By the time the smoke cleared, the Sex Pistols had disbanded,
and The Clash was firmly established as one of Englands most important
bands. But despite having been one of the first punk bands to get a record
deal and having enjoyed largely positive coverage in the music press, The
Clash had not actually sold the number of records that their elevated status
might indicate. Epic had refused to release the first album in the U.S.
(though it sold an unprecedented 100,000 copies as an import), and the second
album, Give em Enough Rope, produced by Blue Öyster Cult mastermind
Sandy Pearlman in a conscious attempt to capture a more commercial sound,
had also failed to set the U.S. market alight. In fact, it was the bands
cover of Bobby Fullers I Fought the Law, taken from a
4-track EP titled The Cost of Living, that made a bigger impact, becoming
an airplay hit on college radio.
for larger image)
All that changed with
the release of the bands third album, London Calling. A double album
sold at the single album price, it entered the UK album charts at Number
9 in December 1979, and the title cut reached Number 11 in the UK singles
chart the following month. By March 1980, the album was on the U.S. charts
and a single, Train in Vain (Stand By Me), reached Number
23, the bands highest U.S. chart placing at that point. Today, the
album is hailed as a classic and features prominently in every rock critics
list of significant records.
The Clash recorded London Calling at Wessex Studios, where they had previously
recorded The Cost of Living EP with engineer Bill Price (see separate
interview feature in this issue and Part One in the October 2000 issue).
Located in a former church in the Highbury district of North London, Wessex
had already been the site of a slew of hit recordings, including singles
and albums by the Sex Pistols, The Pretenders and the Tom Robinson Band.
Chief engineer and studio manager Price, who took over at Wessex in about
1975, had developed a repertoire of recording techniques suited to the
room and the bands that recorded there.
Before I moved from AIR to Wessex, I used to work a lot with producer
Chris Thomas in AIRs Studio One, recalls Price. That
room was so live that you had to put screens around everything just to
keep out the ambience. When I started working with Chris at Wessex, he
pushed me to find ways to get every ounce of ambience out of what was
a large, but quite dead, room. Some of those techniques were sort of special
to Chris sessions, and others were more general, and I did use some
of them on The Clash. One particular technique involved placing
a pair of Neumann U87s about 15 feet up and 10 feet in front of the drum
kit as ambience mics and mixing them in with a pair of STC 4038 ribbon
mics placed behind the kit at floor level. (STC 4038s are visible in many
photos of The Beatles sessions at Abbey Road, as Geoff Emerick typically
used them as overhead mics. Originally designed by the BBC, the STC 4038
is essentially identical to the current Coles 4038.)
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Magazine, November, 2000
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