THE STORY BEHIND LONDON CALLING ICONIC IMAGE

The Clash's London Calling album cover photo turns 42 today.
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42 years ago today, the British photographer Pennie Smith took this photo of the Clash’s Paul Simonon onstage at NYC’s Palladium, smashing his Fender Precision Bass. It went on to become the cover to London Calling and one of the most iconic rock photographs of all time.

Simonon said that he smashed his bass out of frustration when the bouncers at the concert won’t let audience members stand up—The Palladium had fixed seating—making for a far more demure, dull atmosphere than the London punks were accustomed to.

Unable to raise any real response from the crowd, Simonon grabbed his instrument by the fret board and smashed it furiously against the stage. He didn’t know it at the time, but the album artwork history had just been made. “When I look at it now, I wish I’d lifted my face up a bit more,” Simonon explained in a 2011 interview.

Pennie Smith originally did not want the photograph to be used. She thought that it was too out of focus. “It’s very pleasant to be praised, but of all the Clash photos I took, there are others that perhaps I prefer. There are other, more snapshot-type things that still take me back to that gut feeling I had then; perhaps an odd backstage one,” Smith said in 2003.

Despite Smith’s rejection, The Clash’s frontman Joe Strummer and graphic designer Ray Lowry thought it would make a good album cover. In 2002, Smith’s photograph was named the best rock and roll photograph of all time by Q magazine, commenting that “it captures the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll moment—total loss of control.”

Lowry’s artwork was an homage to the design of Elvis Presley’s self-titled debut album. As of May 2009 Simonon’s bass has been on display at the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

London Calling has since been considered by many critics to be one of the greatest rock albums of all time. I agree with what Rolling Stone magazine claimed about the album: it celebrates the romance of rock & roll rebellion.

• Read also LONDON CALLING 39TH ANNIVERSARY.

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Rudolf Dethu

Rudolf Dethu

Music journalist, writer, radio DJ, socio-political activist, creative industry leader, and a qualified librarian, Rudolf Dethu is heavily under the influence of the punk rock philosophy. Often tagged as this country’s version of Malcolm McLaren—or as Rolling Stone Indonesia put it ‘the grand master of music propaganda’—a name based on his successes when managing Bali’s two favourite bands, Superman Is Dead and Navicula, both who have become two of the nation’s biggest rock bands.
Rudolf Dethu

Rudolf Dethu

Music journalist, writer, radio DJ, socio-political activist, creative industry leader, and a qualified librarian, Rudolf Dethu is heavily under the influence of the punk rock philosophy. Often tagged as this country’s version of Malcolm McLaren—or as Rolling Stone Indonesia put it ‘the grand master of music propaganda’—a name based on his successes when managing Bali’s two favourite bands, Superman Is Dead and Navicula, both who have become two of the nation’s biggest rock bands.
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