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Music / London Calling

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"London calling, at the top of the dial
And after all this, won't you give me a smile?"

London Calling is the third studio album by The Clash, released in late 1979. It is arguably their most popular and most critically acclaimed album, and it established the band as one of the most diverse and talented Post-Punk artists in the world. The songs drew from styles as diverse as Jazz, Ska, and Rockabilly, the latter of which led to the font of the album cover to be similar to Elvis Presley's debut.

The band began to take the recording sessions pretty seriously, and would spend long hours in the studio working on each track. Motivated to remain true to a Punk Rock aesthetic while branching out toward newer styles, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones drew from more personal accounts and dynamic musicality rather than the signature protest songs with which they had been associated. While maintaining solid political stances in songs such as "London Calling" and "Spanish Bombs", the band spoke out against consumerism and homogeneity in songs such as "Death or Glory" and "Clampdown". London Calling both codified the trajectory of The '70s Punk movement and also displayed the genre's mainstream accessibility.

The result effectively demonstrated The Clash's ability to evolve rapidly and successfully. London Calling is the subject of the book Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and the Making of London Calling by Marcus Gray, who exhaustively compiled interviews and information about the record in order to provide a new appreciation for The Clash and its work.


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    The original 1979 double-LP 

LP One

Side One
  1. "London Calling" (3:19)
  2. "Brand New Cadillac" (2:09)
  3. "Jimmy Jazz" (3:52)
  4. "Hateful" (2:45)
  5. "Rudie Can't Fail" (3:26)

Side Two

  1. "Spanish Bombs" (3:19)
  2. "The Right Profile" (3:56)
  3. "Lost In The Supermarket" (3:47)
  4. "Clampdown" (3:49)
  5. "The Guns Of Brixton" (3:07)

LP Two

Side Three
  1. "Wrong 'Em Boyo" (3:10)
  2. "Death Or Glory" (3:55)
  3. "Koka Kola" (1:46)
  4. "The Card Cheat" (3:51)

Side Four

  1. "Lover's Rock" (4:01)
  2. "Four Horsemen" (2:56)
  3. "I'm Not Down" (3:00)
  4. "Revolution Rock" (5:37)
  5. "Train In Vain" (3:09)

Note: CD releases are on a single disc.

    Bonus Tracks (The Vanilla Tapes): 
  1. "Hateful"
  2. "Rudie Can't Fail"
  3. "Paul's Tune"
  4. "I'm Not Down"
  5. "Four Horsemen"
  6. "Koka Kola, Advertising And Cocaine"
  7. "Death Or Glory"
  8. "Lover's Rock"
  9. "Lonesome Me"
  10. "The Police Walked In 4 Jazz"
  11. "Lost In The Supermarket"
  12. "Up-Toon"
  13. "Walking The Slidewalk"
  14. "Where You Gonna Go (Soweto)"
  15. "The Man In Me"
  16. "Remote Control"
  17. "Working And Waiting"
  18. "Heart And Mind"
  19. "Brand New Cadillac"
  20. "London Calling"
  21. "Revolution Rock"

Principal Members:

  • Topper Headon - drums, percussion
  • Mick Jones - guitar, lead vocals, piano, harmonica
  • Paul Simonon - bass, backing and lead vocals
  • Joe Strummer - lead vocals, guitar, piano
  • Guy Stevens - Record Producer

London is troping and I, I live by the river!:

  • Advert-Overloaded Future: Consumerism is criticized in numerous tracks on this album, especially in "Lost in the Supermarket", which criticizes the proliferation of products into daily life.
  • Alliterative Title: "Jimmy Jazz", "Koka Kola".
  • Anti-Love Song: "Train in Vain".
    Did you stand by me?
    No, not at all
    Did you stand by me?
    No way
  • Anti-Police Song: "Guns Of Brixton".
    When the law breaks in
    How you gonna go?
    Shot down on the pavement
    Or waiting on death row?
  • Apocalypse How: London floods in "London Calling" as a result of a nuclear error.
  • As the Good Book Says...: "Four Horsemen" is about the Apocalypse, as referred to in The Bible.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis/Growing Up Sucks: Young people abandon their old passion and "Death Or Glory" becomes just another story — a rebel who sleeps with nuns eventually joining the church or a pacifist growing up to become a child abuser. Coming from a Punk Rock band branching into several styles at once, it could be read as a pre-emptive defence against accusations of selling out.
  • Big Brother Is Employing You: Or as the Clash put it, "you're working for the clampdown!"
  • Britain Is Only London: Subverted, since the album does make reference to the simple Oop North folk and the lower-class, as well as consumerism.
  • Cover Version: "Brand New Cadillac", by '50s rockers Vince Taylor and His Playboys, "Wrong 'Em Boyo" by The Rulers, "Revolution Rock" by Danny Ray and the Revolutionaries. "Wrong 'Em Boyo" also opens with a couple of verses of the traditional "Stagger Lee".
  • Do Not Go Gentle: "The Guns Of Brixton"
    When they kick down your front door, how you gonna come
    With your hands on your head or on the trigger of your gun?
  • Drunk with Power: Mentioned in "Four Horsemen":
    Well they gave us everything for bending the mind
    And we cleaned out their pockets and we drank 'em blind
    It's a long way to the finish so don't get left behind by those horsemen
  • Easter Egg: Alongside the usual matrix number, the double LP had a message etched into the run-out grooves one word at a time: "TEAR... DOWN... THE... WALLS!"
  • El Spanish "-o": In his ad-lib at the end of "Revolution Rock" Strummer refers to the band as El Clash Combo.
  • Fake-Out Opening: "Wrong 'Em Boyo" starts off with a verse of the traditional song "Stagger Lee" before stopping and restarting with the real song (though the story of Stagger Lee and Billy gets a Call-Back later in the song).
  • Genre-Busting: Whether or not London Calling should be considered a Punk Rock record remains up for debate given the heavy jazz and reggae elements. It's even sometimes called the Genre Popularizer for Post-Punk.
  • Genre Mashup: The album might be the most literal example, with all kinds of stylistic variations. The Neoclassical influences could be in "Lost in the Supermarket", the Zydeco (African) styles in "Revolution Rock" (which even features Strummer saying at the end, "Bongo jams are our speciality!"), the band is obviously Punk, and the Rockabilly styles from "Brand New Cadillac" (as well as the aforementioned Shout-Out to Elvis Presley on the cover).
  • Gratuitous Panning: The horns on "Revolution Rock" start jumping stereo channels toward the end of the song.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: "Yo te quiera infinito, yo te quiera, oh mi corazón" (roughly translatable as "I love you forever, I love you, oh my heart"), from "Spanish Bombs".
  • The Great Flood: London is flooding in "London Calling".
  • Hair of the Dog: In "Rudie Can't Fail", the titular character has been "drinking brew for breakfast."
  • Heavy Meta: "Four Horsemen" could be a reference to how the band is portrayed in the media as being prophetic about certain issues such as race, status, etc. In reality, the band is really taking all these people's money and laughing their way to the bank, though it's Played for Laughs.
  • Hidden Track: An accidental one with "Train in Vain", which was meant to be released as a promo for NME magazine. When that fell through, they quickly added it to London Calling after the packaging had already been printed. As a result, "Train in Vain" wasn't listed on the album cover, instead being quietly namedropped in the runout groove on side four. This didn't stop it from becoming one of the band's best-known songs.
  • Horrible Hollywood: "The Right Profile" is about actor Montgomery Clift, who spiraled into addiction and alcoholism after being disfigured in a car crash.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: The odd line in "London Calling":
    A nuclear error, but I have no fear
    Cause London is drowning and I, I live by the river!
    • Could be interpreted as the narrator not being concerned with a faraway concern (the Three Mile Island disaster), and more concerned with what's closer by (London is drowning).
  • Isn't It Ironic?: The apocalyptic anthem "London Calling" by The Clash being used to hawk Jaguars.
  • Location Song: "London Calling", where the band imagines London flooding. "The Guns Of Brixton" takes place in Brixton, an outskirt of London, where the band imagines a revolution taking place.
  • Longest Song Goes Last: "Revolution Rock" was intended to be this. Subverted, however, because of the last-minute inclusion of "Train in Vain."
  • Lyrical Dissonance: The album has several examples.
    • "Death Or Glory" is an upbeat little number about, uh, how even the toughest rebels eventually sell out.
    • Is there a jollier-sounding song about hardcore drug addiction than "Hateful"?
    • "Lost in the Supermarket" stands out in particular — a very poppy and catchy disco melody that goes with arguably the most introspective and depressingly direct lyrics within the band's catalogue.
    • Almost any time "London Calling" is used on TV — especially in advertising — it's likely to be this.
  • Manchild: The titular character in "Rudie Can't Fail" is chided for his immature behavior by his neighbors.
  • Miniscule Rocking: "Koka Kola" is under two minutes.
  • Morality Ballad: "The Card Cheat" and "Wrong 'Em Boyo" returns to the oft-mentioned idea of cheating for no point.
    (Don't you know it is wrong?)
    To cheat the trying man
    (Don't you know it is wrong?)
    To cheat the trying man
    So you better stop
    It is the wrong 'em boyo
  • Music Is Politics: The band pokes fun at this concept in tracks such as "Revolution Rock" and "Spanish Bombs"; both songs draw attention to the respective issues while deconstructing the band's actual role in the politics of the time.
  • A Nuclear Error: The Trope Namer, due to its occurrence in "London Calling".
  • One-Word Title: "Hateful".
  • Pep-Talk Song: "I'm Not Down":
    Well, I've been beat up
    I've been thrown out
    But I'm not down, no, I'm not down
  • Precision F-Strike: In the second verse of "Death or Glory".
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: The band's embrace of reggae on this album can come across this way, though of course they were just continuing a thread dating all the way back to the Cover Version of Junior Murvin's Jamaican hit "Police & Thieves" on their debut album.
  • Product Placement: "Brand New Cadillac" and "Koka Kola", both of which were meant to be ironic, even though Cadillac didn't feel that way and even used the song in a commercial later.
  • Rated G for Gangsta: "Death or Glory" says that "He who fucks nuns will later join the church."
  • Rockers Smash Guitars: Paul Simonon smashes his bass on the album cover. He revealed in 2011 that he had done so after bouncers refused to let audience members out of their seats at a concert.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The typographic design on the album cover is a shout-out to Elvis Presley's self-titled debut album from 1956.
    • "The Right Profile" is about the life of actor Montgomery Clift.
    • "Train In Vain" shouts out Robert Johnson in the title and Ben E. King in the chorus.
    • "The Guns of Brixton" makes reference to The Harder They Come which stars reggae singer and Clash influence Jimmy Cliff. Cliff later did a Cover Version.
      You see, he feels like Ivan
      Born under the Brixton sun
      His game is called survivin'
      At the end of "The Harder They Come"
    • The first verse of "Death or Glory" references Harry Powell's "love" and "hate" Knuckle Tattoos from The Night of the Hunter.
  • Spanish Civil War: The song "Spanish Bombs" was dedicated to the Republican side of the conflict.
  • Stepford Consumer: "Lost in the Supermarket", where the consumer feels depressed about buying items which don't reflect his personality:
    The kids in halls and the pipes in the walls
    Making noises for company
    Long distance callers make long distance calls
    And the silence makes me lonely
  • A Storm Is Coming: "London Calling".
    London calling to the faraway towns
    Now war is declared, and battle come down
    London calling to the underworld
    Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls
  • Take That!: "London Calling" has the line "Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust", which has been taken as referring to either a Broadway musical called Beatlemania whose run ended around the same time the album was recorded, or to Wings, implying that it was Paul McCartney's failed attempt to remain as popular as he was with The Beatles. However, this later became a bit awkward after John Lennon was shot and killed the following year.
  • Yuppie: An Unbuilt Trope at the time, but "Koka Kola", about cocaine-addicted corporate hotshots, shows that the archetype was starting to recognizably emerge by 1979.