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 Album, where 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:
“The Magnificent Seven”
“Ivan Meets G.I. Joe”
“Something About England”
“Somebody Got Murdered”
“One More Time”
“Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)”
“Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)”
“The Sound of Sinners”
“Police on My Back”
“The Call Up”
“Lose This Skin”
“Charlie Don’t Surf”
“The Street Parade”
So there’s your answer, Jenn.