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  By the time the smoke cleared, the Sex Pistols had disbanded, and The Clash was firmly established as one of England’s 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 band’s cover of Bobby Fuller’s “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.

London Calling

(click for larger image)

All that changed with the release of the band’s 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 band’s highest U.S. chart placing at that point. Today, the album is hailed as a classic and features prominently in every rock critic’s 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 AIR’s 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.)


Reprinted with permission from Magazine, November, 2000
2000, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved

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