London Calling (song)
|Single by The Clash|
|from the album London Calling|
|Released||7 December 1979|
|Format||7" single/12" single|
|Recorded||August–September 1979, November 1979 at Wessex Studios|
|Writer(s)||Joe Strummer and Mick Jones|
|The Clash singles chronology|
"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
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.
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."
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 the Thames Barrier. 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.
30-second sample—with applied 3-second fadein and 3-second fadeout—of "London Calling" taken from London Calling.
|Problems playing this file? See media help.|
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). 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 hall in Highbury in North London. This studio had already proved to be a popular location with The Sex Pistols, The Pretenders and the Tom Robinson band. The single was produced by Guy Stevens and engineered by Bill Price.
- Joe Strummer - lead vocals, piano, rhythm guitar
- Mick Jones - backing vocals, guitars
- Paul Simonon - backing vocals, bass guitar
- Topper Headon - drums
- Joe Strummer - lead vocals, piano
- Mick Jones - guitars, harmonica, sound effects
- Paul Simonon - bass guitar
- Topper Headon - drums
- Mickey Gallagher - organ
Continuing the theme of the retro Elvis Presley-inspired London Calling LP cover, the single sleeve (front and back) is based on old Columbia 78 rpm sleeve. The cover artwork was designed by Ray Lowry and is identical to the Columbia sleeve with the exception of changing the blank 78 covers that the young teenage cover models are listening to classic Rock and Punk LP sleeves. From left to right they are, The Beatles' debut Please Please Me, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, The Rolling Stones debut, The Clash debut, Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited and finally the Elvis Presley debut LP.
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).
|1979||"Armagideon Time"||45 rpm 7" vinyl||CBS S CBS 8087||UK||Released on 7 December 1979; No. 2 for 1979, No. 37 overall.|
||45 rpm 12" vinyl||CBS 128087||UK||A-side:
|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.|
||45 rpm 7" vinyl||CBS CLASH 2||UK||Box Set; Limited Edition|
||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
"London Calling" was released as the only single in the UK from the album and reached No. 11 in the charts in December 1979, 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 Thames, Battersea Park in a cold and rainy night at the beginning of December 1979.
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, 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. It is one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
Notable appearances and covers
The Clash turned down a request from British Telecom to use the song for an advertising campaign in the early 1990s. 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."
Bruce Springsteen has performed the song several times, most notably at the 2003 Grammy Awards with Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl, and Steven Van Zandt in a tribute to Strummer, who had died just two months earlier, and at the 2009 Hard Rock Calling Festival in London with the E Street Band. The latter performance was released on Springsteen's London Calling: Live in Hyde Park concert DVD.
|1st||1979-12-151979||UK (Official Charts Company)||11|
|1980-01-061980||Irish Singles Chart||16|
|1980-03-301980||New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)||23|
|1980-??-??1980||US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play||30|
|2nd||1988-05-071988||UK (Official Charts Company)||46|
|3rd||1991-06-061991||Irish Singles Chart||18|
|1991-06-081991||UK (Official Charts Company)||64|
- Gilbert, Pat (2005) . Passion Is a Fashion: The Real Story of The Clash (4th ed.). London: Aurum Press. ISBN 1-84513-113-4. OCLC 61177239.
- Green, Johnny, and Barker, Garry (2003) . A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with The Clash (3rd ed.). London: Orion. ISBN 0-7528-5843-2. OCLC 52990890.
- Salewicz, Chris (15 May 2007). Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer (1st American ed.). New York: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-21178-X. OCLC 76794852.
- Gilbert 2005, pp. 233, 235, 238, 257, 260, 267.
- "BBC - Radio 2 - Sold On Song - Brits25 - London Calling" (SHTML). Radio 2, Sold On Song. bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2007-12-31.
a) "Taken from the Clash's stunning 1979 double album London Calling, the single showcased the band's trademark fusion of reggae bass lines with punk guitar and vocals."
b) "Reaching number eleven in December 1979, the song was the only track to be released as a single from their acclaimed London Calling album."
- Guarisco, Donald A. "London Calling - The Clash - Song Review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
- "London Calling by The Clash Songfacts" (PHP). songfacts.com. Retrieved 2007-12-31.
- "'London Calling', Repurposed as a Tourism Jingle : The Record". NPR. 30 July 2011. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
- "Albums by The Clash - Rate Your Music". rateyourmusic.com. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
- Green 2003, pp. 15–17.
- Salewicz 2007, p. 276.
- "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". RollingStone. 2004-12-09. Retrieved 2007-11-22. "15. London Calling, The Clash".
- "London Calling The Clash". The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. RollingStone. 2004-12-09. Retrieved 2007-11-22..
- "VH1'S '100 GREATEST SONGS OF THE '80S'" (JHTML). VH1. 2006-10-24. Retrieved 2007-12-31. "42 The Clash / 'London Calling' 1982".[dead link]
- "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll" (XHTML). The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Retrieved 2009-05-24. "The Clash - London Calling".[dead link]
- "The Uncut Crap - Over 56 Things You Never Knew About The Clash". NME (London: IPC Magazines) 3. 16 March 1991. ISSN 0028-6362. OCLC 4213418. "British Telecom wanted to use "London Calling" for their last advertising campaign. They were told to bog off"
- Walker, Rob (2002-09-15). "Brand new Jag". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 2002-10-04. Retrieved 2007-12-31.
- David Gianatasio (25 June 2012). "British Airways Doesn't Want Brits Flying". ADWEEK. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
- "The Sound of Strummer". Arts and Entertainment. BBC World Service.
- Pagel, Bill. "Bob Dylan - Bob Links - London, England Set List - 11/21/05". Retrieved 2008-02-13. "16. London Calling (incomplete - 1 verse)".
- Pagel, Bill. "Bob Dylan - Bob Links - London, England Set List - 11/24/05". Retrieved 2008-02-13. "15. London Calling (incomplete)".
- Jarnow, Jesse (2005-11-22). "'london calling' - bob dylan". Jesse Jarnow's Frank and Earthy Blog. wunderkammern27.com. Retrieved 2008-02-13. "Fly-by-night, lo-fi, punk-frickin'-rock recording of Dylan performing a solid minute of The Clash's 'London Calling' yesterday in London."[dead link]
- Ketchell, James. "Rockbeatstone Magazine - Bob Dylan - Brixton Academy, London - Live Review" (PHP). Rockbeatstone Magazine. Retrieved 2008-02-13.[dead link]
- "Clash". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
- "The Irish Charts". IRMA. Enter "London Calling" in Search by Song Title and click search.
- "Charts.org.nz – The Clash – London Calling". Top 40 Singles.
- "Australian-charts.com – The Clash – London Calling". ARIA Top 50 Singles.
- "Swedishcharts.com – The Clash – London Calling". Singles Top 60.