The Ideal Sandinista!

Holy Generation-Y, Batman!

Hello, old friend.

Two years ago when I started this blog, I posted this picture of my iTunes playlists, leading Jenn Achuff (now Jenn Wilkens; congratulations!) to ask what on Earth I’d done to sully the Clash’s epic album from 1980. The answer is simple: I’m trying to find out what it was originally supposed to sound like.

Ideal Sandinista! is a variation on a game called The Twelfth Albumwhere people try to create another, lost Beatles album from 1971, using its members’ solo work from that year. It’s equal parts mixology lesson and personality test. (Note: no matter who you play the game with, the album will include “Maybe I’m Amazed.” My mom, who was around back then and should have known, expressed some surprise that it wasn’t a Beatles song.)

The Clash is one of the greatest and most important bands ever; maybe they’re not quite up there with the Beatles, but they are in the same league as Zeppelin and the Beach Boys and almost certainly above Nirvana. They were the epitome of punk, but they also transcended punk. At the time, even squares could enjoy their work, not because they’d sold out, but because their greatness was able to reach people who otherwise wouldn’t be interested. For that we may thank the band’s other leader, Mick Jones.

Jones is the source of much of Sandinista‘s strength, but he is also the reason it isn’t nearly as good as it could have been. Both Jones and Joe Strummer were heavily influenced by another transcendent rocker, Bruce Springsteen, and when they found out that Springsteen was releasing The River as a double-album, Jones and Strummer both decided to one-up him by releasing Sandinista! as a triple album.

This clearly happened late in the making of the album, because so much of it is tedious filler. What could have been one of the greatest albums ever made was a two-and-a-half hour long mess, especially the second half. So where The Twelfth Album lets the listener put different ideas together to make a great album, Ideal Sandinista! lets you play editor and find the great album that was already there.

The first thing I did was get rid of duplicate tracks. There are four tracks on Sandinista! that are just duplicates of other songs reproduced in a headache-inducing dub style. They have to go. I also got rid of the new version of “Career Opportunities” sung by children.

This is where it gets complicated. Certain songs are obviously meant to come at the beginning or end of each side of the album. If I had to guess, I’d say the album’s lynchpin, “Police on My Back,” was originally the first track of side three. This means we must now remove five tracks that come before it and two that come after. Honestly, even pared down to a double album, there are six songs I’d still rather be without. Still, make sure each “side” is less than 27 minutes long, as that’s the maximum length a vinyl record will allow. This is my end result:

Side One
“The Magnificent Seven”
“Hitsville U.K.”
“Junco Partner”
“Ivan Meets G.I. Joe”
“Something About England”
“Rebel Waltz”

Side Two
“Somebody Got Murdered”
“One More Time”
“Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)”
Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)
“Corner Soul”
“The Sound of Sinners”

Side Three
“Police on My Back”
“Midnight Log”
“The Equaliser”
“The Call Up”
“Washington Bullets”

Side Four
“Lose This Skin”
“Charlie Don’t Surf”
“Kingston Advice”
“The Street Parade”
“Version City”
“Shepherd’s Delight”

So there’s your answer, Jenn.


The Clash – Lost in the Supermarket

When: 31 March 2009
Where: M Car inbound
Who: My ex
Weather: Mild, clear

San Francisco was beautiful, but quite cold as far as I was concerned. I was on the edge of town to begin with, and SF State didn’t suit me at all. How could people take it upon themselves to judge me for not taking drugs? I’d gotten the worst possible impression of the place, and I had to take whatever little victories I could get.

I was so bored it was making me sick, and I thought it best to steer clear of school. According to Buzzfeed, there was a contour in the exterior wall of St. Mary’s Cathedral so shaped that a female breast would appear in the form of a shadow every afternoon. It was better than nothing.

On the train ride up, I noticed my ex-girlfriend reading a book at the other end of the car, and for the misguided purpose of improving her comically bad impression of me, I decided to go over and be civil. The book was East of Eden, taken from a relative’s garage. I told her where I was going.

“Classy,” she said, before I awkwardly walked back to the other end of the car.

Next: Songs for Seafaring.

The Clash – “Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)”

When: 2 May 2008
Where: Lake Avenue at Walnut
Who: Nobody
Weather: Warm, clear

Considering she lived 300 miles away, Jeannie was the perfect high school girlfriend. She wasn’t the kind of girl I imagined being with up to that point, but I hadn’t really known or cared until I met someone who loved Arctic Monkeys as much as I did. She introduced me to a whole new concept– one-season wonders. It was she who introduced me to Firefly, and Pushing Daisies was still on, but she was certain it would be canceled. It was just that good, she said. It had to go.

Another thing we had in common was Doctor Who– everybody at my high school watched it, but we were an unusual bunch. I hadn’t imagined that what had previously been a cult phenomenon in the US might now have a further reach. I didn’t have cable at home, so I went to my Bubby’s on South Lake to watch it. It was Series Four– not the greatest moment of the show, but a valued experience nonetheless. But it was late at night, and Pasadena was going through a crime wave.

I cautiously made my way home nonetheless, and as I was going through my Clash phase, Sandinista was my soundtrack of choice. It was just about perfect, walking among the empty bank towers, listening closely to some of the creepier lines…

Next: “I am Gopher Boy, pondering reality.”