Born To Run is a phenomenal album, one that I return to again and again. It’s the source of many of my favorite Springsteen songs, including “Meeting Across The River”, “She’s The One” and the more famous tracks like “
I suppose I would consider Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to be perfect, although it’s not my favorite Beatles album. It was, however, the first Beatles album I ever heard and I listened to my mom’s original vinyl LP obsessively when I was a kid. The record even had the Sgt. Pepper cut-out figures still intact. I suspect Mom watched me playing with those with a mixture of panic and delight, though to her credit, she never yelled that those toys weren’t for playing with. It was probably the first album I knew by heart. Even the much-maligned “Within You, Without You” expanded my horizons and struck me as a mystical, transcendent musical journey, which is probably what George Harrison intended in the first place. He just didn’t realize that his ideal audience would be eight-year-old boys growing up in small-town
Most of my favorite artists, folks like Tom Waits, Warren Zevon, The Pogues, and
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I don’t care much for perfection in music. Music is both universal and deeply personal. If you can record one song that means something to people, you’ve done something to be proud of. If you can put five or six of them together, it’s downright remarkable. But an entire album where every song hits you in just the right way?That may be nothing short of miraculous. And that’s when I realized that there was one album like that for me. One album that still grabs me from start to finish, sounds constantly fresh but can also transport me back to when I first heard it. The first time I heard it, it was like nothing else I’d been exposed to before, and its arrival in my life did strike me as something of a miracle.
I came late to London Calling. When the album was first released, I was all of ten years old, so the British punk scene wasn’t exactly high on my radar. If I had to guess, I’d wager my first exposure to the band came somewhere around 1983, most likely by seeing a video for “Rock The Casbah” or “This Is Radio Clash” on Night Flight. Even then, it would be another couple years before someone specifically steered me toward London Calling. The first song hooked me, filling my head with apocalyptic visions. But it was the way the album built on that foundation that really grabbed me. I’d never before heard an album that felt so electric and spontaneous, but also so perfectly controlled. Every song leads into the next with laser-sharp precision. Even today, if I hear one song off this album, I immediately want to listen to the whole thing so I can place it in its proper context. Hearing “The Card Cheat” by itself without “Koka Kola” leading in to it seems somehow wrong.
London Calling was a revelation for me and a gateway album to countless other bands. I’d never heard a voice like Joe Strummer’s before. I’d never heard a band use instruments this way before. After this, everything I’d been listening to sounded too slick, too professional, too controlled. It led me to explore punk music more in-depth and while I liked much of what I heard, it often sounded too chaotic, like a lot of these bands honestly had no idea what they were doing and if they recorded something great, it was kind of by accident. There was nothing accidental about London Calling. It’s a passionate, sprawling record full of songs I’m always tempted to listen to again as soon as they end, but before I have the chance, the band has already grabbed my attention with something even better. It’s an album I can’t listen to just once and I can’t listen to in pieces. It’s all or nothing. Death or glory. And that, to my ears anyway, is perfection.