Revolution Rock

The Clash backstage at the Palladium promoting London Calling in New York City, 1980. Photo Credit: Bob Gruen/Star File.

The Clash was always the most ambitious of punk bands, and its 1979 double album London Calling was easily the London quartet’s most visionary statement. This fall, Epic/Legacy celebrates the 25th anniversary of the album with a boxed set that includes The Vanilla Tapes, a CD of recently discovered demos from the London Calling sessions. Ethan Brown talks to the Clash’s Mick Jones about the rerelease (and then some) of a punk classic.

The tale behind The Vanilla Tapes seems like one of those classic apocryphal rock-music tales. Tell me about it.
Yhey haven’t really been heard since the time when we were making the record. One copy of them, which was thought to be the only copy, was taken by our roadie Johnny Green. He was gonna take it to our producer, Guy Stevens, and I don’t know exactly why, but he left it on the train platform. By the time he’d gone back, they were gone. But then I was moving at the earlier part of this year and I was sifting through a box and I saw these tapes and I realized straightaway what they were. Then I lost them again, but only momentarily. [Laughs.]

Most people wouldn’t necessarily associate the sound of The Vanilla Tapes, which has lots of expansive reggae and jazz jamming, with the Clash.
We were just playing the music we liked, really. We always did that, but that was a particular high point. We didn’t think we would go all the way with that sound; we just wanted to put that moment down.

London Calling is also perceived as the great eighties record—do you think it captures the nervous energy of the new decade?
I don’t know. I’m still thinking about the seventies. I like the seventies. In some ways, I’d like to bring them back. In another ten years or so, I’ll let you know what I think about the eighties.

London Calling. Epic/Legacy; September 21.

Revolution Rock