33 1/3 Author Q&A: A Closer Look At The Clash’s Sandinista!

Welcome to our latest author Q&A, where we chat to the writers behind new and upcoming 33 1/3 books! Today Micajah Henley talks to us about The Clash’s Sandinista!. Henley tells us more about his examination of The Clash’s triple LP that entertains the question that many fans and critics have been asking for over forty years: Is Sandinista! better as an LP?

How would you describe your book in one sentence?

My book entertains the popular critique from fans and critics who argue that Sandinista! should have been a single LP.

What drew you to this album?

Like many music fans, I’ve been a fan of The Clash since I was an early teenager. And like many Clash fans, they’re a band that changed my life at a young age and continues to inspire me years later. The UK version of their debut album was the CD that created a before-and-after dividing line in my personal history as a music lover. And London Calling was always the seemingly universally agreed upon masterpiece. But like a lot of Clash fans born long after they were releasing music, the songs I heard first were “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go” from Combat Rock. Somehow, Sandinista! remained a bit of mystery until I was in my 20s. Listening to all 36 tracks was like discovering the band all over again. I became obsessed with the record and loved it more with each listen. I would seek out what people had written about the album and noticed that there were really two camps: one in which people said the album should be shorter, and another that referred to the 3LP as a “flawed masterpiece.” I had been convinced that the album was just a flat-out masterpiece, so I assumed the role of an apologist when writing the book. But it was this decades worth of arguing over the merits of the album that drew me to wanting to write about it.

If you were introducing someone to this album for the first time, what would you recommend they listen to?

The structure of the book arguably creates a way of introducing people to the album who may be intimidated or unwilling to listen to all 2.5 hours of the full album. I’ve had people in my life who found the album difficult to access or grab on to, so I’ve created 12-track playlists for people based on their taste or what I know they like about The Clash specifically. Then I’d give them another set of songs. Then they’d listen to the full album and tell me about all the songs they loved that I hadn’t even included in the playlists I had curated for them. And that process made me realize that the 36-track version remains the best way to experience the album. Though people for years have been making their own mixes of the album on cassette, CD, or playlists to highlight their favorite songs. But when you get stuck on those songs and go back to the full album, you rediscover another set of songs to obsess over, and I think that’s by design.

What was it like writing the book? Did you learn anything new about the album that you didn’t know going into the project?

When you’re younger, you have a bunch of romantic ideas about what it looks like to write a book. I wrote this book on my couch in my apartment while my cat laid on my stack of Clash books or attempted to walk all over the laptop. That’s for the best, I think. My background is in southern studies, so writing about a British punk band was well outside my comfort zone, especially since The Clash were singing about recent and contemporary political issues. For example, I knew next to nothing about the Profumo affair which is what “The Leader” is all about. I didn’t really expect to write about Laurel & Hardy and BDSM for this book, yet the opportunity presented itself. I was also slightly worried about how to approach writing about songs on side 6 of the record (where only the brave go, according to Joe Strummer). I didn’t know what I was going to write when I got the album’s final track, then suddenly T.S. Eliot seemed like the perfect way to approach the album’s final moments. That changed the way I looked at the closing track, and it’s a moment in the book that I’m proud of.

Are there any interesting stories/points that didn’t make it into the final book?

I wrote a lot about the influence of New American cinema on The Clash, but I never got into their attempts to make movies. I never got into Rude Boy which also came out in 1980. I mention Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains without ever saying much, and I never get into Strummer’s brief acting career and the scores that he composed. There could be a whole chapter on Alex Cox’s Walker (1987) which Strummer appears in and did the score for. Not to mention the fact that it’s about 19th century Nicaragua and ends with a clip of Reagan to condemn him and his ties to the Contras. I could have pulled on that thread, but I was worried that it may have strayed too far from discussing the album in a way that was inconsistent with the rest of the book.

If you got the chance to write a 33 1/3 on one other album/genre – what are you picking?

I’m glad to see that bands like The National, Yo La Tengo, Modest Mouse, and Bright Eyes have entered/are entering the series, so I think I would choose something more contemporary, provided I had another chance to write about an album. I think it’s about time Wilco were represented in the series. I think their live album Kicking Television would be an interesting album to write about since it’s sort of the end of “early” Wilco yet technically the first album of theirs with their current lineup. On the other hand, if I had to choose something for the Genre series, I would probably write about emo. In particular, I’d want to write about the Christian branch of emo that came out of the south and dominated the scene in the 2000s. I’m thinking of bands like Underoath, Emory, Anberlin, and other Tooth & Nail bands but also Paramore.

Micajah Henley

is an adjunct professor at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. He is the creator of the music podcast You Forgot One.

The Clash’s Sandinista! is available to buy in bookshops and online, including at

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