The song was inspired by a conversation singer Joe Strummer was having with his then-girlfriend Gaby Salter on the way home from the studio one night about the Basque separatists who at the time were engaged in a bombing campaign against various holiday resorts on the Costa Del Sol. "There should be a song called 'Spanish Bombs' about it," noted Strummer. So he wrote one. Interestingly, this is very similar to how "London Calling" first came about.
This song deals with that uprising and parallels it with the Spanish Civil War, which devastated Spain from 1936-1939 and resulted in a dictatorship led by the Nationalist General Francisco Franco. Clash roadie Johnny Green was fascinated with that era of history and loaned Strummer numerous books on the subject, including George Orwell's A Home To Catalonia. Some of the references in the song:
Andalucia was one of the first regions of Spain to be overtaken by the fascists in 1936 ("Spanish songs in Andalucia").
Federico Lorca was a Republican poet from Andalucia who was killed during the rebellion ("Fredrico Lorca is dead and gone").
The Guardia Civil (or "Civil Guard") is a military police force under the control of both the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense of Spain ("The black cars of the Guardia Civil").
More contemporary references include DC-10 passenger aircraft ("I'm flying in a DC 10 tonight"), and Disco casinos and hotels ("Spanish weeks in my disco casino, the freedom fighters died upon the hill") which help to tie the dual themes together. Evidence that Strummer is drawing parallels with past and present is demonstrated in the lines "The hillsides ring with 'Free the people,' Or can I hear the echo from the days of '39?"
The Mexican band Tijuana No has covered this song.
Suggestion credit: Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 2
Regarding the lyrics: "They sang 'the red flag', they wore the black one," "The Red Flag" is a famous socialist anthem. "the black (flag)" refers to the chosen color of the anarchist movement. The lines "Back home the buses went up in flashes / The Irish tomb was drenched in blood" probably refer to the conflict with the IRA.
Joe Strummer wrote this when he barely knew any Spanish. In the liner notes to the album the lyrics are merely Spanish sounding gibberish: "Spanish bombs; yo t'quierro y nfinito. / Yot'quierro, o mi corazón." which don't make any sense at all.
Suggestion credit: Martin - Rostock, Germany, for above 2
Joe Strummer had some prior knowledge of the contemporary situation in Spain at the time, as his ex-girlfriend Paloma Romano's family were from Andalucia.
Guitarist Mick Jones was at the time broadening his influences on his guitar playing, and like in the similar song from London Calling "Jimmy Jazz," the influence of the Jazz/Blues guitarist Django Reinhardt is evident here.
First debuted in Atlanta in October 1979, this featured off and on in The Clash's live canon for the rest of their career but never regularly. When the band toured Spain in 1981 the song predictably went down a storm.