Singer Joe Strummer's mumbled vocals in the intro are famously hard to decipher. If you're struggling, the full transcript of these opening lyrics is as follows: "The kingdom is ransacked/the jewels all taken back/and the chopper descends/they're hidden in the back/with a message on a half-baked tape/with the spool going round/saying I'm back here in this place/and I could cry/and there's smoke you could click on..."
Before leading into the rousing chant of "What're we gonna do now?", a phrase lifted from Spike Milligan's TV comedy show Q5.
Cover versions of this song include Rage Against the Machine at various live shows, Indigo Girls on their 2005 Rarities album, The Strokes in 2004 concerts, Hot Water Music on the City Rockers tribute album, Sinisters on the Backlash tribute album, and Poster Children on their 2004 On the Offensive album. The Indigo Girls' cover also appears on the Clash tribute album, 1999's Burning London: The Clash Tribute.
The opening line of "Taking off his turban, they say is this man a Jew?" is commonly misunderstood, with some people claiming it was anti-Semitic. In fact, singer Joe Strummer, who co-wrote the song along with guitarist Mick Jones, was making a point about nationalistic stereotypes and illogical suspicion of foreign peoples in the rise of the far-right parties such as the National Front - this being written 30 years before the rise of the English Defence League.
The lyrics as a whole continue the themes previously explored in first-album track "Career Opportunities
," of striving to do more in life than be stuck in a dead-end job and conforming to your superiors, insisting "Let fury hath the hour, anger can be power."
The lyrics "So you got someone to boss around, it makes you feel big now" could have been suggested by bassist Paul Simonon after his experience working in a John Lewis warehouse. "There was a lot of shop floor fascism - I got the s--t end of the stick," he told Melody Maker
"Clampdown" went through several name-changes in it's inception, with an early demo version under the title Working and Awaiting appearing on the Vanilla Tapes bonus CD on the 25th Anniversary Edition of London Calling. It was apparently also briefly known as For F--ks Sake, before the lyrics were added and the title of Clampdown (a shortening of Working for the Clampdown) was settled on.
Joe Strummer claims that the "nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island got me started" on this song. The incident in question was a massive atomic accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, one that is referenced by name in the lyrics ('Yeah I'm working hard in Harrisburg... waiting to be melted down...').
The song was first played live by The Clash in Minneapolis in September 1979, and remained an integral part of their set until their breakup in 1985, being a firm favorite both for the band to play and for the fans. A fantastic live recording of the song from the Lewisham Odeon in February 1980 appears on the greatest hits compilation The Essential Clash, and the live footage of this performance was used as a music video for the song and later appears in the 2002 documentary film Westway to the World.