"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 ...", that 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 social violence is evident through the lines "we ain't got no swing/ except for the ring of that truncheon thing". This is perhaps a reference to the London riots at the time. 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 / All that phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust" reflects the concerns of the band over its situation after the punk rock boom in England in 1977 had ended. While many took the line as a slam against the Beatles, another interpretation, offered at the time the song was released, suggested that this line referred not to the Beatles, but to the Broadway production, Beatlemania, which advertised itself as "Not the Beatles, But an Incredible Simulation." Hence, the line castigated late 1970s culture for its lack of substance, such as consuming "phoney Beatlemania," essentially a simulated, rather than actual, experience.
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 wolf-like howls or perhaps Rooster-like crows, during the instrumental break, further fuel the atmosphere of desolation and paranoia implied throughout the song.[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 Pete Townshend-inspired Morse code feedback (the characters spelling out S-O-S).
"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 Pistols, The Pretenders and the Tom Robinson band. The single was produced by Guy Stevens and engineered by Bill Price. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.