Story behind the ‘London Calling’ cover

It all began on the 20th September 1979. On that day, in Palladium club in New York took place the concert of a British rock group, The Clash. During the concert, the upset bassist wrecked his guitar on the scene, and the moment was captured on photography by Pennie Smith. Thanks to this photo, one of the most famous CD covers in the history of rock came to existence.

Paul Simonon, the Clash bassist crashes his guitar

Paul Simonon, the Clash bassist crashes his guitar on the stage. Photo made in 1979 by Pennie Smith during a concert in New York

The final version of the cover was designed by Ray Lowry. Pennie Smith at first didn’t want to allow the use of her photo, arguing that it’s blurry. Lowry convinced her that the lack of focus was in this case a good thing, as it made it more authentic and spontaneous.

Final version of the “London Calling” cover (1979), on the right Elvis Presley’s debut album cover (1956)

Final version of the “London Calling” cover (1979), on the right Elvis Presley’s debut album cover (1956)

London Calling cover quickly became famous all over the world. It was a pastiche, meaning a conscious reference to another piece. Lowry used composition and lettering similar to Elvis Presley’s earlier album. It was a bit provocative, as Elvis was acclaimed back then as the king of rock and the less famous band The Clash was only about to begin another revolution in rock music, but in a way more hardcore version.

The photo of bassist crashing his guitar became a pop culture icon, a symbol of young rebels. In 2002 Q magazine acclaimed it as the best ‘rock’n’roll’ photo ever, saying that the image perfectly depicts the turning point in history of rock’n’roll, a total loss of control. The bass guitar itself was later put in a museum.

The Clash bassit’s broken fender on display in a museum

The Clash bassit’s broken fender on display in a museum

The Clash marked its name forever in the history of rock music and London Calling cover did the same for history of graphic design. In 2010 British post office issued a series of stamps with important vinyl covers, including of course London Calling.

Post stamps series ‘Classic Album Covers’, 2010

Post stamps series ‘Classic Album Covers’, 2010

The cover was also referred to by the famous street artist Banksy. The character holds an office chair instead of guitar, how to interpret that? Maybe Banksy wanted to say that we spend too much time in front of computers? Or maybe he encourages us to rebel, and we should get up and do something instead of just watching?

Banksy

Banksy

3 thoughts on “Story behind the ‘London Calling’ cover”

  1. Paul was the stylist and designer of their clothes, and he was Mr. Cool. At the end of this show, he tripped on the curly wire of his bass…he looked back like he wanted to kill it, and then he stopped, and went back, picked it up, and did it, as the stage filled with hand-shakers – luckily, one of them was Pennie Smith. I was afraid he was going to whack someone by accident…a circle widened around him real quick, and this moment happened. I was in the first row balcony. RIP the Clash and I agree this is one of the best covers ever!

  2. Uhmm… telling stories is great, but kindly get it right. In your opening paragraph you describe this as the best CD cover. Perhaps it is now, but it was designed long before CDs, making it the best ALBUM cover ever.
    In the caption you mention the ‘bassit’. Bassist might be more accurate.
    Otherwise a quite good retelling.

  3. This certainly is not one of the greatest CD covers of all time lol. One of the greatest record covers – yes.

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