"The Sound of the Sinners" is a song that tackles a subject The Clash barely ever touched in their back catalogue: religion. "That's not a piss-take. I was thinking of LA and the great earthquake," lead singer Joe Strummer said in an interview with Bill Flanegan. "I had, 'After all those years to believe in Jesus,' he continued. "Topper (Headon, drummer) said 'How about drugs?' I thought about all those people who take too much LSD and end up in sanatoriums. Lots of them think they're Jesus."
This conversation is quoted directly in the lyrics, "After all this time to believe in Jesus, after all those drugs I thought I was Him." The song takes a sideways look at organized religion and belief systems, pointing out inequalities such as the church's need to raise it's own funds ("Holy rollers roll, give generously now") as well as biblical allusions such as the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 2-3, "That destroyed the walls of Jericho").
Around the time of the song's conception, many journalists were speculating as to whether the song's writer Joe Strummer had actually found religion properly. Several contemporary interviews hinted at this: "I believe in good and evil and that what you do will be returned to you" he told Mark Cooper in 1982. In another interview with Melody Maker he said, "I think a spiritual solution is just as important as a social one. Just solely talking about economics, I don't think it's enough."
Oddly, it took the song a good three years after its release on the Sandinista! album to find a place in The Clash's live repertoire, being played live all the way through 1983 with new drummer Pete Howard, including at their controversial US Festival appearance, which ended up being Mick Jones' last performance with the band.
Joe Strummer had noted that this is Elvis Costello's favorite Clash song.