London Calling

Album: London Calling (1979)
Charted: 11
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  • 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 10 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. Strummer claimed the initial inspiration came in a conversation he 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.

    According to guitarist Mick Jones, it was a headline in the London Evening Standard that triggered the lyric. The paper warned that "the North Sea might rise and push up the Thames, flooding the city," he said in the book Anatomy of a Song. "We flipped. To us, the headline was just another example of how everything was coming undone."
  • The title came from the BBC World Service's radio station identification: "This is London calling..." The BBC used it during World War II to open their broadcasts outside of England. Joe Strummer heard it when he was living in Germany with his parents. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    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 underwater. Joe Strummer was living by the river, but in a high-rise apartment, so he would have been OK.
  • The line about the "a nuclear era, but I have no fear" 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 wrote this song in 1979 on their first US tour, then recorded it after returning to England. 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.
  • At the end of the song, a series of beeps spells out "SOS" in morse code. Mick Jones created these sounds on one of his guitar pickups.

    The SOS distress signal has often been used metaphorically in songs (like the 1975 Abba song), but in "London Calling" it's more literal, implying that the disaster has struck and we are calling for help.
  • 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 (March 16, 1991), 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, who snapped the photo.

    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 four 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 rumored 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."
  • According to Mick Jones, his guitar solo was played back backwards (done by flipping over the tape) and overdubbed onto the track.
  • 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 (2001), Billy Elliot (2000), Atomic Blonde (2017) 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!" (Mick Jones said the line was "aimed at the touristy soundalike rock bands in London in the late '70s.)

    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."
  • Joe Strummer does some ominous echoed cackling about two minutes into this song. He was essentially imitating a seagull, as heard on the Otis Redding song "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay."
  • 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.
  • Authorship of this song was credited to Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, but at some point the other two members of the band, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon, were added.
  • This was featured in the October 13, 2013 Funny Or Die episode, where a costumed Fred Armisen interviewed the real Mick Jones and Paul Simonon.
  • This was featured in the 1998 Friends episode "The One with Ross's Wedding: Part 1," when the gang arrives in London for Ross and Emily's nuptials.
  • A draft of Joe Strummer's handwritten lyrics published in The London Calling Scrapbook reveals these lines that didn't make the cut:

    The USA is sinking
    The world is shrinking
    The sun is blinking
    While I'm drinking
    The oil stops flowing
    The wheat stops growing
    The world stops knowing

Comments: 54

  • Pedro from PortugalHumm, that line is not against the Beatles. Its against the "mania". Like saying "hey, there are more bands, more music you know"
    Nothing special, not an attack against the Beatles. Only about the "mania"
    Probably inspired by that show.
    Good line, and I have Beatles CDs
  • Jim from NyNo, no, no. The "Phone Beatlemania" line is not about the band the Beatles. Joe and Mick had said it's about a show called "Beatlemania" that played in the West End and on Broadway where 4 actors played the Beatles. It was phony. It ran from 1977 to 1979 for a total of 1,006 performances. The Clash released this album in very late 1979. Thirteen years before 1979, girls screamed and mobbed the Beatles when they still played live. That was 13 to 16 years earlier. The phony "Beatlemania" was the show that had just closed the year London Calling was released. By the way, the show was successfully sued by Apple Corps.
  • Dave from Santa Fe, NmThe last line in the song "I never felt so much a' like a'like a'like" is a reference to a song written in 1956 called "Singing the Blues" by Melvin Endsley probably best known (by me anyway) as sung by Marty Robbins. It fits the rest of the song's dire allusions.
  • Haley from Berry College "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.
  • Karen from Mountain City, TnThe 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."
  • Deethewriter from Saint Petersburg, Russia FederationAnother 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 from Saint Petersburg, Russia FederationAs 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 Federation
  • Marcus from Fresno, Camusically 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.
  • Ross from Leicester, United KingdomJoe 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.
  • Rahul from Chennai, Indiabrilliant song..........absolutely genius....n the lyrics are breathtaking....the perfect punk rock song....
  • Brad from Long Island, NyHelp 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 day
  • Mairi from Cantsay, CanadaWhen 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.
  • Noah from Madison, WiThis song is an awesome song, with VERY easy chords on guitar.
  • Gogo from New Yrk, NyHey 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.
  • Allie from Clarkston, MiI love the simple guitar riffs, the backup singing sounds a little haunting
  • Vicky from Larissa, GreeceI love this song... CLASH is one of my favorite bands! I love listening to em..
  • Andrew from London, EnglandI 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 autograph
  • Matthew from Milford, MaHeh, 28 Days Later... that took place in England, didn't it?
  • Mike from Hillsboro, NjWhenever 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.
  • Pat from Reading, MaPascal
    Joe Strummer died
    can't long live a dead guy
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaMy 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"
  • Theresa from Pittsburgh, PaThough 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.
  • Dee from Northfield, IlWhat 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.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScIm 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.
  • Joshua from Twin Cities, MnThis 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.
  • Deep Thinka from Aberden, WaDanny, 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, :(
  • Ralph from Newton, MaI 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.
  • Micah from Mansfield, IlIn his 2005 tour, Bob Dylan suprised his audience, randomly singing the first first verse and chorus of this song at his London shows.
  • Danny from New City, NyWhat 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.
  • Don from Newmarket, CanadaThe video for this song is great. It really captures the mood.
  • Ace from Kingston , CanadaI 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 thanks
  • Nathan from Defiance, OhGod they are a great band, but this has got to be the most overrated songs ever.
  • Zachary from Charlotte, NcI 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.
  • Pascale from Perth, AustraliaJoe probably wrote these lyrics so we would have this exact dicussion about its implications Such a clever man he was. Long Live Joe strummer
  • Eiger from Washington Dc, MdWell 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.

  • Ross from Independence, MoThis is #15 in Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest songs.
  • Sarah from London, EnglandJumping 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"
  • Chicken from Lala Land, Cait 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.:)
  • Andy from Glasgow, ScotlandThis 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.
  • Stephen from Calgary, CanadaI 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.
  • Nessie from Sapporo, Japan"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.
  • Rose Marie from Valencia, SpainThis song appears in Billy Elliot, only it's butchered in it, the lyrics are all cut and jumbled up.
  • Mudassir from Bolton, EnglandJoe 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".
  • Shana from Pembroke, CanadaThe Clash is awesome, and this song is just wicked
  • Kai from Pleasent View, Utwhen 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
  • Jackie from Fairfield, CtTony 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!!
  • Brian from Toronto, CanadaUnfortunately >_<
  • Nick from San Francisco, Cawhat better song to start off the greatest album ever recorded. You heard me.
  • Vanessa from Barstow, CaWasn't Tony Kanal from No Doubt one of the guys in the 2003 tribute @ the Grammys for The Clash?
  • Andy from Halifax, EnglandThe 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 from Halifax, EnglandBrilliant.

    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
  • Jason Lee from New York, NyThis is such a great song. But does anyone now what the lyric london calling actually means?
  • Dave from Edmonton, CanadaAn awesome cover of this song was recorded by Canadian group Captain Tractor; it appears on their 1995 album "East of Edson"
  • Melissa from Lansing, MiGotta love The Clash
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