Review #323: Sandinista!, The Clash

Karla Clifton
5 min readOct 19, 2022

#323: Sandinista!, The Clash

Brief recap: In Review #316, I revealed that I listened to yet another stretch of albums on a cross-country road trip, because I am a maniac who should be feared. Well, here at #323, we’re still on Day 1. So to be clear: I had been listening to nearly eight hours already when Sandinista!, a two-and-a-half-hour triple album, came on.

Now, there is NO band quite like the Clash, a reggae-inspired Brit-punk act that was “the only band that mattered,” according to themselves. So I’m not saying this album was unenjoyable. But listen: long albums make Karla Clifton’s life harder. Much harder.

And the Clash themselves seems to have differing opinions on this one! RS quotes Joe Strummer himself as saying, “[I]t would have been better as a double album, or a single album, or an EP! Who knows?” Mick Jones said it was for people “who were, like, on oil rigs. Or Arctic stations. People that weren’t able to get to the record shops regularly.” (Did you work on an oil rig or Arctic station and listen to this record all the way through? Contact Karla Clifton.)

Sandinista is shorthand for someone who was a member of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, a left-wing Nicaraguan party. British PM Margaret Thatcher, who was fairly unpopular in Latin America, was rumored to have attempted to ban the word. So they’re making quite a statement with their name alone. And they tackle many different subjects, styles, and topics throughout this whole long record.

But ultimately, the biggest statement the Clash is making celebrates musical freedom. Hell, they named “Hitsville, U.K.” after Motown Records, which kicked down the door for soul artists to release commercially successful soul music. (Fun fact, Meat Loaf collaborator Ellen Foley is singing on that one.) This is a record that’s going to stick with me, whether I like it or not.

Songs About Ska

Let’s start with the obvious.

I’ve only recently begun to understand where and why Brit-punk and reggae intersect. The UK had an influx of Jamaican immigrants in the Fifties, predating the advent of reggae music. So the Jamaica-to-UK reggae pipeline is as direct as they come. (For an amazing novel exploring this topic, White Teeth by Zadie Smith is brilliant.)

Still, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but we all know how it goes when your little sister starts copying you. Not everyone liked the Clash’s take on reggae. But Bob Marley was inspired to write “Punky Reggae Party” after hearing the Clash’s take on some reggae classics, so I think it’s fair to say that there was some mutual appreciation.

Much of the songs actually were recorded in Jamaica, like their violent violin cover of “Junco Partner.” “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Kingston Advice” both aim to capture the spirit and of a funky reggae party, and include some nice sound bites about Rastafarian philosophy.

Then call on Jamaican rap legend Mikey Dread for “One More Time,” and recruit him to do dubs of other songs on the record. Dubs are just reggae remixes, usually with more fuzz and less vocals. “Living In Fame,” “One More Dub,” “Version Pardner,” “Silicone on Sapphire” and “Shepherd’s Delight” are all dubs of other songs included.

Songs About War and Politics

The best thing about punk bands is that they take a fundamentally serious subject and just take the piss right out of it. “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe” compares the Cold War to a freaking disco dance-off. “Washington Bullets” drops the album title over a set of xylophones. And “Charlie Don’t Surf” is a buoyant surf-rock song that’s also a dark reference to the movie Apocalypse Now, when the US army goads the Viet Cong by surfing during a firefight. Then they go ahead and skewer “The Leader,” a politician who boinks someone he shouldn’t. It’s dark, it’s funny, and it’s a little bit terrifying when punk bands make better political points than politicians.

But inevitably, not all the songs are funny. “Rebel Waltz” takes on war flashbacks, and “The Call Up” relays Joe Strummer’s strong feelings about conscientious objection. On “Corner Soul,” they lament that their neighborhood has become soaked in the diesel of war boys’ war. Not funny at all.

Songs About Working Class Heroes

Just like on London Calling, a lot of this music is about the plight of the working class hero. (Apologies to John Lennon.) I appreciated how they started out with “The Magnificent Seven,” where they literally just start shouting Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels over their hip-hop-inspired groove. “Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)” quotes a verse in full from protest artist Phil Ochs in a song about the London projects. And of course, “Police On My Back” has them in familiar territory: fighting the law (and losing).

Songs In Other Genres

Something else fun about Sandinista! is the fact that the boys are trying their hand at every genre they can think of. “Look Here” is a breathy jazz song, “The Sound of Sinners” is religious soul, and “Something About England” is this English music-hall-vaudeville thing that The Who sometimes does. “The Equaliser” and “The Street Parade” are both soft noise rock. And I don’t know WHAT genre “Version City” is. Maybe “railroad?” Is that right?

“Lose This Skin” was my favorite on the whole record — it’s a Celtic fiddle tune sung and played by Tymon Dogg, and somehow it’s the punkest song on the album.

Songs About New York City

Random, but I guess the Clash also love New York? I mean, I think “Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)” is a lot of fun, but it also kind of sounds like the opening theme to Working Girl.

Songs About Drugs

“Junkie Slip,” which is unfortunately about drummer Topper Headon. :(

Songs With Kids On Them

“Career Opportunities,” which is sung by keyboardist Mickey Gallagher’s sons, and “Broadway,” which has his daughter singing “Guns of Brixton” at the end. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard children sing about the welfare state.

Songs About Satan

“Midnight Log.” Also, maybe “Mensforth Hill,” which is “Something About England” backwards. Also, maybe “If Music Could Talk,” where Joe Strummer just babbles to himself. And maaaaaybe “The Crooked Beat,” which is basically a ska dub with more chaos.

Songs About My Mental State

“Somebody Got Murdered.” Oh my god, this one took me so long. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the morgue.

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