The Story Behind The Clash’s Famous “London Calling” Album Cover

The Clash may not have been Britain’s first punk rock band, but they were the soul of the genre in the late 70s and early 80s. The band – most famously consisting of Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Nicky “Topper” Headon – was seen as an appealing symbol of rebellion and protest. And by including elements of reggae, funk and rockabilly in their music, they paved the way for a new generation of rockers.

One of the band’s most iconic collections of work, their third album, London calling, has been particularly critical in establishing the band’s legacy. The album helped the London-born band gain traction with music fans in the United States and was later certified platinum in the United States.

In addition to the album’s success, it also boasts one of the most famous album covers in punk rock history. But what is the story behind this guitar stroke? Read below to find out.

The crash of the guitar

It was the guitar smash that resonated around the world.

The cover of London calling features Clash bassist Paul Simonon destroying his Fender Precision Bass guitar during a concert in New York. It was September 20, 1979, at the Palladium to be exact. And curiously, Simonon’s swing was not staged. Photographer Pennie Smith caught the musician in a real moment of frustration.

“I was a bit annoyed that the bouncers wouldn’t let the audience get up from their chairs,” Simonon explained in a 2011 interview with Fender. “So that frustrated me to the point that I destroyed that bass guitar. Unfortunately, you always have a tendency to destroy the things you love.

He continued, “I wasn’t taking it on bass guitar because there was nothing wrong with that.”

And right after the photo was taken, the bass guitar shattered into several pieces, some of which Simonon kept for years. (Now the guitar is on display at the Museum of London.)

Inspired by the king of rock and roll

Graphic designer Ray Lowry is the one who put the London calling album cover together. Above Smith’s image, the album title was placed on the left side in pink and green lettering. The placement of the title and its coloring is almost a perfect copy of the album cover of Elvis Presley’s self-titled debut album. It was The Clash’s nod to the man who also broke the rules of rock ‘n’ roll.

Photo credit: Pennie Smith/Courtesy of Sony Music

About Elizabeth J. Swartz

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