"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 recordingEdit
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 theThames 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.
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 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.
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 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.