The Clash

The bootleg bins have long been bereft of Clash product. The band existed till it just didn't anymore and left behind scant evidence that it made any kind of revolution rock outside its handful of studio recordings. Rumors abounded of extracurricular material--the story most often told was about an entire album's worth of material recorded in a mechanic's garage, in a secret space called Vanilla, but that it had been left in a tube station by the late producer Guy Stevens, himself a mythological figure pickled at the bottom of a whiskey bottle these last 23 years.

Now, with the addition of a 21-track disc of "bonus materials" grafted onto the immortal twofer London Calling, we can see why Joe Strummer and Mick Jones and Paul Simonon and Topper Headon wanted to keep this stuff hidden. (It had actually been stashed away in a box in Jones' home, which he found by accident while moving last March.) On the so-called Vanilla Tapes, London Calling sounds more like London Crawling, with the rough tracks sounding more fetal than fierce. Some, among them "Hateful" and "The Right Profile" and "Guns of Brixton" (titled here simply "Paul's Song"), didn't even have lyrics yet. Others were played at half-speed, resulting in a title track that might inspire a nap but could never instigate a riot. The organs and horns are missed. So, too, is Stevens' insistent production, borne of a boozy, belligerent madness.

Completists, of course, will marvel at the insight provided by the disc. And there are notable tracks found on the Vanilla Tapes that were left off London Calling, among them a cover of Bob Dylan's "The Man in Me," the honky-tonkin' "Lonesome Me," the woozy-bloozy "Walking the Slidewalk" and the anthemic "Heart and Mind," which would have stood tall among the songs that did make the cut. But perhaps most revelatory is their redo of "Remote Control" off the 1977 debut, a song they loathed after CBS released it as a single without the band's OK. Used as a warm-up, it's white-hot--louder and prouder now that they've mastered their instruments and not vice versa. And the DVD documenting the making of London Calling is worth a peek for the scenes of Stevens attacking the band in the studio and for the scenes of the world's greatest rock-and-roll band attacking 19 of the greatest songs ever slapped on four slabs of vinyl. Best of all, you still get London Calling, which is more than enough all by its lonesome.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky