The Guns of Brixton
|"The Guns of Brixton"|
|Song by The Clash from the album London Calling|
|Released||14 December 1979|
|Recorded||August–September, November 1979 at Wessex Studios|
|Producer||Guy Stevens, Mick Jones|
"The Guns of Brixton" is a song by the English punk rock band The Clash. It was written and sung by bassist Paul Simonon, who grew up in Brixton, south London. The song has a strong reggae influence, reflecting the culture of the area, with a knowing nod to the classic reggae gangster film The Harder They Come.
Origins and recording
"The Guns of Brixton" was the first song recorded by the band to be composed by Paul Simonon and to feature him as lead vocalist. By London Calling, Paul Simonon had learned to play guitar, and started contributing more to the songwriting.
- "You don't get paid for designing posters or doing the clothes", he said in an interview published by Bassist Magazine on October 1990, "you get paid for doing the songs."
The band, separated from their manager Bernard Rhodes, had to leave their rehearsal studio in Camden Town and find another location. The band began work on London Calling during the summer of 1979 at the so-called Vanilla Studios in Pimlico. The band quickly wrote and recorded demos, and, in August 1979, entered Wessex Studios to begin recording the album. Produced by Guy Stevens, who at the time had alcohol and drug problems and whose production methods were unconventional, it was recorded within a matter of weeks, with many songs, including "The Guns of Brixton", recorded in one or two takes. It was also revealed that while recording the lead vocals for the song, Simonon sang the song while staring directly at a CBS executive who dropped by the studio during the sessions, giving Simonon the desired amount of emotion in his voice.
- Paul Simonon - lead vocals
- Mick Jones - backing vocals, lead guitars
- Joe Strummer - bass guitar
- Topper Headon - drums
- Mickey Gallagher - organ
Lyrics and meaning
"The Guns of Brixton" pre-dates the riots that took place in the 1980s in Brixton but the lyrics depict the feelings of discontent that were building due to heavy-handedness of the police that led to the riots, the recession and other problems at that time. The lyrics refer to a Brixton-born son of Jamaican immigrants who "feel[s] like Ivan...at the end of The Harder they Come", referring to Ivanhoe Martin's death as depicted in the 1972 film The Harder They Come. Paul Simonon was originally doubtful about the song's lyrics, which discuss an individual's paranoid outlook on life, but was encouraged to continue working on it by Strummer.
Return to Brixton
|"Return to Brixton"|
|Single by The Clash|
|The Clash singles chronology|
"The Guns of Brixton" was initially not released as a single. A section of "The Guns of Brixton", sung by a very young Maria Gallagher accompanied by her father, Mick, on the keyboard, appears as a reprise at the end of the song "Broadway" on the 1980 Clash's album Sandinista!. "The Guns of Brixton", taken from the remastered version of London Calling and remixed by Jeremy Healy, was released by CBS as a CD single, 7-inch vinyl and a 12-inch vinyl entitled "Return to Brixton" in July 1990 (catalog number 656072-2), and it reached number fifty-seven on the UK Singles Chart.
- The CD single track listing
- "Return to Brixton" — 3:47
- "Return to Brixton" — 6:55
- "Return to Brixton" (SW2 Dub) — 6:00
- "The Guns of Brixton" — 3:09
"The Guns of Brixton" was a mainstay in the band's set and when played live Simonon used to switch instruments with Joe Strummer (Simonon on rhythm guitar and Strummer on bass) because he felt uncomfortable playing the bassline and singing lead vocals at the same time.
A somewhat heavier, faster version than the one found on London Calling appeared on the live compilation From Here to Eternity: Live, released in 1999.
Dub Be Good to Me
Norman Cook (a.k.a. Fatboy Slim) sampled the bass line for Beats International's "Dub Be Good to Me". Simonon, interviewed by Scott Rowley on October 1999 for Bassist Magazine, said that he "was surprised that it became number one that was quite shocking. And the fact that it was my performance that they had lifted. The smart thing would've been to copy it and change it slightly, but they just lifted it straight off. So, really, I have done Top of the Pops, but I met up with Norman [Cook] and we came to an arrangement which was much needed at the time. But I thought it was a really good idea and it was quite reassuring for that to happen to my first song."
The song has been covered by numerous bands over the years, including Blaggers ITA, Arcade Fire, Unwritten Law, Dropkick Murphys, Rancid, Jeff Klein, The Bandits, Nouvelle Vague, Calexico, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eric McFadden Eric McFadden Trio EMT, Optimus Rhyme, My Red Hot Nightmare, German punk band Die Toten Hosen with and without Gentleman (see below), Argentine band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, The Libertines, Rupa & the April Fishes and the Italian singer Enrico Ruggeri.
In 1981, a German punk band named Soilent Grün used the melody of "The Guns of Brixton" for their song "Spitz wie Lumpi". Sydney-born band The Beautiful Girls released a cover version in 2003 entitled "Guns of Brixton / Dub Be Good to Me". Cypress Hill's 2004 hit "What's Your Number?" also sampled the bass line, as well as the guitar work, and featured Tim Armstrong of Rancid too.
It was also recorded by Die Toten Hosen for the single of "Freunde". Later it was covered on the 2005 unplugged concert and released as the second single from the album Nur zu Besuch: Unplugged im Wiener Burgtheater.
In 2006, MC Chris used "The Guns of Brixton" as a beat on the song "Blastic", from the album Dungeon Master of Ceremonies. San Francisco Bay Area rappers, Zion I and The Grouch sampled "The Guns of Brixton" in "Trigger" off their 2006 album Heroes in the City of Dope.
In January 2007, NME reported that The Good, the Bad and the Queen, which features Simonon on bass, ended the first set of their UK tour (Trinity Hall, Bristol) in promotion of their debut album with this song (and Simonon on vocals).
Polish street punk band The Analogs, Pidzama Porno on "Koncertówka 2. Drugi szczyt" played this song live since 2007 and with wind instruments on 2008 mini tour. Santogold covered the song in 2008 for her Top Ranking mixtape with Diplo. The lyrics were changed from Brixton to Brooklyn. Maurits Westerik, singer of the rockband GEM, also covered the song in 2008 during his session for the Dutch music project OnderInvloed.com.
In 2011, Jimmy Cliff included a cover of the song on the Sacred Fire EP, and it was also included on his 2012 album Rebirth, which is notable both because he played the lead in the film The Harder They Come and also because of his musical influence on The Clash. It is also featured on the album Build with San Francisco group Rupa & the April Fishes (2012)
|UK Singles Chart||57|
- Sweeting, Adam. (October 2004). "Death or Glory". Uncut. p. 67.
- Rowley, Scott. (October 1999), Interview with Paul Simonon. Bassist Magazine.
- Gilbert 2005, pp. 212-213.
- Green 2003, p. 156.
- Sweeting, Adam. "Death or Glory". (October 2004). Uncut. p. 58.
- Gilbert 2005, p. 235.
- Sinclair, Tom. (24 September 2004). "The Best Album of All Time". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 23 August 2009.
- The Clash - The Last Testament -Making of London Calling 2/3 on YouTube
- Calexico - The Guns of Brixton on YouTube
- "The Good The Bad And The Queen cover The Clash". 28 January 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-28.
- The Offspring Reno 06/19/10 Clash Cover video on YouTube.
- "Chart Stats - The Clash - Return To Brixton". chartstats.com. Retrieved 2009-08-23. "First appeared in chart (at position): 21/07/1990 (57). Last Seen in Chart (at position): 28/07/1990 (65). Length of time in chart: 2 weeks. Highest position in chart: 57"
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