"London Calling" is a song by the British punk rock band The Clash. It was released as a single from the band's 1979 double album London Calling. This apocalyptic, politically charged rant features the band's famous combination of reggae basslines and punk electric guitar and vocals.

Writing and recording[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The song was written by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones. The title alludes to the BBC World Service's station identification: "This is London calling ...", which was used during World War II, often in broadcasts to occupied countries.[1][4][5]

The lyrics reflect the concern felt by Strummer about world events with the reference to "a nuclear error" to the incident at Three Mile Island, which occurred earlier in 1979. Joe Strummer has said: "We felt that we were struggling about to slip down a slope or something, grasping with our fingernails. And there was no one there to help us."[3][4]

The line "London is drowning / And I live by the river" comes from concerns that if the River Thames flooded, most of central London would drown, something that led to the construction of theThames Barrier.[3][4] Strummer's concern for police brutality is evident through the lines "We ain't got no swing / Except for the ring of that truncheon thing" as the Metropolitan Police at the time had a truncheon as standard issued equipment. Social criticism also features through references to the effects of casual drug taking: "We ain't got no high / Except for that one with the yellowy eyes".

The lyrics also reflect desperation of the band's situation in 1979 struggling with high debt, without management and arguing with their record label over whether the London Calling album should be a single- or double-album. The lines referring to "Now don't look to us | Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust" reflects the concerns of the band over its situation after the punk rock boom in England had ended in 1977.

Musically, the song is far removed from their earlier style of frenzied punk rock I-IV-V-I chord progressions, as best exemplified on songs like "Career Opportunities" and "I'm So Bored with the USA". The song is in a minor key — something The Clash had rarely used before — and the inherent dirge-like, apocalyptic feel is intensified by Topper Headon's martial drumming without backbeat, in synchrony with staccato guitar chords; Paul Simonon's haunting and pulsating bass line; the group's deliberate, mid-tempo pace; and Strummer's icy lyrics and baleful delivery. Strummer's howls during the instrumental break further fuel the atmosphere of paranoia.[original research?] Like many of the tracks on London Calling — including "The Card Cheat", "Revolution Rock", and "Jimmy Jazz" — the song doesn't end by resolving strongly to the tonic or fading out, as most rock and roll songs do. Instead, it breaks down eerily, with Joe Strummer's cryptic last words "I never felt so much a-like ..." echoing over Morse code feedback (the characters spelling out S-O-S).[3] In live versions of the song, Strummer sang a complete version of the final line, which is "I never felt so much a-like singing the blues".

"London Calling" was recorded at Wessex Studios located in a former church in Highbury in North London. This studio had already proved to be a popular location with The Sex PistolsThe Pretenders and the Tom Robinson band. The single was produced by Guy Stevens and engineered by Bill Price.[1][4]

Artwork[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Continuing the theme of the Elvis Presley-inspired London Calling LP cover, the single sleeve (front and back) is based on old RCA Victor (Elvis' label) 78 rpm sleeves. The cover artwork was designed by Ray Lowry and is identical to the RCA sleeve with the exception of changing the LP covers that the young teenage cover models are listening to. From left to right they are, The Beatles' debut Please Please MeNever Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex PistolsThe Rolling Stones debut, The Clash debut, Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited and finally the Elvis Presley debut LP.

Reissues[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The single has several issues, all with different covers. Four are from 1979 (catalog number: 8087; S CBS 8087; 128087; S CBS 8087). In 1988, was released a special limited edition box set containing three tracks, "London Calling" in the side one, "Brand New Cadillac" and "Rudie Can't Fail" in the side two, a poster and two badges (catalog number: CLASH B2). Two were released by CBS Records in 1991 (catalog number: 656946; 31-656946-22) both with "Brand New Cadillac" in the B-side, the second one has an additional track in the side two "Return to Brixton (Jeremy Healy 7" Remix)" (see the table below).[6]

Year B-side Format Label Country Note
1979 "Armagideon Time" 45 rpm 7" vinyl CBS S CBS 8087 UK Released on 7 December 1979; No. 2 for 1979, No. 37 overall.
  1. "Justice Tonight" (Version)
  2. "Kick It Over" (Version)
45 rpm 12" vinyl CBS 128087 UK A-side:

  1. "London Calling"
  2. "Armagideon Time".
1979 "Armagideon Time" 45 rpm 7" vinyl CBS S CBS 8087 UK Alternate cover.
1979 "Armagideon Time" 45 rpm 7" vinyl CBS 8087 NL
1980 "London Calling" 45 rpm 7" vinyl Epic 50851 USA A-side: "Train in Vain (Stand by Me)". Released on 12 February 1980.
  1. "Brand New Cadillac"
  2. "Rudie Can't Fail"
45 rpm 7" vinyl CBS CLASH 2 UK Box Set; Limited Edition
  1. "Brand New Cadillac"
  2. "Return to Brixton" (Jeremy Healy 7" Remix)
45 rpm 12" vinyl Columbia 31-656946-22 UK
1991 "Brand New Cadillac" 45 rpm 7" vinyl Columbia 656946 UK

Chart success and critical response[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"London Calling" was released as the only single in the UK from the album and reached No. 11 in the charts in December 1979,[2] becoming at once the band's highest charting single until "Should I Stay or Should I Go" hit No. 1 ten years later. The song did not make the US charts, as "Train in Vain" was released as a single and broke the band in the US, reaching No. 23 on the pop charts.

"London Calling" was the first Clash song to chart elsewhere in the world, reaching the top 40 in Australia. The success of the single and album was greatly helped by the music video shot by Don Letts showing the band playing the song on a boat (Festival Pier), next to Albert Bridge on the south side of the ThamesBattersea Park in a cold and rainy night at the beginning of December 1979.[7][8]

The single fell off the charts after 10 weeks, but later re-entered the chart twice, spending a total of fifteen non-consecutive weeks on the UK Singles Chart.

Over the years, "London Calling" has become regarded by many critics as the band's finest. In 2004, Rolling Stone rated the song as No. 15 in its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,[9][10] the highest position of the band and of any punk rock song. In 1989, the magazine also rated the album of the same name as the best album of the 1980s—although it was released in late 1979 in Britain, it came out in January 1980 in the USA.

"London Calling" was also ranked No. 42 on VH1's "100 Greatest Songs of the '80s". It was erroneously listed as being released in 1982, when it was fact released in 1979.[11] It is one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.[12]

Notable appearances and covers[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The Clash turned down a request from British Telecom to use the song for an advertising campaign in the early 1990s.[13] In 2002, the band incurred criticism when they sold the rights to Jaguar for a car advertisement. In an interview posted on his website, Strummer explained the reasons for the deal. "Yeah. I agreed to that. We get hundreds of requests for that and turn 'em all down. But I just thought Jaguar ... yeah. If you're in a group and you make it together, then everybody deserves something. Especially twenty-odd years after the fact."[14]

A version of the song was used as part of the countdown to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. There was some commentary, given the song's dystopian lyrics, of its appropriateness.[5]

The song was used for a 2012 British Airways advert, picturing a jet aeroplane taxiing through the streets of London passing numerous landmarks and parking outside the Olympic Stadium.[15]

Joe Strummer later became a DJ for the BBC World Service, on a program called "Joe Strummer's London Calling".[16]

The song was performed live twice by Bob Dylan during his November 2005 residency at London's Brixton Academy - a venue also linked with many classic Clash and Joe Strummer concerts.[17][18][19][20]

Charts[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Chart (1979) Peak


UK (Official Charts Company)[21] 11
Chart (1980) Peak


Irish Singles Chart[22] 16
U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play 30
Chart (1988, Re-release) Peak


UK (Official Charts Company)[21] 46
Chart (1991, 2nd re-release) Peak


Irish Singles Chart[22] 18
UK (Official Charts Company)[21] 64
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