In early 1980 singer Joe Strummer was approached by Jack Nitzsche, who was assembling the soundtrack and score to the William Freidkin movie Cruising, starring Al Pacino. Nitzsche asked Strummer to provide a heavy Rock song to the soundtrack. That evening Strummer arrived back at his flat in London to learn that a parking attendant in the area had been stabbed in an argument over a tiny amount of money (apparently five pounds). This incident inspired the lyrics to "Somebody Got Murdered." In the end, the song wasn't used in the Cruising score, so it went on the Sandnista! album.
Rather than write a straight-up Rock song, guitarist Mick Jones was inspired by the poignant sadness of the lyrics to experiment with the sounds, using a synthesizer on the recording and also singing the main vocals.
The guard dog that can be heard barking on the recording is drummer Topper Headon's dog, Battersea. "We wanted a guard dog sound," he remembers. "My dog wouldn't let anyone hit me, so we went into the studio, I held onto him and every time we wanted him to bark Joe would thump me!"
"Somebody Got Murdered" has the distinction of being the first Sandinista! song to be played live when The Clash performed it at the Roxy in LA in April 1980. It remained a live fixture right up until Mick Jones was fired from the band in 1983.
Two high-profile covers of this song exist: by Libertine (not to be confused with The Libertines) for the Backlash tribute compilation in the late 1990s, and by Clash friends The Specials in 1996.