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"London Calling"
Single by The Clash
from the album London Calling
B-side "Armagideon Time"
Released 7 December 1979
Format 7" single/12" single
Recorded August-September 1979, November 1979 at Wessex Studios
Genre Punk rock
Length 3:18
Label CBS 8087
Writer(s) Joe Strummer and Mick Jones
Producer Guy Stevens
The Clash singles chronology
"Groovy Times"
"London Calling"
The Clash reissued singles chronology
"This Is England"
"London Calling" (rerelease)
"I Fought the Law" (rerelease)
The Clash extra singles chronology
"Rock the Casbah" (rerelease)
"London Calling" (2nd rerelease)
"Train in Vain" (rerelease)

"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.[1][2][3]


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.[1][4]

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."[3][4]

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.[3][4] 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.

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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. 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 Joe Walsh-inspired Morse code feedback (the characters spelling out S-O-S).[3] (In live versions of the song, Strummer sings 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.[1][4]


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 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.


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).[5]

Year B-side Format Label Country Note
1979 "Armagideon Time" 45 rpm 7" vinyl CBS S CBS 8087 UK Released on 7 December 1979; #2 for 1979, #37 overall.
  1. "Justice Tonight" (Version)
  2. "Kick It Over" (Version)
45 rpm 12" vinyl CBS 128087 UK A-side:
  1. "London Calling"
  2. "Armagideon Time".
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.
  1. "Brand New Cadillac"
  2. "Rudie Can't Fail"
45 rpm 7" vinyl CBS CLASH 2 UK Box Set; Limited Edition
  1. "Brand New Cadillac"
  2. "Return to Brixton" (Jeremy Healy 7" Remix)
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 #11 in the charts in December 1979.[2] 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 #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.[6][7]

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 #15 in its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time [8][9], 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 #42 on VH1's "100 Greatest Songs of the '80s". Though it was erroneously listed as being released in 1982, when it was fact released in 1979.[10] It is one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.[11]

A supergroup consisting of Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl, Steven Van Zandt, Pete Thomas, and Tony Kanal of No Doubt performed the song at the 2003 Grammy awards as a tribute after the death of Joe Strummer. Bruce Springsteen had earlier offered to join the band at the induction ceremony in 2002 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but the band had refused to play at the ceremony claiming that they did not want to play at a function where seats were upwards of $1,000, and would rather play for their fans. Bob Dylan also covered the song when performing at the Brixton Academy in November 2005, before merging it into 'Like a Rolling Stone', which was at number one on the Rolling Stone list.

Uses in advertising

  • The Clash turned down a request from British Telecom to use the song for an advertising campaign in the early '90s. [12]
  • 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."[13]
  • In 2008 the song appeared in trailers for The Bank Job.

Notable appearances

  • Joe Strummer later became a DJ for the BBC World Service, broadcasting in programmes entitled "Joe Strummer's London Calling".[14]
  • An earlier version of the song from The Vanilla Tapes, with noticeably different lyrics, was released with the London Calling Legacy Edition in 2004.
  • A live version of the song, recorded in Boston on 7 September 1982, was released on the 1999 album From Here to Eternity: Live.
  • The song was shortly featured in the films Face (1997), Bravo Two Zero (1999), Billy Elliot (2000), Ma femme est une actrice (2001), Die Another Day (2002), What a Girl Wants (2003), 28 Days Later (2003), and Shaun of the Dead (2004) (the song is also on the movie's soundtrack), as well as in an episode of Friends, shot in London, in the fourth season of the show.
  • On 30 March 2006, 23-year-old Harraj Mann, who is of Indian descent, was detained on terrorism suspicions at Durham Tees Valley Airport in Northern England as he tried to board a plane to London. The man had taken a cab to the airport and plugged his MP3 player into the cab's stereo, where he played "London Calling" ("London calling to the faraway towns, now war is declared and battle come down") and Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song". The lyrics aroused the driver's suspicions, and he alerted the authorities. The man was subsequently cleared, but he missed his flight.[15][16]
  • The last episode of the teen drama series Instant Star has been named with the name of the song.
  • British UFC fighter Michael Bisping used it for his ring walk music at some UFC events.
  • The character Killface from Frisky Dingo uses the catchphrase "London Calling" repeatedly.
  • It was the first song to be played on Top of the Pops in the Eighties, some sources say it was played on the chart rundown used at the beginning of the programme.

Cover versions

  • The song achieved the accolade of two live performances by Bob Dylan during his November 2005 residency at London's Brixton Academy - a venue also linked with many classic Clash and Joe Strummer concerts.[17][18][19][20]
  • Flogging Molly has played the song before they take the stage for a live show.
  • Bon Jovi performed the song when they played the last gigs at the old Wembley Stadium in 2000.
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers often use the intro to the song as an intro to "Right On Time", as heard on Live at Slane Castle and at Oxegen 2006.
  • The Business performed a cover on their album Under the Influence.
  • German band Beatsteaks uses the intro as an intro to "Hello Joe", a tribute to Joe Strummer.
  • Canadian band the Rheostatics frequently covered this song live in concert.
  • Ragga-metal band Skindred's song "The Fear" was strongly influenced by "London Calling". While the lyrics are different, the actual music is nearly identical.
  • American band The Calling also covered the song on their sophomore album "Two".
  • In the hit TV Show Gilmore Girls Lane's band sings the song during one of their performances
  • The movie Die Another Day features the song while the main villain parachutes from an airplane, granted with the line suggestive of police brutality excised.
  • Scouting For Girls covered this song at the London Olympic 2012 welcome party.
  • During the 2003 Grammy Awards, the song was covered by a super-group featuring Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt and Dave Grohl sharing vocals and guitar as a tribute to the recently departed Joe Strummer.
  • Additionally, Springsteen has covered the song live while performing with the E Street Band on multiple occasions.


Chart (1979) Peak
UK Singles Chart[21] 11
Chart (1980) Peak
Irish Singles Chart[22] 16
U.S. Billboard Club Play Singles 30
Chart (1988, Re-release) Peak
UK Singles Chart[21] 46
Chart (1991, 2nd re-release) Peak
Irish Singles Chart[22] 18
UK Singles Chart[21] 64


  • Gilbert, Pat (2005) [2004]. Passion Is a Fashion: The Real Story of The Clash (4th ed.). London: Aurum Press. ISBN 1845131134. OCLC 61177239. 
  • Green, Johnny, and Garry Barker (2003 [1997]). A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with The Clash (3rd ed.). London: Orion. ISBN 0752858432. OCLC 52990890. 
  • Salewicz, Chris (15 May 2007). Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer (1st American ed.). New York: Faber and Faber. ISBN 057121178X. OCLC 76794852. 


  1. ^ a b c Gilbert 2005, pp. 233, 235, 238, 257, 260, 267.
  2. ^ a b "BBC - Radio 2 - Sold On Song - Brits25 - London Calling" (SHTML). Radio 2, Sold On Song. Retrieved 2007-12-31. "a) Taken from the Clash's stunning 1979 double album [[London Calling]], the single showcased the bands' 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."
  3. ^ a b c d Guarisco, Donald A.. "London Calling - The Clash - Song Review". Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  4. ^ a b c d "London Calling by The Clash Songfacts" (PHP). Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  5. ^ "Albums by The Clash - Rate Your Music". Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  6. ^ Green 2003, pp. 15–17.
  7. ^ Salewicz 2007, p. 276.
  8. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". RollingStone. 2004-12-09. Retrieved 2007-11-22. "15. London Calling, The Clash" 
  9. ^ "London Calling The Clash". The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. RollingStone. 2004-12-09. Retrieved 2007-11-22. 
  10. ^ "VH1'S "100 GREATEST SONGS OF THE '80S"" (JHTML). VH1. 2006-10-24. Retrieved 2007-12-31. "42 The Clash / "London Calling" 1982" 
  11. ^ "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" 
  12. ^ "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.". 
    Related news articles: * Peterson, Tami. "The Uncut Crap - Over 56 Things You Never Knew About The Clash - NME 16 March 1991". Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  13. ^ Walker, Rob (2002-09-15). "Boston Globe Online / Sunday - Focus / Brand new Jag". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 2002-10-04. Retrieved 2007-12-31. "The Clash sell luxury goods By Rob Walker, 9/15/2002" 
  14. ^ The Sound of Strummer | Arts and Entertainment | BBC World Service
  15. ^ BBC NEWS | UK | England | Terror fear over Clash fan's song
  16. ^ Passenger Detained Over Song Choice - Yahoo! News
  17. ^ Pagel, Bill. "Bob Dylan - Bob Links - London, England Set List - 11/21/05". Retrieved 2008-02-13. "16. London Calling (incomplete - 1 verse)" 
  18. ^ Pagel, Bill. "Bob Dylan - Bob Links - London, England Set List - 11/24/05". Retrieved 2008-02-13. "15. London Calling (incomplete)" 
  19. ^ Jarnow, Jesse (2005-11-22). ""london calling" - bob dylan". Jesse Jarnow's Frank and Earthy Blog. 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." 
  20. ^ Ketchell, James. "Rockbeatstone Magazine - Bob Dylan - Brixton Academy, London - Live Review" (PHP). Rockbeatstone Magazine. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  21. ^ a b c "Chart Stats - The Clash". Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  22. ^ a b "The Irish Charts". IRMA. Retrieved 2008-10-02. 

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