#407: The Clash, "Sandinista!" (1980)

1. The Magnificent Seven: Wonderful. A high water mark for this entire album and such a promising start. Still, the song hints of the tragedy to follow, particularly when Joe Strummer rhymes “mobster” and “lobster.”

2. Hitsville U.K.: A Phil Spector-style rock and roll song. It is great. Legit great. Using pop forms to satirize is something the Clash was always good at. But doesn’t it just sound a bit too polished? I mean, when you have the means to record a song like this and your homage is this good you probably learn to see the world as the monster you’re mocking.

3. Junco Partner: Our first look at Clash-Dub. This is a mild success that, unfortunately, is a bellwether for the far worse experiments to follow. The Clash were always advocates of reggae/dub, so this development shouldn’t surprise anyone. Unfortunately, instead of taking dub elements and crafting them into the Clash sound, the whole enterprise sounds more like blue-eyed reggae phoniness. It’s Pat Boone doing Horace Andy.

4. Ivan Meets G.I. Joe: A Studio 54 reference in a song about nuclear war. It may have seemed revelatory in 1980 but neither of those subjects have aged well in the agit-pop department.

5. The Leader: A totally suitable Clash rockabilly song. If one were to play a game and attempt to reduce all 36 songs on this album to a more tolerable 12-15 songs, this would surely make the list.

6. Something About England: We are currently 1/9th of the way through this thing. If listening to this record start to finish were a family vacation, by now we’d have had a huge outburst at our annoying kids and be sitting in a too-silent car feeling wave after wave of guilt wash over us. Sandinista made us bad parents.

7. Rebel Waltz: I will bet $100 that this was the first song Wes Anderson ever heard. He was in SoHo, in a tiny shop that sold nothing but leather elbow patches and doll furniture.

8. Look Here: The first song that feels more like a rave or gag than anything serious. As a listener, you need to draw the line when bands do this sort of thing. Because someone definitely told them not to record this. And where once they might have felt humility and said, “Yeah, this is a waste of people’s time,” now arrogance pushes them forward. Ugh, you can just hear them all cracking up at how funny they are.

9. The Crooked Beat: The story goes that the Clash fell asleep in the studio holding their instruments and this is what they recorded. It became the inspiration for the “Found Footage” genre of movies which, by and large, are better if for no other reason than they don’t take so long.

10. Somebody Got Murdered: Somebody = the Clash’s legacy.

11. One More Time / 12. One More Dub: No reason to separate these two songs into two, individual lines. “One More Time” is great but then here comes more dub. And there is even a sort of skit on there. Because let’s face it, the thing that makes good albums great is always skits.

13. Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice): Parenthetical in the song title. WATCH OUT.

14. Up In Heaven (Not Only Here): Oh hey, look at that, another one. Probably a coincidence and not someone being clever. Incidentally, this is another awesome Clash song.

15. Corner Soul: And here, on a pretty bad album, is just a stunning piece of music. Bands do this to fuck with you. The brilliance of the song keeps you coming back to the album because, well, a few songs are good so maybe you’re just wrong about the others. “Corner Soul” absolutely shines at the midpoint of Sandinista. This is The Clash finding success with Dub. Topper Headon’s drums skitter, mimicking reverb echo. Strummer’s lyrics evoke rather than dictate and that gives the listener space to bring something of themselves into the song. It is the type of track that really gets you to wonder if you missed something in all the clunkers that surround it. It’ll make you second guess yourself. Maybe you just need to grow into it? Nope, Sandinista is a solid EP with 28 bonus tracks.

16. Let’s Go Crazy: This is a Prince cover. Check it out. It is good. (It isn’t either of those things.)

17. If Music Could Talk: If this music could talk, it would beg to be put out of its misery. Seriously, Clash sax? Like, smooth jazz Clash?

18. The Sound of Sinners: A gospel tune. You know where Bono learned to be a self righteous windbag with absolutely no self-awareness? He learned it from Sandinista.

19. Police on my Back: THE CLASSIC CUT. I feel bad for this song. It should be on a better album. It wouldn’t be too out of place on Combat Rock which, for the record, is a much better album. But here it is, withering. Consider this your last supper...things will not be this good ever again.

20. Midnight Log: Your basic rockabilly Clash song.

21. The Equaliser: Even a blind dub squirrel finds a dub nut. Hey, a broken dub clock is still right once every 36 songs.

22. The Call Up: This is proof of concept for Sandinista. If they took care and made everything as good as “The Call Up” or “Magnificent Seven” or “Corner Soul” I would be writing about one of the best albums of the decade. Something about the moment when 70s myopia exploded into 80s excess.  Instead, I have to march down, way down, way, way down, to goddamn "Washington Bullets"...

23. Washington Bullets: Joe Strummer wakes from a feverish sleep wrought with dreams about human tragedy and the modern condition. Frantically, he reaches for his bedside notebook and scribbles; “Washington Bullets = Basketball Team...but also Washington Bullets = actual bullets and American army guys.” He draws some boobs, too. Then falls back to sleep.

24. Broadway: This song drove me to drink...paint thinner. Also, another little skit! This one actually foreshadows a song to come. I bet it was all Paul Simonon’s idea.

25. Lose this Skin: Tymon Dogg, the singer on this track, was an old roommate of Joe Strummer, had an eclectic and varied career as a musician and would go on the play in the Mescaleros and so, it is with a heavy heart that I say his voice sounds like a helium fart.

26. Charlie Don’t Surf: Originally, I wanted to set this up as a big Heart of Darkness riff but, given the Apocalypse Now reference herein I felt like maybe I should take the high road...so I wrote that fart joke on “Lose this Skin.” #pulitzer

27. Mensforth Hill: I’m sure some of you are upset that I am taking huge cheap shots at the Clash. Well, this song is the reason. This is the entire reason.

28. Junkie Slip: I am now ready for the end times.

29. Kingston Advice: I say, “I got some advice for ya.” And then I squeeze a whoopee cushion.

30. The Street Parade: In here, somewhere among all those delayed guitars, is a pretty good song by the British band the Clash. They say if you look into a mirror, light a candle, put a picture of your crush into your pocket and then play this song, your student loans will double.

31. Version City: The Clash pretty much stop trying from here on out. “I’ve never seen such funky country” is a lyric they wrote. Surely, at least one band member was thinking, “I need to quit this band,” while all this was going on, right? And if not, were they all 100% onboard for the harmonica solo AND rehashing the “Magnificent Seven” riff?

32. Living in Fame: It just feels like the Clash decided to include a song by another band here. The focus of the song? Well, I am glad you asked. The focus of the song is that the Clash are a good band.

33. Silicone on Sapphire. “Let’s bring back that xylophone from 'Washington Bullets'…” - the Clash

34. Version Pardner: An old, old computer wrote this song based on listening to the previous 33 songs on the album.

35. Career Opportunities: OK, different versions of songs with reworked or repeated motifs on a record that is HEAVILY influenced by a burgeoning dub/sample culture? SURE. FINE. You stink at it...but fine. So what is your excuse for including a Kidz Bop version of one of your best songs from your first record, Mr. The Clash? The lesson here is that if you’re someone who thinks you’ll never fall off the rails, that your life will be good forever and the world is a wonderful, kind place...just remember...the original “Career Opportunities” was released in 1977 and this version dropped in 1980. It only took the Clash three years to go from alpha to omega.

36. Shepherds Delight: So, why are we here? What does it all mean? What have I done? Is there a God? Why did I basically trash an album that is, at worst, widely agreed upon as a top 500 record of all time? Well, because sometimes things can still be absolutely awful and totally essential. What a huge pile of crap. Dig in.

—Steven Casimer Kowalski