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 Homage 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?"