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London Calling by The Clash

Album: London CallingReleased: 1979Charted:
11
  • This is an apocalyptic song, detailing the many ways the world could end, including the coming of the ice age, starvation, and war. It was the song that best defined The Clash, who were known for lashing out against injustice and rebelling against the establishment, which is pretty much what Punk Rock was all about.

    Joe Strummer explained in 1988 to Melody Maker: "I read about ten news reports in one day calling down all variety of plagues on us."
  • Singer Joe Strummer was a news junkie, and many of the images of doom in the lyrics came from news reports he read. The initial inspiration came in a conversation Strummer had with his then-fiancee Gaby Salter in a taxi ride home to their flat in World's End (appropriately). "There was a lot of Cold War nonsense going on, and we knew that London was susceptible to flooding. She told me to write something about that" noted Strummer in an interview with Uncut magazine.
  • The title came from the BBC World Service's radio station identification: "This is London calling..." The BBC used it during World War II. (thanks, Stefan - Houston, TX)
  • The line, "London is drowning and I live by the river" came from a saying in England that if the Thames river ever flooded, all of London would be under water. Joe Strummer was living in a high-rise apartment, so he would have been OK.
  • The line about the "Nuclear Error" was inspired by the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor meltdown in March, 1979. This incident is also referred to in the lyrics to "Clampdown" from the same album.
  • The Clash recorded this album after returning to England from a short US tour. The band was intrigued by American music as well as its rock'n'roll mythology, so much so that the album cover was a tribute to Elvis Presley's first album.
  • This was recorded at Wessex Studios, located in a former church in the Highbury district of North London. Many hit recordings had already come out of this studio, including singles and albums by the Sex Pistols, The Pretenders and the Tom Robinson Band. Chief engineer and studio manager Bill Price had developed a slew of unique recording techniques suited to the room.

    Fellow Punk band The Damned were recording overdubs to their album Machine Gun Etiquette in the studio, and as they were old touring buddies of The Clash they roped Strummer and Mick Jones into record backing vocals for the title song to their album - the shouted lines of "second time around!" in that song are actually Strummer and Jones in uncredited cameos.

    Interestingly, the band initially wrote most of the London Calling album at the Vanilla rehearsal studios near Vauxhall Bridge in London. Roadie Johnny Green explained: "It had the advantage of not looking like a studio. Out front of a garage. We wrote a sign out front saying 'we ain't here.' We weren't disturbed."

    With a great vibe going in the studio and having already recorded some demos with The Who's soundman Bob Pridden, Strummer had the crazy idea to record the entire album there and bypass expensive studio time. CBS refused point blank, so Wessex was chosen because it had a similar intimacy to Vanilla. The original Vanilla demos were made available on the 25th anniversary edition of London Calling.
  • London Calling was a double album, but it wasn't supposed to be. The band were angry that CBS had priced their previous EP, The Cost of Living at £1.49, and so in the interests of their fans they insisted that London Calling be a double LP. CBS refused, so the band tried a different tactic: how about a free single on a one-disc LP? CBS agreed, but didn't notice that this free single disc would play at 33rpm and contain eight songs - therefore making it up to a double album! It then became nine when "Train in Vain" was tacked on to the end of the album after an NME single release fell through. "Train" arrived so late on that it isn't on the tracklisting on the album sleeve, and the only evidence of its existence is a stamp on the run-out groove and its presence on the end of side four. So in the end, London Calling was a 19-song double-LP retailing for the price of a single!
  • Rolling Stone magazine named London Calling the best album of the '80s. Pedantic readers noted that it was first released in the UK in December 1979. In the US it was released two weeks into January 1980, meaning that from a US perspective, it's a 1980s album. And if anyone can come up with a better alternative to best album of the '80s, Rolling Stone would love to hear from you!
  • According to NME magazine (3/16/91), we know that Paul Simonon smashed his bass guitar - as photographed on the cover of the album - at exactly 10:50 pm. This is because he broke his watch in the process and handed the busted bits to photographer Pennie Smith.

    Smith thought the photo wouldn't be good for an album cover, citing that it was too blurry and out of focus. "I was wrong!" she admitted in the Westway to the World documentary!
  • As a tribute to Clash singer/guitarist Joe Strummer, who died in 2002, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Elvis Costello and Little Steven Van Zant played this at the close of the 2003 Grammys as a tribute to the band. All 4 played guitar and took turns on vocals. The Grammys is the type of commercialized event The Clash probably would have avoided, although they did win their first Grammy that night when "Westway To The World" won for Best Long Form Music Video.
  • In 2003, The Clash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and it was rumoured that Bruce Springsteen would join them to perform at the ceremony. The classic lineup of Strummer/Jones/Simonon/Headon were in talks to reunite to perform at the ceremony and play on stage for the first time since 1982, but Simonon was always against a reunion. In the end, Strummer's death in December 2002 put paid to the reunion of the original lineup, and the remaining members declined to play. Said Simonon: "I think it's better for The Clash to play in front of their public, rather than a seated and booted audience."
  • This is one of the most popular Clash songs, and has been used in many commercials and soundtracks. It was used in promos counting down the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, as well as the film soundtracks for Intimacy, Billy Elliot, and the James Bond movie Die Another Day (2002).
  • The lyrics contain an observation about how society often turns to Pop music to make them feel better about world events, and how The Clash didn't want to become false idols for folks looking for escapism. This can be heard in the line, "Don't look to us - phoney Beatlemania (a reference to The Beatles' massive fanbase in the 60s) has bitten the dust!"

    There's also a subtle reference to Joe Strummer's brush with Hepatitis in 1978 with the mention of "yellowy eyes."
  • A check of the archives reveals that this song - hailed by many music journalists as a monumental track - received far from unanimous praise from critics when it was released. David Hepworth in Smash Hits criticized the band for playing too loud in the studio. "Why won't Joe Strummer let us hear more than one word in every three? Until they face those elementary facts, sides like 'London Calling' will always fail to condense all that fury and grandeur into a truly great record," he wrote.

    The sales figures and continuing popularity of the song suggest that not many other people had the same problem!
  • The video was filmed at Cadogan Pier, next to the Albert Bridge in Battersea Park in London. It was directed by longtime friend of the band Don Letts, and made on a wet night in December 1979 which sees the band performing on a barge. Letts didn't have a happy time doing the video. He explained:

    "Now me, I am a land-lover, I can't swim. Don Letts does not know that the Thames has a tide. So we put the cameras in a boat, low tide, the cameras are 15 feet too low. I didn't realize that rivers flow, so I thought the camera would be bouncing up and down nicely in front of the pier. But no, the camera keeps drifting away from the bank. Then it starts to rain. I am a bit out of my depth here, but I'm going with it and The Clash are doing their thing. The group doing their thing was all it needed to be a great video. That is a good example of us turning adversity to our advantage."
  • Many cover versions of this song have been recorded, including variants by One King Down, Stroh, and the NC Thirteens. Bob Dylan covered the song during his 2005 London residency, and Bruce Springsteen has followed up from his performance of the song at the 2003 Grammys by performing it at some of his concerts, including on his 2009 London Calling: Live in Hyde Park DVD, which is named after the song.
  • In late 1991, the Irish folk-punk band The Pogues sacked lead singer Shane MacGowan just at the height of their fame. Joe Strummer, by now well split up from The Clash, agreed to take over on vocals for a couple of years until he departed in 1993 on good terms - he didn't want to be the permanent replacement for MacGowan and wanted to do his own thing. During his time with the Pogues, the band would often play a searing version of "London Calling" at live shows. Like many strong Clash songs, Strummer took it with him to play with his solo band the Mescaleros in the late 1990s.
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Comments: 51

"London Calling" has been featured in several tourism and airline commercials promoting the city of London, as well as a Jaguar commercial. It was also featured in the October 13, 2013 Funny Or Die episode where a costumed Fred Armisen interviewed the real Mick Jones and Paul Simonon. This song has also been covered by Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.Haley - Berry College
The voices in my head are signing this today: "London, London...meeting in London to fight for the sar. Freedom can't be for free...There's still HOPE for me."Karen - Mountain City, Tn
Another Double Tribite to The Clash - by ANAL c--t--"Rancid Sucks (and The Clash Sucked Too)": Of course, it's not quite as good as the same band's "Eazy E got AIDS from F Mercury": "Ska is gay, Reggae is gay / You're f--king gay and you're not punk / You say you hate corporations, but you were on NBC / London's Calling and they're calling you gay…"Deethewriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation
As Tribute, listen MIA's "Paper Planes" with its "Straight To Hell" sample for further Clash referencing: "London Calling / Speak the slang now / Boys say wha' / Come on girls say what, say wha'…" - DeeTheWriter - Saint Petersburg, Russian FederationDeethewriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation
musically wise, punk is a rip off. its only repeating 3 chords over and over really fast with no direction and no solos. but punk lyrics are bad ass thoughj so it all evens out.Marcus - Fresno, Ca
Joe himself once explained that the song was about the fact that (as he saw it) punk had died and he wanted to see something new happening - "the faraway towns" is most likely just the rest of the UK outside London.
As for "phoney Beatlemania" the line before is "don't look to us" so I would say it is saying don't put the Clash on a pedestal in the way that the Beatles had been(the Clash were obviously not as big as the Beatles but were being treated as some kind of "spokesmen for a generation").
The chorus lists a series of disasters being warned of in the media - and Joe pointing out that the risk of Thames flooding was a bit more immediate for him(again this was his own explanation in a 1983 rado interview.
As with many Clash songs a lot of different ideas have been thrown together in one song which was typical of Joe's lyrical style.
Ross - Leicester, United Kingdom
brilliant song..........absolutely genius....n the lyrics are breathtaking....the perfect punk rock song....Rahul - Chennai, India
Help me out gogo from NY, what the heck r u saying? If your point is that there is no apocolypse coming, I think you have stumbled upon Strummer's intent. He was satirizing the constant bombardment of negative images in the news, if anything, he was agreeing with you in a lot of ways. By the way, while Strummer and the band were obviously anti govt and establishment and all that, Joe often said that he never claimed he had all the answers to the problems of the dayBrad - Long Island, Ny
When they said "phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust", they may have been talking about the broadway show "Beatlemania" which ran for a time in the seventies.Mairi - Cantsay, Canada
This song is an awesome song, with VERY easy chords on guitar.Noah - Madison, Wi
Hey people..... The clash is by the way the most ambitious band along w/the sex pistol. They pretend not to like the beatles and make a fool out of it to attract critics and listeners. A typical style of a new comer to have a vast audience. They make a fool to a popular band to show what are their style. but hey wheres the punk right now? London calling is a mass hypocrite lyrics theres no apocalyptic on it its just a copy cut of what they call unti-government movement. Theres no magic on it.Gogo - New Yrk, Ny
I love the simple guitar riffs, the backup singing sounds a little hauntingAllie - Clarkston, Mi
I love this song... CLASH is one of my favorite bands! I love listening to em..Vicky - Larissa, Greece
I was on holiday in Russia in January 1978 (then the Soviet Union) and there was this punk rocker with his girl friend in our party. I saw him a couple of weeks later on TV: it was Paul Simonon from the Clash. My mates at work were lived that I never got his autographAndrew - London, England
Heh, 28 Days Later... that took place in England, didn't it?Matthew - Milford, Ma
Whenever I watch "28 Days Later" it reminds me of the "zombies of death" line. I guess it's cuz it's about the end of the world and zombies and London.Mike - Hillsboro, Nj
Pascal
Joe Strummer died
can't long live a dead guy
Pat - Reading, Ma
My two cents on the "Phony Beatlemania" line: I believe that the Clash were too hardcore not for the Beatles, who were rebelling in their own right, but the earlier Beatles whom they believed sold out to the Government and General Institutions ("Beatlemania was prior to the "Hippie Beatles"). Strummer is saying "That's over. As punk rockers, we hate the government. Screw you guys"Johnny - Los Angeles, Ca
Though it was listed at #7 on Rolling Stones list of best rock albums of all time, this album is #1 to me. From the first guitar licks of London Calling to the last drumbeat of Train In Vain, you will not find a better album.Theresa - Pittsburgh, Pa
What Joe Strummer meant by the line "London is drowing and I live by the River", is that if the Thames river, which flows through London rose, the whole city of London would be underwater. However, Strummer would survive since he lived in a high rise apartment near the river.Dee - Northfield, Il
Im love the line "London is drowning, but I live by the river." My cousin Nd I were listening to her I-pod, and when she heard that line, she asked me what it meant. I wasn't sure how to explain it. It's definitely a metaphor though.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
This song appears in the 2002 James Bond movie Die Another Day during a montage of Bond on his return flight from Havana to London, while his flamboyant nemesis Gustav Graves also lands in the city on a parachute.Joshua - Twin Cities, Mn
Danny, New City, NY: what the clash means (or better yet, what Joe Strummer means) by "phony beatlemania has bitten the dust" means that the clash as we all known was a punk band, along with the sex pistols and the ramones, they were REAL punk rock, they were rebellious and tough, most of the memebers from the clash came from london but one of them came from Turkey. basicaly yes, they were not exactly fans of peace and love and all aspects having to do with the beatles, they were trying to start a revolution hence, "revolution rock", 'it is a brand new rock' (one of their songs on london calling.) They didnt like mainstream rock like The Beatles, they wanted "new rock," Jonny Rotten (from the Sex Pistols) also was nopt exactly a big fan of The Beatles, there is a picture of him sticking gum on Ringo's face with his middle finger on a poster of the Beatles. The Ramones then came along a little later and as Joey Ramone once said, "we were anti-glam." Which, in my opinon is an awesome, I also think that punk rock is dead, along with grunge, none of the bands today have not exactly quite grasped the meaning of "punk rock," and sadly i do not think they ever will, :(Deep Thinka - Aberden, Wa
I agree with Nick-Greatest Album Ever!!! Let me add-Greatest Band Ever. And I agree with Nathan-It's not even close to the best song on the album. Maybe it's just cuz I've heard it too many times but I'd say it's among my 2 or 3 least favorite on the album.

Having Springsteen sing this as a tribute is the ultimate insult to punk rock. I even read some typical nitwit in Rolling Stone who wrote that Springsteen showed what punk was all about!!!!! WTF!!!!

As I heard Pete Hamill say once, the people who write there think Springsteen goes to the factory every morning and puts in a full day then does his music at night.
Ralph - Newton, Ma
In his 2005 tour, Bob Dylan suprised his audience, randomly singing the first first verse and chorus of this song at his London shows.Micah - Mansfield, Il
What do they mean by Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust. I guess they weren't fans of the peace/love thing because it was too unrealistic. I'm just guessing so if that's it, I didn't know for sure.Danny - New City, Ny
The video for this song is great. It really captures the mood.Don - Newmarket, Canada
I think what you have all said is right and Im sure that the song has the meaning of these things. However, I think alot of you have overlooked the fact that this song describes the battle of britain fought in WW2 against Nazi Germany. When it says "London Calling to the far away towns" it is talkin about how Germany constantly bombed London and since Germany occupied most of Europe, Britain had to call on "far away towns" for help. When the song says "Now war is declared, and battle come down" This is refering to how Germany constantly bombed Britain (London) at night the battle was coming down on them. Also it says "London Calling to the underworld come out of the cupboard u boys and girls" this is talking about the citizins of London would hide undergroud in the subway to get away from the bombings in London and often people would put their little "boys and girls" in the subway. When the songs says "Now dont look to us" this is reference to how most of the world at this point looked to Britain to be the muscle in a war and win it for the allies, many European countries (including France the 2nd powerhouse) had fallen to Nazi Germany and Britain had constant bombing and was trappped on the island so the world coulnt look to them to save them. I am not saying the whole song is about this but thats what the start of it is .. If u read this thanksAce - Kingston , Canada
God they are a great band, but this has got to be the most overrated songs ever.Nathan - Defiance, Oh
I liked the Clash while they lasted, they were great for those 6 or so years they were around with songs that could make you dance, and think all at once. To bad they didn't last.Zachary - Charlotte, Nc
Joe probably wrote these lyrics so we would have this exact dicussion about its implications Such a clever man he was. Long Live Joe strummerPascale - Perth, Australia
Well as far as what LONDO CALLING really means you're all wrong.:)

"London Calling" alludes to the BBC World Service's station identification: "This is London calling...", that was used during World War II, often in broadcasts to occupied countries.
Eiger - Washington Dc, Md
This is #15 in Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest songs.Ross - Independence, Mo
Jumping on the tube today, after the London Bombing, this came on random on my walkman. Great taunting anti-terrorist statement in the first verse!

"London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared, and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls"
Sarah - London, England
it sounds like they're talking about The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, if you want to know about it i suggest reading a summary about it, the actual book is horrid boring but i had to read it for school, and everything but the nuclear error makes sense.:)Chicken - Lala Land, Ca
This song is just one of the many by The Clash that was so in touch with what was happening in the world, during there illustrious career.Clampdown & Radio Clash to name just two others.Not to mention Rock The Casbah,which in hindsight would have been an appropriate song.Only this song came out roughly 10 years before the first Gulf War.The Clash were absolutely essential to the world of music!!Nuf said.Andy - Glasgow, Scotland
I see a lot of cynical references to sensationalism in television news in the lyrics. The lines "London Calling, at the top of the dial, and after all this, won't you give me a smile?" means to me that doomsday is all over the news, that you can't escape it, and Strummer seems to be ironically asking people to keep smiling after the apocalypse. As stated above, he seems to be calling people to the battle "come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls," but the entire thing smacks of irony, possibly from the fact that he makes references to London's "swing" as the "ring of the truncheon thing." A truncheon is an old-fashioned term for a billy club, a weapon carried by police officers in London. The song can be interpreted on several levels, as being against authority, or possibly just mocking the fact that the world's end is constantly hypothesized in the news. Interesting social commentary for a song which is followed up by a man's lament to his woman's Brand New Cadillac.Stephen - Calgary, Canada
"This is such a great song. But does anyone now what the lyric london calling actually means?" (Jason Lee)

London is calling for help from the rest of the world, because of aforesaid apocalypse.
Nessie - Sapporo, Japan
This song appears in Billy Elliot, only it's butchered in it, the lyrics are all cut and jumbled up.Rose Marie - Valencia, Spain
Joe once did a radio documentary on the BBC where he explained what this song was about. At the time, there were many 'doom prophecies' being put forward by the intellectuals and scientists, many of them contradictory (eg the sun is zooming in, yet the ice age is coming?!). Joe was making fun of these people, while also urging the punks to drop the cliches and expand their horizons a bit. At the time he was living at his gfs flat in a tower block on the worlds end estate, which is right by the thames river, and they had just built the thames flood barrier so he was theoretically safe, hence "london is drowning but i live by the river".Mudassir - Bolton, England
The Clash is awesome, and this song is just wickedShana - Pembroke, Canada
when paul simmon smashed his bass at the concert a chunk of the bass flew almost and about hit one of the roadies johnny green

the clash rock
Kai - Pleasent View, Ut
Tony Kanal was the one playing bass at the Grammy tribute, but he was standing in the back and he was not acknowledged in some of the promotional clips the tv network aired when they talked about "an all star tribute to the clash". This is a bit of a shame considering Tony Kanal is abviously a big fan of the clash (he wore a clash t shirt in the no doubt video for "running", and the entire song is based on one of the most iconic bass lines of all time!!Jackie - Fairfield, Ct
Unfortunately >_<Brian - Toronto, Canada
what better song to start off the greatest album ever recorded. You heard me.Nick - San Francisco, Ca
Wasn't Tony Kanal from No Doubt one of the guys in the 2003 tribute @ the Grammys for The Clash?Vanessa - Barstow, Ca
The cover of this album is an iconic picture of bass player Paul Simonon smashing his bass live on stage.

The photographer said on live TV in england, when asked about the photo, " I went over to that side of the stage because Paul was lookin bit P*ssed off"
Andy - Halifax, England
Brilliant.

I always thought it was a call to arms.

(im quoting this from memory)

London calling, now battle comes down, get out of the cupboard you girls and boys. not sure though
Andy - Halifax, England
This is such a great song. But does anyone now what the lyric london calling actually means?Jason Lee - New York, Ny
An awesome cover of this song was recorded by Canadian group Captain Tractor; it appears on their 1995 album "East of Edson"Dave - Edmonton, Canada
Gotta love The ClashMelissa - Lansing, Mi