliminating the instrumentals, dub versions, two-minute novelties and run-on chants brings the total to twenty-eight, still ten tunes and about thirty minutes longer than London Calling. Given what Epic is charging — $14.98, and the Clash wanted the price even lower, bless ’em — it’s more than a bargain (which is not to deny that the album is too long). But most of the spillover, from the Public Image Ltd.-do-“Revolution 9” of “Mensforth Hill” to the Gary Numangoes-calypso of “Silicone on Sapphire,” is innovative and successful. And while the Clash are still saying that they can do anything — and that anything they do is worth hearing — it’s less as if they’re trying to top themselves than that they’re overexcited about passing on everything they’ve learned.
andinista! is the first LP since some of the psychedelic productions of the Sixties that keeps growing by virtue of density and bulk alone, slowly revealing its constantly changing layers of substance over several listenings. Sequencing and structure definitely work to its advantage. The set builds its collection of styles through sides one and two, finally arriving at a real Clash rocker about the time most discs are drawing to a close. Sandinista! peaks with sides three and four (the most solid) and winds down with side five. Side six acts as a kind of unnecessary coda. Throughout, there are great segues — not just great songs but combinations that contrast and amplify each other (side two is a perfect example). Catch the shifts from the calypsolike “Let’s Go Crazy” to the cocktail jazz of “If Music Could Talk” to “The Sound of the Sinners” gospel romp that ends side three. Or the heart of the album, the complementary political statements of “The Equaliser,” “The Call Up” and “Washington Bullets.” Just when you’ve begun to settle in, there are some surprise vocals at the finish of side four and the start of side five.
London Calling was the Clash’s Exile on Main Street, and Sandinista! is their White Album. Both Sandinista! and The White Album share a deliberate, diverse, postmaster-piece fragmentation, plus the fusion of whimsy and urgency that going-for-broke aesthetics create. And, like The White Album, Sandinista!’s forward- and backward-gazing experiments could signal the end of group solidarity. The street-chant vocal unison of Clash choruses that generally provides the political metaphors (as well as most of the hooks) is essential to the band’s strength. Can this rather raw live act perform these studio compositions onstage? The definitive take on the Clash’s future comes in the mixed message of “Kingston Advice”: “In these days the beat is militant/Must be a Clash there’s no alternative.” But later in the same song: “In these days I don’t know what to sing/The more I know the less my tune can swing.” And in the next number: “… I will disappear/To join the street parade.” I don’t think it would be too much to suggest that this paradox of perseverance and retreat was the essence and achievement of John Lennon’s post-Beatles sensibility: to merge with the crowd, to stake out an anonymity there, to make the values of that private commitment into the substance of a public statement and to reemerge a working-class hero.
If the ambition of London Calling was to recast the whole of (largely American) rock & roll history, then Sandinista! wants a place in the cultural traditions of the world. Its lyrics — and its melodies and rhythms — make reference not only to the U.S. and the U.K. but to the U.S.S.R. and places in Europe, Asia, Africa, Central and South America and the Caribbean. And the inclusion of lead vocals by women, children, friends and taped voices, as well as by every member of the band (the songs are now credited to the Clash, not Strummer-Jones), all reinforce that global reach. From the arms-race-as-disco-dance-contest of “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe,” to the ghostly battlefield ball, “Rebel Waltz,” to the festive and rebellious “Let’s Go Crazy,” we’re offered music and dance as antidote — not only as release but as positive community spirit.
This counterculture rallying goes beyond the already established reggae connections to include other cultural identifications. There are a variety of exploited-class anthems with styles to match, and many of the LP’s seeming throwaways — the raps, the jazz, the blues and rockabilly and gospel ditties — serve to broaden Sandinista!’s cross-cultural base. The album’s title comes from the calypsolike “Washington Bullets,” a tune about American support of fascist Third World regimes and how the Somozas’ Nicaraguan government finally fell to the Sandinistas without it. The future of such revolutionary movements with Reagan as president, given his secretary-of-state appointment and stated intentions to reform the diplomatic corps, looks grim. The Clash’s attempted marriage of grass-roots American and Third World musics becomes almost visionary politics in this light. And that’s why the Clash are vital. They exemplify an awareness that offers hope to their fans. Like the Beatles (largely by accident), the Clash (largely by intent) have the potential to organize a rock & roll audience into an optimistic political body, or at least to provide the right information.
But before we get carried away, it must be said that rock culture might be a pretty naive place to galvanize consciousness — and that being the greatest rock & roll band of our time is something like being the greatest serious composer or the greatest baseball player, with the same limited political impact on the real world. Though I don’t anticipate Clashmania any more than I expect youth culture to riot over Pierre Boulez’ latest score or Reggie Jackson’s batting average, I do think that having little kids sing “Career Opportunities” on side six is more than a cute joke. If this is the Clash offering one of their old hits as a future childhood favorite, it’s also putting an anthem about economic deprivation into the mouths it was meant to help feed.
We can still use that stubborn Sixties morality, and we would do well to remember the missed opportunity of punk — the revolution that wasn’t — without the simple postures of either of those underachieved countercultures. But we also need these post movement, postideological, private and public “count me out — and in” complications of identification and distance, of participation in and respite from the varieties of violence in the world and the inequalities that cause them. If I were younger, I’d write something on a bathroom wall. It’d be a lot shorter and more to the point. Maybe Lennon lives, Clash rule and rock against Reagan. And I wouldn’t worry about the improbabilities.
Rolling Stone, March 5th, 1981
Click on the pages to enlarge The Armagideon Times, no 3 pages.
When CBS learned of The Clash’s desire to release a three double album, executives almost died. To ensure fans were able to buy the album, the band demanded the album was sold for the price of one. The record company caved, under the condition that the band would forgo royalties on all album sales below 200,000 copies in the UK and a 50% decrease in royalty payments outside of the UK. The band complied and to this day hasn’t earned a single penny from the more than 100,000 sales in the UK.
The cover photograph was (again) shot by photographer Pennie Smith, at Camley Street, London. The album title references the socialist Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the album’s catalog number , ‘FSLN1’, is the abbreviation of the Spanish name, ‘Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional’.
The album contained a lyric sheet that was folded three ways and stuck into the cover, titled The Armagideon Times, no. 3 (see above). The Armagideon Times numbers 1 and 2 had already been published as Clash fanzines. The pages contained handwritten lyrics and cartoons made by Steve Bell.
Four singles were culled from the album:
- The Call Up
(released on November 28th, 1980)
- Hitsville UK
(released on January 16th, 1981)
- Police On My Back
(released on April 6th, 1981)
- The Magnificent Seven
(released on April 10th, 1981)
All songs written by The Clash, unless stated otherwise. Vocals by Joe Strummer, unless stated otherwise.
- The Magnificent Seven (*)
- Hitsville UK (¤)
- Junco Partner (#)
- Ivan Meets G.I. Joe (¢)
- The Leader
- Something About England (φ)
- Rebel Waltz
- Look Here (^,⊥)
- The Crooked Beat (ψ)
- Somebody Got Murdered (Θ)
- One More Time (†)
- One More Dub (†,¥)
- Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)
- Up in Heaven (Not Only Here) (Θ)
- Corner Soul
- Let’s Go Crazy
- If Music Could Talk (†)
- The Sound of Sinners
- Police on My Back (æ,Θ)
- Midnight Log
- The Equaliser
- The Call Up
- Washington Bullets
- Lose This Skin (»,«)
- Charlie Don’t Surf (φ)
- Mensforth Hill (¥)
- Junkie Slip
- Kingston Advice (φ)
- The Street Parade
- Version City (φ)
- Living In Fame (†,°)
- Silicone On Sapphire
- Version Pardner
- Career Opportunities (±)
- Shepherds Delight (¥)
The total album length is an astounding 2 hours, 24 minutes and 9 seconds.
* Written by Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, Topper Headon, Norman Watt-Roy, Mickey Gallagher
# Written by James Booker
^ Written by Mose Allison
† Written by The Clash, Mikey Dread
æ Written by Eddie Grant
» Written by Tymon Dogg
¤ Vocals by Mick Jones, Ellen Foley
¢ Vocals by Topper Headon
φ Vocals by Mick Jones, Joe Strummer
⊥ Vocals by The Clash, Mikey Dread
ψ Vocals by Paul Simonon
Θ Vocals by Mick Jones
¥ Instrumental (no vocal)
« Vocals by Tymon Dogg
° Vocals by Mikey Dread
± Vocals by Luke Gallagher, Ben Gallagher
- One More Dub is a dub version of One More Time
- Broadway outro contains The Guns Of Brixton (stemming from double album London Calling) sung by Maria Gallagher
- Mensforth Hill is Something About England played backwards with overdubs
- Living in Fame is a dub version of If Music Could Talk
- Silicone on Sapphire is a dub version of Washington Bullets
- Version Pardner is a dub version of Junco Partner
- Career Opportunities is a re-recorded version of the original (stemming from debut album The Clash)
- Shepherds Delight is a dub version of Police & Thieves (stemming from debut album The Clash)
- Joe Strummer – vocals, guitar, keyboards
- Mick Jones – guitar, keyboards, vocals
- Paul Simonon – bass, (background)vocals
- Topper Headon – drums, (background)vocals
With help from
- Tymon Dogg (‘Timon Dogg’) – vocals and violin on Lose This Skin, violin on Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice), Something About England, Mensforth Hill, Junco Partner, The Equaliser, keyboards on The Sound of Sinners
- Mickey Gallagher (Blockheads) – keyboards
- Norman Watt-Roy (Blockheads) – bass
- Ellen Foley – vocals on Hitsville U.K.
- Davey Payne (Blockheads) – saxophone on Ivan Meets G.I. Joe, Something About England, The Crooked Beat, If Music Could Talk, Lose This Skin, Mensforth Hill
- Rick Gascoigne – trombone on Ivan Meets G.I. Joe, Something About England, Lose This Skin, Mensforth Hill, The Street Parade
- Band Sgt. Dave Yates – drill sergeant on The Call Up
- Den Hegarty (Darts) – vocals
- Luke & Ben Gallagher – vocals on Career Opportunities
- Maria Gallagher – vocals on Broadway outro
- Gary Barnacle – saxophone on Ivan Meets G.I. Joe, Something About England, The Crooked Beat, Lose This Skin, Mensforth Hill, The Street Parade
- Arthur Edward “Bill” Barnacle – trumpet on Ivan Meets G.I. Joe, Something About England, Lose This Skin, The Street Parade
- Jody Linscott – percussion
- Ivan Julian (Voidoids) – guitar
- Noel “Tempo” Bailey – guitar
- Anthony Nelson Steelie (Wycliffe Johnson of Steely and Clevie) – keyboards
- Lew Lewis (Eddie and the Hot Rods) – harmonica on Junco Partner, Look Here, Corner Soul, Midnight Log, The Equaliser, Version City, Version Pardner
- Mikey Dread – vocals on The Crooked Beat, One More Time, Living in Fame, Look Here
Sandinista Now! Sampler
Prior to the Sandinista! release in the US a single vinyl was pressed for use on the radio. It was released by Epic and contained 12 of the 36 songs and was given the title Sandinista Now!, and contained the songs:
- Police On My Back
- Somebody Got Murdered
- The Call Up
- Washington Bullets
- Ivan Meets GI Joe
- Hitsville UK
- Up In Heaven (Not Only Here)
- The Magnificent Seven
- The Leader
- Junco Partner
- One More Time
- The Sound Of Sinners
The release is very rare and, therefore, extremely expensive.
With every next album release the band experimented more and more, but every album sold better than the preceding one. Subsequently, Sandinista! outsold London Calling. In 1981 the band released the single This Is Radio Clash, upon which the band went to work on the successor to Sandinista!, double album Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg. When producer Glyn Johns joined the band the album was cut down, resulting in Combat Rock in May 1982. With hits like Know Your Rights, Should I Stay Or Should I Go? and Rock The Casbah, The Clash became huge. The video for Rock The Casbah was in regular rotation on the recently started MTV. Combat Rock was their most successful record.
But then it all started to collapse. By now, Topper Headon had turned into a full time junkie. Around the time of the Sandinista! recordings, his problems were manageable, but the transition to heroin made him completely unreliable. He left in 1982. In September 1983 Mick Jones was fired. The next album Cut The Crap wasn’t worthy of The Clash name. The Clash disbanded in the beginning of 1986.
Band members went their separate ways. In 1999 Strummer and Jones worked together on the posthumous live album From Here To Eternity and the documentary Westway To The World. In November 2002 it was announced that The Clash would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Rumors about an upcoming reunion were abound, but on December 22nd, 2002, Joe Strummer unexpectedly died of heart failure. The Clash was officially over.
What do you think of The Clash and Sandinista! in particular? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The Clash top themselves with the stunning Sandinista!. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
The Clash 1980 image: facebook.com/theclash
Joe Strummer writing lyrics at Electric Ladyland Studios, New York, 1980 image: pinterest.com
The Clash – Sandinista! – Ad (1) image: pinterest.com
The Clash – Sandinista! image: theclash.com
The Clash – Sandinista! – Poster image: stickitonyourwall.com
Rolling Stone – Logo image: logodownload.org
The Clash – Sandinista! – The Armagideon Times no3 page images: 45cat.com
The Clash – Sandinista! – The singles image: theclash.com/discogs.com
The Clash – Sandinista! – Ad (2) image: moma.org
The Clash – Sandinista Now! image: discogs.com/9111.com
The Clash – Sandinista! – Ad (3) image: theclash.com/pinterest.com
The Clash – Sandinista! – Side 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 image: discogs.com