What do you do when you have just put out a sensational 2-disc set and taken the world by storm? Follow it up with a 3-disc set, obviously. A triple album, with 36 tracks. That’s “Sandinista!”, released at the very end of 1980.
This is as wide-ranging an album as it is possible to imagine, and again shows the ridiculousness of categorizing The Clash as a punk band . . . or as any particular genre. It has just about everything.
As I mentioned with “Black Market Clash,” this came out at a very, very difficult time in my young life.
That summer of 1981, I got into a serious, serious rut. Now we would call it depression. Probably called it that then, too. I was going to graduate late as a result of having to take the previous semester off thanks to major changes in federal financial aid; that didn’t bother me much. Certain that I no longer wanted to do what I had majored in, I also had no way to change it, having lost a substantial amount of aid. I was in a job where I was terrified I’d become a lifer, working with people I mostly couldn’t stand. I lost my relationship because I was drinking and drugging myself into a state of oblivion, and I didn’t see a way to stop that (thanks, genetics!). I was utterly rudderless. And in that state, I just hid in my darkened room, drinking and smoking by myself, hiding away in a little cave I had built, listening to my records. Well, some of my records. Well, mostly, this record.
There was something about the sound of this record that suited me. It was dark and echoey throughout. Despite all the instruments on it, all the arrangements, it also felt open, spacious. It felt like a dark, comfortable room where I could just live for a while. And I did.
I would listen to this over and over, beginning to end and beyond. I was also listening to “Black Market Clash” a lot. A LOT. There were three other albums that pretty much defined that summer: a six-disc Eddie Cochran box set, which we’ll get to soon; a Charly records collection of rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef (who just recently died); and The Firesign Theater’s “In The Next World, You’re On Your Own.” Because that’s how I felt.
It would be natural to not want to hear things that I so closely associate with an extremely bleak time in my life. There is music so entwined in some other moments that I really don’t want to listen to it because it brings a certain feeling so vividly back to life, and sometimes I’m just not up for that. But for whatever reason, these songs I went to hell with don’t do that, and I have never stopped loving any of the music I holed up with that summer.
Now, there are people who will say that, despite the punk ethos, “Sandinista!” is the height of rock excess. 36 songs may seem like that, yes. But what would you leave out? The incredible, beautiful protest of “Something About England”? The dark swirl of “Rebel Waltz”? Maybe the “One More Time” dub. Maybe Tymon Dogg’s vocal on “Lose This Skin,” which is a bit cartoony aggro for me — yet it’s still a good song. The self-indulgent “Mensforth Hill”? I’d listen to that amalgamation of backward sounds for weeks before I’d ever want to hear “Revolution No. 9” again. But if you can’t take all that Clash, just listen to the first three sides — 18 songs that could, on their own, seal The Clash’s legacy as one of the greatest bands of all time.