The Clash: “Spanish Bombs”
Really, who else but The Clash could turn a song about the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) into one of the best songs on one of the greatest rock albums? Coming from just about anyone else, such subject matter would either come across as pretentious or just plain silly. But they manage to take the subject matter and make it seem urgent and utterly important — which isn’t to say that at one time it wasn’t very important of course, but by the time “Spanish Bombs” was released on their incredible 1979 double LP, London Calling, the Spanish Civil War wasn’t exactly a fresh topic of conversation. But then again, it most likely wasn’t the start of the Spanish Civil War that inspired the Clash to write this song, but rather the death of Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, who had come to power during that war.
The hillsides ring with “Free the people”
Or can I hear the echo from the days of ’39?
London Calling in my mind may be the all-time best double-album in rock — few albums with that kind of expanse (19 songs) can approach the consistency of quality that it has. There are a couple of songs that I don’t care for as much as the others, but it’s pretty relative — even those songs would have stood out on other albums of lesser quality.
The Clash released five albums over the course of their existence (I don’t count the 1985 “Clash” album Cut the Crap — recorded after Mick Jones was forced from the band and replaced with three bit players, and the songs on which were all cowritten by Joe Strummer and the band’s manager — because it’s awful and is a pale imitation of what The Clash had been). Any one of those albums was good enough to call The Clash great, but London Calling is the one that brought it all together at the peak of their talents and made them worthy of being called one of the greatest bands ever. And “Spanish Bombs” is a high point on that peak. Its driving rhythm and urgent vocal attack could make even the least studious among its listeners reach for a history book to read up on the subject matter.