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Articles > Entertainment August, 21, 2013

Where’d all the good music go?

August, 21, 2013

Jay Burrows View Profile

It is my genuine, non-sensationalist opinion that mainstream British rock music today lacks the kind of innovation and passion that bands of Strummer’s era exhibited. That’s not for lack of musical talent; it’s down to improved nation-wide socio-economic circumstance and lack of options. By that I mean that the rock music phenomenon has somewhat out-evolved itself. It’s a great shame that musical innovators in the near future will likely just wade further and further into the quagmire of electronica. There’s no use being negative about the present and future, however, when you can be positive about the past…

Let’s transport ourselves back to the beautifully turbulent year of 1979. Thatcher’s fist-clenching, villainous drawl is echoing around the halls of Number Ten for the first time, and her despising reprobates in the squats and under the bridges and around the barrel fires of London are sulking because The Sex Pistols just broke up and there’s nothing exciting or new to stir their blood. Or, at least, whatever post-punk groups had filled that void weren’t doing a terrific job. In the words of Peter Capaldi narrating a recent excellent BBC documentary, “punk had become a parody of yuppish rockers and three-chord thrash”. But, in that year, in fact thirty-four years ago today, a group of around fifteen people were scribbling and pushing buttons in Wessex Sound Studios in the centre of the British capital. They were in the middle of producing The Clash’s London Calling.


Photo by Helge Øverås

Today also happens to be Joe Strummer’s sixty-first birthday. Strummer, the lead singer and guitarist of this group passed away at fifty due to heart complications in 2002… He has since gained recognition in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, and in May of this year, the Spanish city of Granada named a plaza after him.

London Calling, finally released in December 1979, is in my opinion the greatest album to come out of British rock music. Now, of course I wasn’t around to hear it played as a chart hit on the radio, just like I wasn’t around to hear Abbey Road exactly ten years previously. So how dare I comment? Well, what people of my generation lack in first-hand experience of albums gone by, we possess in the privilege of perspective. So just because my life wasn’t changed in the same way by those first ethereal clackety-clacks of Come Together as somebody my dad’s age would have been, means nothing. I don’t listen to The Clash thinking ‘I remember that year, this music meant so much to me’. I listen to them and think ‘this music commands enough vibrance and originality to have changed lives, perspectives, and an entire musical genre forever. That means a lot.’

The lives were those of the young English working and middle classes. The perspectives were those of the shy, the racist and the inward-looking. And the musical genre was punk. Before 1979, punk in London was full of screaming, spitting, swearing, swastikas and syphilis. Again: how dare I comment, you sigh. Well, I’m a History student and that generalisation was mostly for alliterative effect so get over it. But punk in London did largely consist of all that. The Clash were in the thick of it, but this album instantly became a landmark. It added sophistication, but lost none of the style.

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The genre-spanning innovation of the album isn’t quite apparent within the first two tracks. But it immediately shows from Jimmy Jazz onwards. The Clash’s hard rock, with which the tempestuous English of the day were already familiar, sounded great; but then mixing it with jazz, reggae and ska was incredibly exciting. Come track five, Rudie Can’t Fail, and even in modern times the work feels deliciously inventive to listen to. It was as if a political triumvirate had formed between industrial England, the Caribbean and the American Deep South, with Strummer its figurehead. You can feel much more than the spice of punk coming through. Injections of Elvis and The Wailers break the surface in spectacular fashion.

What’s more, the guitar art of Mick Jones comes soaring in some tunes and trippy in others, adding to Strummer’s vocals to make the tastiest all-round soup that British rock had ever cooked. Most of all, the foursome’s ensemble in every single track had that unplaceable factor to make their sound one of sub zero coolness.

The sans-frontiere lyrical outlook of Spanish Bombs (a poetic, heartfelt song that amplified the political side of the album beautifully) is prevalent in the rest of the album in the form of the sheer musical diversity London Calling boasts. From characteristic Jamaican off-beat reggae guitar to the incorporation of an entire brass band in many of the songs, The Clash knew for sure how to expand their audience. Such variety was a bold move amongst the thriving nationalistic environment but it paid off massively, and did well to unite the pockets of Afro and Caribbean communities in the big cities. Punk became a phenomenon that related globally, and one that sounded funky. In this way the album signified a new direction not just for the band, but also for the entire genre. It clearly worked, because it kick-started an entire punk renaissance, and a sub-culture that was far more musically diverse and internationally permeable. Cue the subsequent tsunami of British and American ska headed by The Specials and, later, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

…So long live The Clash, and happy birthday Joe. This entire sixty-five-minute marvel is cheeky, brave, lavishly multicultural, and five times as clever as anything the 70’s had spat out before. I like to think it reflects only the best of British society. Then and now.


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  1. Isabel Robertson
    February 3, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    I could’nt disagree more, I think there is lots of exceptional talent out there but you have to explore to find these great bands/artists. Yes you will get alot hits and misses but it is worth when you find someone golden! The internet has provided everyone with a very accessible way to share their music so now there are tons of different genres and options to enjoy. so my message to this is stop being lazy and do some research because many bands/artists are not getting the recognition they deserve.

  2. Paul Darlow
    August 26, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    All too true, what ever happened to real musicians? what happened to bands who wrote there own music? It is no suprise that a group of 4 old age pensioners can still play in front of 1000’s of people, still influence generations of people and make todays groups look like a bunch of amatuers (The rolling stones). Punk music can be quite anti music but think back to the Sex Pistols playing infront of 79 people and influencing a whole new group of musicians (Buzzcocks, Joy division, New order, Simply red etc). It still amazes me that manufactured X Factor singers/groups continually release cover versions of music from the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s and believe that it is there music? If the original writers of this music had any sense they should turn round to Simon Cowell and tell him he can not use there music.

  3. Dene Field
    July 14, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    You have to look around, explore, find different genre’s of music and see all the new music out there. I follow a big variety of EDM (Electronic Dance Music), and I have to say that I struggle to keep up with the amount of new music coming out daily, hourly if that! Take a look here: – see the genres option centred in the middle/top left, click that and explore, find new genres, new music, find old stuff, new stuff and find a new music interest. 9.99999/10 artists I listen to are well-known by people around me, so when suddenly they appear on the radio and in the charts and are named ‘the new big star of today’ you’ll be able to stand there and say, well actually, that song has been out since (), and that artist has many more songs than just that one, many before and after; you can look at it in a different light, explore the music and share it with who you know. – is also a very good place to find new music and undiscovered artists, who are making it, have made it, who want to make it, and who may not make it in the music industry; i hope to, so if you look hard enough you may find me somewhere! 😉 Music is on the up, and forever progression, especially in the EDM scene, I will agree though, some songs out lack originality and thought, while others can blow your mind away, or mine at least. Youtube, Beatport, Soundcloud, iTunes, Revibe, Mixify, the list goes on, go and explore, you’ll find something you like for sure, none of this or however you write it nonsense, just artist doing their thing and producing music.



    • Dene Field
      July 14, 2014 at 11:32 pm

      * aren’t well-known

  4. Peter Kelly
    January 29, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Punk is anti-music so not really a good example. There is really exciting things happening in music today – some of the Hardcore Punk, Post-Hardcore, Post-Rock, Metal out there is breaking new ground. Electronic music is (in places) very exciting and new.

  5. Dom
    September 3, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Articles like this stink off ‘The music I like is dead good, everything else isn’t’. Trying to place any real significance to what is essentially an arrangement of sound is trivial. The punk ‘movement’ and all before or since were simply the merchandise of trappings of a particular subculture that gravitated to the latest ‘wave’, and you couldn’t have one unless there was an outfit to go with it.

    The Clash were basically ok.

    • Jonny
      September 3, 2013 at 10:54 pm

      Hi Dom,

      I’m glad a discussion was started at least – that’s what these things are for in a way. I do disagree with your comment about The Clash but we’re both entitled to our musical preferences.
      Preferences. I’m guessing you enjoy certain types of music? Therefore you’d appreciate less the kinds of music that don’t fall into those categories. In fact you’ve outlined it perfectly in your opening. It’s the same with most of the human race I think. We all like certain music, which we think is ‘dead good’, and the rest isn’t because we don’t like it. Quite simple. The whole concept of selective enjoyment sounds quite normal to me, and it doesn’t stink at all. As far as your second argument is concerned – which just about made sense – I think you’re unaware of what subcultures are. They’re about identity, and always have been – in art, music, literature, film, whatever. Of course there will always be people just jumping on the band wagon, but as long as they truly enjoy the music they’re listening to, who cares what outfit they wear? I’m really pleased people responded to the article, but I can’t agree with your sweeping dismissal of world culture in one generalising sentence. Thoughts?

      PS – I didn’t choose the title of this article.

  6. Rhys Stevenson
    August 28, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    Try listening to underground bands, that’s where all the good music is

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