The Clash's 'London Calling' turns 30: is it the best album of all time?

It was on this date, 30 years ago, that the Clash’s London Calling was first released in the U.S. Three decades on, it remains an indisputable masterpiece. After all, the British band’s third (and best) album is a time capsule pinpointing the exact moment when punk rock grew up. While other bands like the Sex Pistols captured the f-you rebellion and catharsis of punk, the Clash on London Calling aimed higher. Anything was possible when they stepped inside the studio with producer Guy Stevens. The band fearlessly experimented with ska, reggae, and rockabilly beats. And Strummer’s lyrics took on a new political urgency. London Calling was proof that what some regarded as a gutter genre could be sophisticated and smart. In short, that it could be art. With classic tracks like “Spanish Bombs,” “Lost in the Supermarket,” “Clampdown,” “Train in Vain,” “Guns of Brixton,” and, of course, the call-to-arms title song, London Calling was a vinyl-pressed molotov cocktail. In fact, in 2004, we here at EW named it “The Best Album of All Time.” Check out the case we made five years ago here, then let us know if you agree.

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  • Dylan Levinson

    Sgt peppers is by far the best of all time. London Calling is definitely an outstanding work of art, but it does not compare to the genius that was behind Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

    • GDub

      I must agree with Dylan – Sgt.Pepper’s must rank above London Calling, with Dark Side a close 2nd, with no offense to The Clash whatsoever.

      • JC39

        I’d take revolver, abbey road or maybe even rubber soul over sgt. p.
        London Calling in the top 10.
        There isn’t a greatest album of alll time. silly concept

      • AcaseofGeo

        I basically agree with you JC39, but lists do exist, and if they exist, I think a Beatles album must be at the top. I bought “Sgt. Pepper” only a few years ago and thought, “Wow, I’ve heard all this kind of stuff, bells whistles, interludes, stylings, idiosyncracies, etc…on hundreds of albums already.” THEN I thought, well THIS album came BEFORE all those, and I realized how influential this album was. So although I am not the biggest of Beatles fans (I prefer singer-songwriter types like Joni, Dolly, Kim Carnes, Willie, or megaperformers like Madonna, Summer, Morrissey), this album is fantastic and probably the best ever if one is needed to be crowned as such.

      • Blanche

        Agree with the Sgt. Pepper love. It’s a joy to listen to. “She’s Leaving Home” and Fixing a Hole” are absolutely gorgeous, not to mention the best song of al time, A Day in the Life. And Paul McCartney’s bass work throughout is glorious.

    • multiPass

      There really is no such thing as the best album of all time. But let’s all admit that precious released in the last 20 years would ever make a list like that. Maybe Nevermind and VS… OK Computer…

      Anyone else?

      • multiPass

        I mean precious FEW

  • crispy

    Well, this is not subjective at all!
    The Cure’s Disintegration is the greatest album of all time!

    • thistle

      Definitely! But sadly, we will be in the minority here. Come March’s remaster release, the average person will be reminded of its brilliance.

  • Jeff R

    a very good album, but probably lands somewhere about 50 in the list of greatest of all-time. Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde remains without peer. See also several by the Fab Four and the Who, Bruce and U2, Stones, Led Zep, and Pink Floyd.

    • Anne

      Not a fan of Bruce back in the day, never enjoyed Bruce, still hating listening to Bruce. I don’t get it at all. Love all the other artists mentioned. Bruce isn’t really a contemporary of them anyway, right? Maybe that is the issue. Also I appreciate U2, but not a big fan. I don’t listen to any of these anymore excepting Dylan. Moved on.

  • couchgrouch

    it’s great but not even close. tons of other albums from Revolver to Blonde on Blonde to Exile to Who’s Next to Born to Run display far better songwriting and musicianship while also pushing rock’s boundaries. it pales beside a record like The Band’s 2nd album. There’s no way Strummer and Jones could’ve written songs like The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Whispering Pines, Rag, Mama, Rag or Unfaithful Servant let alone perform them. The Clash were good compared to say U2 or REM(or their clones Radiohead and Coldplay), but compared to bands in the 60s and early 70s…nada.

    • z

      agreed completely- 60’s and early 70’s bands should make up at least the entire top 10, if not 20 albums of all time. My personal top album is The Beatles “Revolver”

      • mark

        Totally agree! Revolver is amazing start to finish. London Calling is awesome though too.

      • mtraptor

        I find the idea that music will never be better than it was in the 60’s and 70’s really depressing.

    • mark

      yes! The night they drove old dixie down gives me chills just thinking about it. Some guys in their early 20s sang it at pub karaoke last night and it was still great hah

  • Ramo

    No! It’s a great, great record. But to call it the best of all time?? No chance. One of the 25 best albums of all time…sure. But THE best? There is only one answer to that question: The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Not up for debate. No further discussion necessary.

    • crispy

      I find The Beach Boys insipid! But I can appreciate that album’s place in music history.

    • Nathan T.

      With all due respect Ramo, I think it is up for debate. Pet Sounds is a good record but unlike Sgt. Pepper it’s hardly flawless: for all its sonic mischeviousness it kind of dawdles and sags from track to track.

      • Rich

        We’re still talking about the Sgt Peppers album that has “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite,” correct? LOTS of flaws on that record. Heck, “Peppers” isn’t even the Beatles’ best album… much less of all time.

  • couchgrouch

    agreed regarding Pet Sounds. God Only Knows is a wonderful composition. we now live in an era where songwriting and melody is all but forgotten.

    • JC39

      Ugh. Please. Pet Sounds is very overrated.

  • Bobby’s Robot

    It’s probably impossible to pick THE best, but it makes my Top 10.

  • kenny

    U2’s “Joshua Tree” blows all these away.

    • Ambient Lite

      Definitely at the top of my list.

    • Raymondo

      Joshua Tree? LMAO, that wasn’t even the best album of 87 (GN’R). The best album of all time isn’t the most influential or popular; it stands alone as a singular work of art– in this case I’m going with Tommy.

    • Anne

      I alwasy thought U2 was really generic rock sound. Although I like some individual songs, I dislike most. Don’t get them.

  • redlap

    Maybe not the best album ever, but the album COVER was the best from that era.

  • harry

    OI BABY!!!the call-to-arms title song, London Calling well said!!!

  • donnywahls

    OK Computer or The Cure’s Disintegration. Simple enough for me.

    • MattyB

      ‘OK Computer’ is definitely a contender for me. And ‘In Utero’ (speaking of the 90’s).

  • Ambient Lite

    Why is EW scrounging article topics from 2004 and re-posting them? Come on guys, you can do better than this!

    • crispy

      I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s announcement that Christopher Reeve has died. So sad.

      • multiPass

        Bwahahaha! Good one. And the terror alert is orange.

  • Troy Steffan

    I wouldn’t have thought of any other album but London Calling.

  • Adrienne

    Nothing beats Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

    • crispy

      The Wall does! :)

    • Nathan T.

      And a LOT of records beat the good but overrated Dark Side of the Moon. Why even within the Floyd catalog you have Wish You Were Here and Piper At the Gates of Dawn (what Floyd should have and would have sounded like if Syd never left).

      • MattyB

        Piper At the Gates of Dawn is in my Top 10 Best Ever over any other Floyd album. A lot of their albums are brilliantly crafted, but ‘Piper’ was a work of pure, freewheeling genius.

  • kitso

    Saying any album is the best album of all time is a hard call. But I personally would say London Calling one of the best.

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