In the US, the Stray Cats pretty much single-handedly revitalized the popularity of rockabilly music in the 1980s. As much as anything, the success of that revival was due to the guitar talents of Brian Setzer.
Rockabilly is rock and roll in one of its earliest forms. Combining old-school country music along with rhythm and blues and a lot of attitude, rockabilly first became popular in the early 1950s. Somewhat limited in the core of its scope, other influences quickly merged with rockabilly, morphing away from the earliest style of rock and roll. This left rockabilly regarded as nothing more than an oldies piece of musical nostalgia.
In the late 1970s and early ’80s some bands tried to revitalize rockabilly by infusing a little punk rock attitude into it. None were more successful than Stray Cats. Brian Setzer was the lead guitarist for the Stray Cats and not only did he have the persona to bring attention to the band, his guitar playing demanded you to listen. Setzer could keep pace with, and even outplay any of the hard rock and metal shredders around then…and now. It just wasn’t as noticable because his solos were played on a hollow bodied Gretsch guitar with a semi-twangy tone instead of an overdriven solid body electric. It was that guitar virtuosity helped the Stray Cats stand out and turn rockabilly into something new in the 1980s, making it more than just nostalgic oldies. It also helped their US debut sell over a million copies.
When The Clash released their third album, “London Calling”, Did they abandon their punk rock roots or open the genre up to greater possibilities?
Punk rock started as a response to the more experimental and extravagant styles that had become commonplace with rock music in the late ’70s. When The Clash and other punk bands arose on the scene, they rebelled with rock music that was raw and stripped down to its very basic core.
Unlike The Clash’s first two albums, “London Calling” was anything but stripped down and basic. The Clash took influences from ska, reggae, R&B, rockabilly, lounge jazz and Celtic music, to create what many consider to be their best album. It surely is one that few will dispute was as groundbreaking as it was influential.
But the question remains: With “London Calling”, did The Clash abandon or expand the definition of punk rock?
It’s been at least a couple of decades since I have listened to “London Calling” in its entirety. I had the album a long time ago but got rid of it, along with a lot of other albums I now regret parting with. My intent was to replace my vinyl copy with one on compact disc. The problem was, that never happened. So, this year I asked Santa for it for Christmas, and guess what? Santa came through!
I don’t know what my answer would have been when I first listened to “London Calling” all those years ago. But listening to in its entirety now, for the first time in decades, the answer is perfectly clear and obvious to me.
With “London Calling” did The Clash abandon their punk rock roots or did they expand on the genre?
The answer is “yes.”