Meaning of "London Calling" by The Clash
The Meaning Behind “London Calling” by The Clash
The Clash was one of the most influential bands of the punk rock movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were known for their political and social commentary, their musical experimentation, and their rebellious attitude. One of their most iconic songs is “London Calling”, the title track of their third studio album, released in December 1979.
The song was written by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, the co-founders and co-lead vocalists of the band. Strummer was inspired by the BBC World Service’s radio station identification: “This is London calling …”, which was used during World War II, often in broadcasts to occupied countries.
Strummer said: “We felt that we were struggling, under the sort of dead hand of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain in the late ’70s, and everything seemed to be closing down and going into a sort of … I don’t know, a sort of severe conservatism.” 5
The song reflects the band’s sense of urgency and anxiety about the state of the world at the time. It mentions various threats and disasters, such as nuclear war, environmental pollution, drug abuse, unemployment, and social decay. The chorus repeats the phrase “London is drowning / And I live by the river”, suggesting that the city is facing imminent doom and that the narrator is powerless to escape or change it.7
The song also expresses the band’s defiance and resilience in the face of adversity. It challenges the authority and legitimacy of the establishment, as well as the complacency and conformity of the mainstream culture. It declares that “the ice age is coming / The sun is zooming in / Engines stop running / The wheat is growing thin / A nuclear error / But I have no fear / ‘Cause London is drowning / And I live by the river”8 The song ends with a call to action: “Now get this / London calling / Yes I was there too / And you know what they said? / Well some of it was true! / London calling at the top of the dial / And after all this won’t you give me a smile? / London calling”.
The song was a critical and commercial success, reaching number 11 on the UK Singles Chart and number 89 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It was also ranked number 15 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in 2004. The song has been covered by many artists, including Bruce Springsteen, Green Day, U2, and The Pogues.
“London Calling” by The Clash is a song that captures the spirit and mood of a turbulent era in history. It is a song that speaks to the fears and frustrations of a generation that felt alienated and oppressed by the system. It is a song that celebrates the power and creativity of music as a form of resistance and expression. It is a song that has become a classic of rock music history.