Some critics have argued that the album would have worked better as a less-ambitious, smaller project. Others think of the album as a breakthrough that deserves comparison to the Beatles' White Album. It was voted the best album of the year in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics poll, and in 2003, the album was ranked number 404 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
When recording began in New York bass guitarist Paul Simonon was busy making a film, and he was replaced briefly by Ian Dury and the Blockheads bassist Norman Watt-Roy; this later caused some bad feeling when Watt-Roy and keyboard player Mickey Gallagher, a fellow Blockhead, claimed they were responsible for co-composing the song "The Magnificent Seven", as the song was based on tune of theirs. Dread, too, was upset that he was not credited as the album's producer, although he was credited with "Version Mix." Other guests on the album include actor Tim Curry (providing the voice of a priest on "The Sound of Sinners"), singer Ellen Foley (Jones' partner at the time), former Voidoids guitarist Ivan Julian, former Eddie and the Hot Rods member Lew Lewis, and Strummer's old friend and musical collaborator Tymon Dogg, who plays violin, sings on and wrote the track "Lose This Skin"; he later joined Strummer's band The Mescaleros. Mickey Gallagher's children also made appearances: his two sons, Luke and Ben, singing a version of "Career Opportunities" from the band's first album, and his daughter Maria singing a snippet of "The Guns of Brixton", from London Calling, at the end of the track "Broadway".
For the first time, the band's traditional songwriting credits of Strummer/Jones were replaced by a generic credit to "The Clash". This is also the only Clash album on which all four members have a lead vocal. Drummer Topper Headon made a unique lead vocal contribution on the disco song "Ivan Meets G.I. Joe", and bassist Paul Simonon sings lead on "The Crooked Beat".
Four singles were released from the Sandinista! sessions in the UK: "Bankrobber" (which did not appear on the album), "The Call Up", "Hitsville UK", and "The Magnificent Seven". The last deserves mention as possibly the first-ever British rap single and as one of the first rap singles by a white band.
The triple-LP set was, like London Calling, a subject of trickery towards the record company from the band. Two contradictory accounts of the release of the album exist. Some say that the Clash pulled the same trick a second time by saying they wanted to include a 12" single with their double album, and then getting 3 full-length discs pressed before executives became wise. Another belief is that The Clash surrendered all of their album royalties for the first 200,000 copies sold in order to make the 3-LP set a reality. Joe Strummer said in an interview by Judy McGuire for the Punk Magazine: "Well, now you're talking to a man who forewent the royalties on Sandinista! Regardless of which of these is true, either situation paints the band in a good light, putting their fans before and above any other involved entity.
A one-LP distillation of the album, called Sandinista Now!, was sent to press and radio. The side one track listing was "Police on My Back", "Somebody Got Murdered", "The Call Up", "Washington Bullets", "Ivan Meets G.I. Joe" and "Hitsville U.K.". The side two track listing was "Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)", "The Magnificent Seven", "The Leader", "Junco Partner", "One More Time" and "The Sound of Sinners".
The title comes from the left-wing guerilla organization of Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, who the previous year had overthrown the dictator Anastasio Somoza. The albums catalogue number 'FSLN1' refers to the acronym for Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional.
The song "Washington Bullets" was Clash lyric-writer Joe Strummer's most extensive--and most specific--political statement to date. In it, Strummer name checks conflicts or controversies from around the world; namely in Chile, Nicaragua, Cuba, Afghanistan and Tibet. (In reference to the first three, Strummer seems to side with what he sees as popular leftist movements or governments, while in the latter two, he sharply criticizes the policy of Moscow's and Beijing's communist governments for what he sees as their imperialist actions). The original Rolling Stone review of Sandinista! calls "Washington Bullets", along with "The Equaliser" and "The Call Up", "the heart of the album".
The original, 3-disc vinyl release of "Sandinista" included a tri-fold lyric sheet cleverly titled The Armagideon Times, no. 3 (a play on "Armagideon Time", a song from the EP Black Market Clash.) Armagideon Times, nos. 1 and 2 were Clash fanzines. The lyric sheet featured cartoons credited to Steve Bell, as well as hand-written (but still legible) lyrics of all songs. The 2-CD release contains a facsimile of the lyric sheet considerably reduced in size.
Joe Strummer once told Rolling Stone magazine that the concept for a triple-LP (a rarity in the rock music world) came from friendly competition with American artist Bruce Springsteen. When their earlier LP London Calling was released in 1980, critics said that Springsteen's upcoming double-disc album The River would outsell the Clash effort and wipe away any impact. Strummer's response was: "Right Bruce. Suck on this". The band then expanded Sandinista into a triple album.
The Sandinista! Project, a tribute to the album featuring The Smithereens, Camper Van Beethoven, Jon Langford (Mekons) and Sally Timms, Amy Rigby, Katrina Leskanich (Waves), Wreckless Eric, Willie Nile, Matthew Ryan, Stew, Sex Clark Five, Sid Griffin & Coal Porters, Haale, The Blizzard of 78 featuring Mikey Dread, Ruby on the Vine, and many others, was released on 15 May 2007, on the 00:02:59 Records (a label named after a lyric from the Sandinista! song "Hitsville U.K."). The album will also feature a collaboration by Soul Food and Mickey Gallagher on "Midnight Log".
Alternative Press (11/00, p.144) - Included in AP's "10 Essential Political-Revolution Albums"
CMJ (1/5/04, p.8) - Ranked #2 in CMJ's "Top 20 Most-Played Albums of 1981".
|1980||Billboard Pop albums||24|
|1980||"The Call Up"||UK Charts||40|
|1981||"Hitsville U.K."||UK Charts||56|
|1981||"Hitsville U.K."||U.S. Mainstream Rock Tracks||53|
|1981||"The Magnificent Seven"||UK Charts||34|
|1982||"The Magnificent Seven"||Billboard Club Play Singles||21|