The Album Collection #25: 1980, The Clash, Sandinista!

by Charlie_East_West on October 9, 2014

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I recently spent an enjoyable evening listening to The Clash, London Calling and proceeded to made an impulse purchase of their follow up album from 1980, Sandinista! on iTunes. The last time I listened to Sandinista! was probably around 1992, as a student. I think I listened to the album twice, and eventually gave up due to the sprawling triple album/36 track length and the inclusion of too many dub tracks (a genre that I normally avoid).

But, after a 22 year hiatus, I took the plunge and listened to the album in its entirety – and listened without prejudice. I now think that this album is a work of sheer genius. Yes, it is too long, self indulgent, many of the song titles read like good names for racehorses, and the genre hopping is schizophrenic in extreme. But, there is a heroic risk taking quality to the whole exercise. How many bands today would release an album like this? None. Well, perhaps Arcade Fire would, and they made their own version of Sandinista! in the form of their last album Reflektor.

The well worn narrative that has accompanied Sandinista! is that it would have made a great double album. I think there are two sides towards answering this statement – 1) Yes it would. With a bit of quality control and a control freak producer, a double album would have gone down in music history as an equal to the imperious London Calling. 2) The album is a huge statement. Listening to the whole album is an incredible experience. It is one of the most magnificent bat-shit crazy albums of all time. It makes The Beatles White Album look like a plodding risk free composition in comparison.

This album is a carnival of almost every single musical genre. The album showers you with latin, disco, hip-hop, classical, opera, baroque, folk, rock, dub, motown, reggae, jazz, gospel, country and bizarre experiments like Mensforth Hill (a backwards loop of Something About England) which will take you back to memories of The Beatles, Revolution#9

The album is a musical orienteering experience and that is part of the fun. But, hunting down the treasures within this album does not require a GPS signal. Outstanding tracks include the late 70′s/early 80′s funk/hip hop New York influenced, The Magnificent Seven and it’s sister track, Lightning Strikes (Not Once but Twice); Somebody Got Murdered (with one of the greatest intros in rock music); Police on my Back; Something About England (lyrics that are spookily relevant today, and with a genius use of Long Way to Tipperary chanting) and the disturbing operatic noir dystopian nightmare of Version City.

It has been suggested that Sandinista! proves that The Clash are not a punk band. I think the opposite. Punk is supposed to be about taking risks, ignoring conventional wisdom, braking the rules and saying “to hell with the lot of you, I am doing it my way.” – Sandinista! is the ultimate statement of such an intent. It showcases the truest punk message of them all of absolutely not giving a fuck and doing what they wanted. Punk doesn’t just have to be about 1-2-3-4 Oi! Oi! Oi! music with a limited genre that offers nothing in terms of musical exploration. Sandinista! destroys lazy stereotypical views towards Punk. It is an album of both brilliant execution and stupid ideas. Who else but The Clash could have cultivated such flawed genius?

Enjoying Sandinista! comes down to how you view the whole purpose of an album. Do you view albums as a mere collection of songs, where the more good songs the album contains, the better the album is? Or do you consider it a listening experience that should challenge conventional wisdom of musical rules? Sandinista! asks the listener both these questions. Each individual will have different set of answers after listening. If this is the objective that The Clash had hoped to eventually achieve when releasing this album, they have surely succeeded.

In this day and age, it is easier to separate the wheat from the chaff on an iPod between outstanding album tracks and fillers. This especially applies to Sandinista! – listening to this 36 track opus on vinyl would test the patience of even the most loyal fans of The Clash.

But, if I was to brutally edit this gloriously misplaced album, I would condense the album into the following four sides, to separate out the genre styles, as well as cutting out the crap (largely dub based tracks) as follows:-

Side 1:
The Magnificent Seven
Hitsville U.K.
Ivan Meets G.I. Joe
The Leader
Lightning Strikes (Not Once but Twice)

Side 2:
Somebody Got Murdered
Police on my Back
Something About England
Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)
The Call Up

Side 3:
Let’s Go Crazy
Washington Bullets
Kingston Advice
Charlie Don’t Surf
Version City

Side 4:
The Sound of the Sinners
Midnight Log
Look Here
The Street Parade
Lose This Skin

Cutting room floor:
The tracks that should have been left to die in a fiery pit of despair:-
Corner Soul
The Crooked Beat
One More Time
One More Dub
If Music Could Talk
The Equaliser
Broadway
Mensforth Hill
Junkie Slip
Living in Fame
Rebel Waltz
Silicone on Sapphire
Version Pardner
Career Opportunities (cover version of their own song, featuring children on vocals)
Shepherds Delight
Junco Partner

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East October 9, 2014 at 11:35 am

Superb review Charlie and interesting take on the double album version of Sandinista! pub debate. These things are always about taste but for me the dub stuff is in part what makes the album so great. One More Time is one of their greatest tracks (and that really is saying something).

If London Calling was the sound of The Clash taking America. Sandinista is the sound of The Clash taking the world. More ideas fizzing about in there than most bands achieve in a career. In Don Letts’ superb Clash documentary, From The Westway to The World, Joe Strummer says something like this about Sandinista: ‘would it have made a better double album or single album or EP. Sure it would, but I wouldn’t change a note’.
I’m with him all the way.

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Charlie_East_West October 9, 2014 at 3:02 pm

George – you will already know this, but Joe Strummer wanted a triple album to top his pal, Bruce Springsteen’s release of The River (a double album).

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Charlie_East_West October 10, 2014 at 7:23 pm

A challenge: Your top 10 Clash songs…

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Brian May 15, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Agree with you track listing apart from the exclusion of “One More Time”. “One More Time” is certainly one of the 10 strongest tracks on the album.

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