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(s)||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 in 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, bass guitar in the studio, rhythm guitar in live performances
- Mick Jones - lead guitars, backing vocals
- Joe Strummer - rhythm guitar in the studio, bass guitar in live performances
- 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
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"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 was unable to play the bassline whilst 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.
Covers and samples
Norman Cook (a.k.a. Fatboy Slim) sampled the bass line for Beats International's 1990 song "Dub Be Good to Me", which became a #1 hit in the UK. 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."
Die Toten Hosen, a German punk band from Düsseldorf, covered the song in their MTV Unplugged session in Vienna. The song was released on the album, which went into the top ten in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and as a single which topped out on place 62 in the German charts.
Jimmy Cliff covered the song on his 2011 Sacred Fire EP, and 2012 album Rebirth produced by Tim Armstrong. Will Hermes has called the cover "the sound of history circling in wondrous ways", because the song references Cliff's character Ivan from the 1972 film The Harder They Come.
It's also covered on Nouvelle Vague's self-titled album of 2004.
|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.
- on YouTube
- Rachel, T. Cole. (11 August 2011). "Progress Report: Jimmy Cliff". Stereogum. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
- Hermes, Will (2012) "Jimmy Cliff Rebirth", Rolling Stone, 13 July 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
- "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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- Gruen, Bob; Chris Salewicz (2004) . The Clash (3rd ed.). London: Omnibus. ISBN 1-903399-34-3. OCLC 69241279.
- Needs, Kris (2005-01-25). Joe Strummer and the Legend of the Clash. London: Plexus. ISBN 0-85965-348-X. OCLC 53155325.
- Topping, Keith (2004) . The Complete Clash (2nd ed.). Richmond: Reynolds & Hearn. ISBN 1-903111-70-6. OCLC 63129186.