Certainly one of the most iconic picture in the Rock legend, and not a bad result for an out of focus photography! This double album from the Clash was their third LP, following the partial failure of "Give 'Em Enough Rope". "London Calling" not only became a huge success, despite its length, but also a milestone marking, according to many specialists, the end of the Punk period, and the entry of English Rock into a more social-conscious period.
On a graphic design point of view, the first thing to say is that before becoming a seminal cover, this artwork started as an hommage from the band to Elvis Presley : they wanted to pay tribute to the king, and to how truly sincere and innovative he was, with parodying the cover of his debut self-titled album from 1956.
And it's evident from their cover to see what they found fascinating : this King's picture offers an impressive view of his sincerity and dedication. He appears completely involved in his music, eyes closes, nearly out of the frame, and his hand even moving too fast for the photographer!
This clearly connects with the image of Tim Simonon used on the Clash album : pure energy and sincerity, pure Rock N' Roll, far from the fake poses of the so-called stars of Punk.
In the lyrics of "London Calling", the band shouts that the "Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust" : clearly, there was nothing "phoney" with Simonon's attitude...
And talking about this picture, here's a few more details. While the lay-out is the work of the famous NME cartoonist Ray Lowry, the picture was taken by Pennie Smith, on the 21st September 1979, during a concert at the Palladium, New York. At first, she thought the image was too much out of focus for a cover, but Ray Lowry and Joe Strummer (lead singer/guitarist of The Clash) insisted to use it. The picture shows Tim Simonon smashing his Fender Precision Bass on stage. Pennie Smith later recalled how, after the end of the gig, she felt Tim was getting warmed up, and that something was going to happen. what did happen was the best Rock N' Roll picture of all time according to Q Magazine in 2002...
|Gatefold LP (inside)|
The rest of the lay-out is less interesting : the album came as a gatefold cover, with the double-spread inside featuring the lyrics and credits, hand-drawn and accompanied by some pictures of the band, while the back cover provided the usual informations in a quite classical way, even with a different typography for the title.
Finally, it's all about the cover with this record. And even if most people misses the reference to the King, especially nowadays, the picture itself captured the energy of the band, its sincere will to give Rock N' Roll a less "marketed" feel (even if he term wasn't in use these days).
It also perfectly matched the spontaneity of the music itself, the entire album having been recorded within a matter of weeks, and most songs recorded in one or two takes.
It is also interesting to note that, while it got adopted way further than the limits of the Rock purists, this image has become the icon of the so-called "Destroy" attitude, linked with this idea that a Rockstar has to destroy hotel rooms, smash TV sets, "smacks his bitch up", etc.
A good listen to this album shows that the violence of the cover was all about sincerity, and about a bunch of English guys in their 20' who were trying to make the social issues of their time (unemployment, racial conflicts or drug use) relevant and important to the crowds of youngsters.