London Calling is the third studio album by English punk rock band the
Clash. It was released as a double album in the United Kingdom on 14
December 1979 by CBS Records, and in the United States in January 1980
by Epic Records.
London Calling is an album that incorporates a
range of styles, including punk, reggae, rockabilly, ska, New Orleans
R&B, pop, lounge jazz, and hard rock.
The album's subject matter included social displacement, unemployment,
racial conflict, drug use, and the responsibilities of adulthood.
While working on "The Card Cheat", the band recorded each part twice
to create a "sound as big as possible". The final track, "Train in
Vain", was originally excluded from the back cover's track listing.
It was intended to be given away through a promotion with NME, but was
added to the album at the last minute after the deal fell through.
The album received widespread acclaim and was ranked at number eight
on Rolling Stone's list of
The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in
London Calling was a top ten album in the UK, and its lead
London Calling" was a top 20 single. It has sold over five
million copies worldwide, and was certified platinum in the United
1 Recording and production
2 Music and lyrics
5 Reception and legacy
6 Planned film
7 Track listing
12 Further reading
13 External links
Recording and production
After recording their second studio album
Give 'Em Enough Rope
Give 'Em Enough Rope (1978),
the band separated from their manager Bernard Rhodes. This
separation meant that the group had to leave their rehearsal studio in
Camden Town and find another location to compose their music. Tour
manager Johnny Green and drum roadie Baker had found the group a new
place to rehearse called Vanilla Studios, which was located in the
back of a garage in Pimlico.:88
Prior to this move to the Vanilla Studios rehearsal space, the Clash's
songwriters Mick Jones and
Joe Strummer had experienced a period of
writer's block.:91 They had not written a new song from scratch in
over a year, with the material on their recently released Cost of
Living EP, composed of a cover song and three songs that had all been
written over twelve months earlier.:91
The Clash arrived at
Vanilla in May 1979 without a single new song prepared for their third
Once in Vanilla Studios, the group began performing cover songs from a
variety of genres, such as rockabilly, rock and roll, rhythm and
blues, and reggae.:93–7 In contrast to previous rehearsal
sessions, the band kept these rehearsals private, and did not allow
hangers-on to attend.:90 This seclusion allowed the band to
rebuild their confidence without worrying about the reaction from
outsiders, who were familiar with the band's punk rock musical
The band developed an "extremely disciplined":98 daily routine of
afternoon musical rehearsals, broken by a late-afternoon social
football game, which fostered a friendly bond between the band
members.:98–100 The daily football match was followed by a
couple of drinks at a local pub, which was itself followed by a second
musical rehearsal session in the evening.:98–100
The band gradually rebuilt their musical and songwriting confidence
during these rehearsals during the summer of 1979, with the styles of
the session's early cover songs setting the template for the diverse
material that would be written for
London Calling.:98 The band
were also encouraged by a growing appreciation of drummer Topper
Headon's drumming skills, which they realised could be used to perform
music in a wide array of genres and styles beyond punk rock.:95
The Clash wrote and recorded demos, with Mick Jones composing and
arranging much of the music and
Joe Strummer generally writing the
As early as their second album, the Clash had started to depart from
the punk rock sound. While touring in the United States twice in
1979, they chose supporting acts such as rhythm and blues artists Bo
Diddley, Sam & Dave, Lee Dorsey, and Screamin' Jay Hawkins, as
well as neotraditional country artist
Joe Ely and punk rockabilly band
the Cramps. This developed fascination with rock and roll inspired
their approach for
In August 1979, the band entered Wessex Studios to begin recording
The Clash asked
Guy Stevens to produce the album, much
to the dismay of CBS Records. Stevens had alcohol and drug
problems and his production methods were unconventional. During a
recording session he swung a ladder and upturned chairs – apparently
to create a rock & roll atmosphere. The Clash, especially
bassist Paul Simonon, got along well with Stevens, and found Stevens'
work to be very helpful and productive to both Simonon's playing and
their recording as a band. The album was recorded during a five- to
six-week period involving 18-hour days, with many songs recorded
in one or two takes.
Music and lyrics
The song's lyrics were influenced by the March 1979 meltdown of a
nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.
"The Guns of Brixton"
The song was the first composed solely by
Paul Simonon and discusses
an individual's paranoid outlook on life.
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According to the music critic Mark Kidel,
London Calling was the first
post-punk double album and exhibited a broader range of musical styles
than the Clash's previous records.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Stephen Thomas Erlewine said
the album appropriated the "punk aesthetic into rock & roll
mythology and roots music", while incorporating a wider range of
styles such as punk, reggae, rockabilly, ska, New Orleans R&B,
pop, lounge jazz, and hard rock. According to Greg Kot, the band's
embrace of specific musical traditions deviated from punk's
iconoclastic sensibilities. Regarding
London Calling, Jack
Sargeant remarked that "whether the Clash completely abandoned their
punk roots or pushed punk's musical eclecticism and diversity into new
terrain remains a controversial issue."
The album's songs were generally written about London, with narratives
featuring both fictional and life-based characters, such as an
underworld criminal named Jimmy Jazz and a gun-toting Jimmy Cliff
aspirer living in
Brixton ("Guns of Brixton"). Some had more widely
contextualised narratives, including references to the "evil
presidentes" working for the "clampdown", the lingering effects of the
Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War ("Spanish Bombs"), and how constant consumerism had
led to unavoidable political apathy ("Lost in the Supermarket").
Sal Ciolfi of
PopMatters felt that the songs encompass an arrangement
of urban narratives and characters, and touch on themes such as sex,
depression and identity crisis. Music critic Tom Carson viewed
that, "while the album draws on the entirety of rock and roll's past
for its sound, the concepts and lyrical themes are drawn from the
history, politics and myths associated with the genre".
London Calling", the album's title track, was partially influenced by
the March 1979 accident at a nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island in
Pennsylvania. Strummer's lyrics also discuss the problems of rising
unemployment, racial conflict and drug use in Great Britain. The
second track, "Brand New Cadillac", was written and originally
Vince Taylor and was the first track recorded for London
Calling. The band cite the song as "one of the first British
rock'n'roll records" and had initially used it as a warm up song
before recording. "Rudie Can't Fail", the album's fifth song,
features a horn section and mixes elements of pop, soul, and reggae
music together. Its lyrics chronicle the life of a fun-loving young
man who is criticised for his inability to act like a responsible
adult. Strummer wrote "Lost in the Supermarket" after imagining
Jones' childhood growing up in a basement with his mother and
grandmother. "Clampdown" began as an instrumental track called
"Working and Waiting". Its lyrics comment on people who forsake
the idealism of youth and urge young people to fight the status
"The Guns of Brixton" was the first of Paul Simonon's compositions the
band recorded, and the first to have him sing lead. Simonon was
originally doubtful about its lyrics, which discuss an individual's
paranoid outlook on life, but was encouraged by Strummer to continue
working on it. On "Death or Glory", Strummer examines his life in
retrospect and acknowledges the complications and responsibilities of
"Lover's Rock" advocates safe sex and planning. The final track,
"Train in Vain", was originally excluded from the back cover's track
listing. It was intended to be given away through a promotion with
NME, but was added to the album at the last minute after the deal fell
The album's front cover features a photograph of bassist Paul Simonon
Fender Precision Bass
Fender Precision Bass (on display at the Cleveland Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame as of May 2009) against the stage at The
Palladium in New York City on 20 September 1979 during the Clash Take
the Fifth US tour. Simonon explained in a 2011 interview with
Fender that he smashed the bass out of frustration when he learned the
bouncers at the concert would not let the audience members stand up
out of their seats. Pennie Smith, who photographed the band for the
album, originally did not want the photograph to be used. She thought
that it was too out of focus, but Strummer and graphic designer Ray
Lowry thought it would make a good album cover. In 2002,
Smith's photograph was named the best rock and roll photograph of all
time by Q magazine, commenting that "it captures the ultimate
rock'n'roll moment – total loss of control".
The cover artwork was designed by Lowry and was an homage to the
design of Elvis Presley's self-titled debut album, with pink letters
down the left side and green text across the bottom. The cover
was named the ninth best album cover of all time by
Q magazine in
2001. In 1995,
Big Audio Dynamite
Big Audio Dynamite (a band fronted by former Clash
member Mick Jones) used the same scheme for their
F-Punk album. The
album cover for
London Calling was among the ten chosen by the Royal
Mail for a set of "Classic
Album Cover" postage stamps issued in
The album was released in the United Kingdom on vinyl in mid-December
1979, and in the United States on vinyl and
8-track tape two weeks
later. A gatefold cover design of the LP was only released in Japan.
London Calling was released as a double album it was only sold
for about the price of a single album. The Clash's record label, CBS,
at first denied the band's request for the album to be released as a
double. In return CBS gave permission for the band to include a free
12-inch single that played at
33⅓ rpm. Ultimately, the planned
12-inch record became a second nine-track LP.
Upon its release,
London Calling sold approximately two million
copies. The album peaked at number nine in the United Kingdom
and was certified gold in December 1979. The album performed
strongly outside the United Kingdom. It reached number two in
Sweden and number four in Norway. In the United States, London
Calling peaked at number 27 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart and
was certified platinum in February 1996. The album produced two of
the band's most successful singles. "
London Calling" preceded the
album with a 7 December 1979 release. It peaked at number 11 on the UK
Singles Chart. The song's music video, directed by Letts, featured
the band performing the song on a boat in the pouring rain with the
River Thames behind them. In the United States, "Train in Vain",
backed with "
London Calling", was released as a single in February
1980. It peaked at number 23 on the
Billboard Hot 100
Billboard Hot 100 singles chart
London Calling"/"Train in Vain" peaked at number 30 on the
Billboard Disco Top 100 chart.
A UK only cassette was released in 1986. A CD was released in the US
in 1987, with a remastered version in the UK in 1999 followed by the
US in 2000, along with the rest of the band's catalogue. In 2004, a
25th anniversary Legacy Edition was published with a bonus CD and DVD
in digipack. The bonus CD features The Vanilla Tapes, missing
recordings made by the band in mid-1979. The DVD includes The Last
Testament – The Making of
London Calling, a film by Don Letts, as
well as previously unseen video footage and music videos. A limited
edition picture disc LP was released in 2010.
Reception and legacy
Christgau's Record Guide
Encyclopedia of Popular Music
Spin Alternative Record Guide
London Calling received widespread critical acclaim when it was first
released in 1979. In a contemporary review for The New York Times,
John Rockwell said the album finally validated the acclaim received by
the Clash up to that point because of how their serious political
themes and vital playing were retained in music with innovative
features and broad appeal: "This is an album that captures all the
Clash's primal energy, combines it with a brilliant production job by
Guy Stevens and reveals depths of invention and creativity barely
suggested by the band's previous work."
Charles Shaar Murray wrote
NME that it was the first record to be on-par with the band's hype,
Melody Maker critic James Truman said the Clash had "discovered
themselves" by embracing American music styles.:412 Rolling Stone
magazine's Tom Carson claimed the music celebrated "the romance of
rock & roll rebellion" and was vast, engaging, and enduring enough
to leave listeners "not just exhilarated but exalted and triumphantly
alive". In the opinion of
Down Beat journalist Michael Goldberg,
the Clash had produced "a classic rock album which, literally, defines
the state of rock and roll and against which the very best of [the
1980s] will have to be judged."
Charlie Gillett was less
impressed, believing some of the songs sounded like poor imitations of
Bob Dylan backed by a horn section. In Sounds,
Garry Bushell was more
critical and gave the record two out of five stars, claiming the Clash
had "retrogressed" to Rolling Stones-style "outlaw imagery" and "tired
old rock clichés".:412
London Calling was voted the best album of 1980 in the Pazz & Jop,
an annual poll of American critics published by The Village Voice.
Robert Christgau, the poll's creator and supervisor, also named it the
year's best record in an accompanying piece and remarked that "it
generated an urgency and vitality and ambition (that Elvis P. cover!)
which overwhelmed the pessimism of its leftist world-view." In a
retrospective review, he called it the best double album since the
Exile on Main St.
Exile on Main St. (1972) and said it expanded upon
rather than compromised the Clash's driving guitar sound in a "warm,
angry, and thoughtful, confident, melodic, and hard-rocking" showcase
of their musical abilities.
According to the English music writer Dave Thompson,
established the Clash as more than "a simple punk band" on what was a
"potent" record of neurotic post-punk, despite its amalgam of
disparate and occasionally disjointed musical influences. Don
McLeese from the
Chicago Sun-Times hailed it as their best album and
"punk's finest hour", as it found the band broadening their artistry
without compromising their original vigor and immediacy.
PopMatters critic Sal Ciolfi called it a "big, loud, beautiful
collection of hurt, anger, restless thought, and above all hope" that
still sounds "relevant and vibrant". In a review of its reissue,
Uncut wrote that the songs and characters in the lyrics
cross-referenced each other because of the album's exceptional
sequencing, adding that "The Vanilla Tapes" bonus disc enhanced what
was already a "masterpiece".
London Calling has been considered by many critics to be one of the
greatest rock albums of all time, including AllMusic's Stephen
Thomas Erlewine, who said that it sounded more purposeful than "most
albums, let alone double albums". According to Acclaimed Music, it
is the 6th most ranked record on critics' lists of the all-time
greatest albums. In 1987,
Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times
named it the fourth-best album of the previous 10 years and said while
the Clash's debut was a punk masterpiece,
London Calling marked the
genre's "coming of age" as the band led the way into "fertile
post-punk territory". In 1989,
Rolling Stone ranked it as the best
album of the 1980s, despite its 1979 release date. In 1999, Q
London Calling the fourth-greatest British album of all
time, and wrote that it is "the best Clash album and therefore
among the very best albums ever recorded". In 2002, Q included it
on its list of the 100 Best Punk Albums, and in 2003, Mojo ranked
it twenty second on their list of the Top 50 Punk Albums, while
British writer Colin Larkin named it the second-greatest punk album of
all time. In 2006, Q Magazine ranked it 20 on its list of the 100
Greatest Albums Ever.
London Calling was ranked as the sixth-greatest album of the 1970s by
NME, and the second-best by Pitchfork Media, whose reviewer
Amanda Petrusich said that it was the Clash's "creative apex" as a
"rock band" rather than as a punk band. In 2003,
was ranked number eight on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest
Albums of All Time. Entertainment Weekly's Tom Sinclair declared it
Album of All Time" in his headline for a 2004 article on the
album. In 2007,
London Calling was inducted into the Grammy Hall
of Fame, a collection of recordings of lasting qualitative or
historical significance. The album was included in the BBC Radio 1
2009 Masterpieces Series, marking it as one of the most influential
albums of all time, some thirty years after its original release.
In December 2010, the BBC reported that a film about the recording of
London Calling was in the early stages of production. Mick Jones and
Paul Simonon were executive producers for the film. The script was
Jez Butterworth and shooting was planned to begin in 2011.
Alison Owen and Paul Trijbits had been chosen as the
All tracks written by
Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, except where noted.
"Brand New Cadillac"
"Rudie Can't Fail"
"The Right Profile"
"Lost in the Supermarket"
"The Guns of Brixton"
"Wrong 'Em Boyo"
Clive Alphonso; originally performed by the Rulers; including "Stagger
"Death or Glory"
"The Card Cheat"
Strummer, Jones, Simonon, Topper Headon
"I'm Not Down"
Jackie Edwards, Danny Ray; originally performed by Danny Ray and the
"Train in Vain"
On the original version of the album, "Train in Vain" was not listed
on the sleeve, nor the label on the record itself, but an extraneous
sticker indicating the track was affixed to the outer cellophane
wrapper. It was also scratched into the vinyl in the run-off area on
the fourth side of the album. Later editions included the song in the
25th anniversary edition bonus disc – "The Vanilla Tapes"
"Rudie Can't Fail"
"I'm Not Down"
"Koka Kola, Advertising & Cocaine"
"Death or Glory"
"The Police Walked in 4 Jazz"
"Lost in the Supermarket"
"Walking the Slidewalk"
"Where You Gonna Go (Soweto)"
"The Man in Me"
"Working and Waiting"
"Heart & Mind"
"Brand New Cadillac"
"The Last Testament: The Making of
London Calling" (Music video)
"Train in Vain" (Music video)
"Clampdown" (Music video)
"Home video footage of
The Clash recording in Wessex Studios"
Joe Strummer – lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar, piano
Mick Jones – lead guitar, piano, harmonica, backing and lead
Paul Simonon – bass guitar, backing vocals, lead vocals on "The
Guns of Brixton"
Topper Headon – drums, percussion
Mickey Gallagher – organ
The Irish Horns – brass
Guy Stevens – producer
Bill Price – engineer
Jerry Green – additional engineer
Ray Lowry – design
Pennie Smith – photography
Swedish Albums Chart
UK Albums Chart
Austrian Albums Chart
Canadian RPM Albums Chart
New Zealand Albums Chart
Norwegian Albums Chart
US Billboard 200
Irish Albums Chart
Norwegian Albums Chart[n 1]
Swedish Albums Chart[n 1]
Swiss Albums Chart[n 1]
UK Albums Chart[n 1]
Spanish Albums Chart
Top Pop Catalog Albums
Polish Albums Chart
^ a b c d
London Calling 25th anniversary edition
Canada (Music Canada)
United Kingdom (BPI)
United States (RIAA)
*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
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The Clash –
London Calling" (in
Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved 9 March
^ "French album certifications – Leonard Cohen –
(in French). Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique.
^ "British album certifications –
The Clash –
British Phonographic Industry. 31 December 1979. Enter London
Calling in the search field and then press Enter.
^ Jones, Alan (7 August 2015). "Official Charts Analysis: The
Maccabees's Marks To Prove It takes No.1 albums slot". Music
Week. [dead link]
^ "American album certifications –
The Clash –
Recording Industry Association of America. 14 February 1996. If
necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then
Gilbert, Pat (2005) . Passion Is a Fashion: The Real Story of
The Clash (4th ed.). London: Aurum Press. pp. 212–213,
235–237, 259–260. ISBN 1-84513-113-4.
Green, Johnny; Garry Barker (2003) . A Riot of Our Own: Night
and Day with
The Clash (3rd ed.). London: Orion. pp. 156–158,
161–162, 165, 194–196, 218–219. ISBN 0-7528-5843-2.
Clash, The (2008). The Clash: Strummer, Jones, Simonon, Headon.
London: Atlantic Books. ISBN 1-84354-788-0.
Gray, Marcus (2005) . The Clash: Return of the Last Gang in Town
(5th revised ed.). London: Helter Skelter. ISBN 1-905139-10-1.
Gray, Marcus (2010). Route 19 Revisited:
The Clash and
Soft Skull Press. ISBN 978-1-59376-293-3.
Letts, Don; Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon,
Terry Chimes, Rick Elgood,
The Clash (2001). The Clash, Westway to the
World (Documentary). New York, NY: Sony Music Entertainment; Dorismo;
Uptown Films. Event occurs at 49:30–55:00. ISBN 0-7389-0082-6.
Lowry, Ray (2007). The Clash. Warwick: Angry Penguin.
ISBN 1-906283-36-2. OCLC 165412921.
Miles, Barry (1981). The Clash.
London and New York: Omnibus Press.
ISBN 0-7119-0288-7. OCLC 7676911.
Needs, Kris (25 January 2005).
Joe Strummer and the Legend of the
Clash. London: Plexus. ISBN 0-85965-348-X.
Quantick, David (2000). The Clash. Kill Your Idols. London: Unanimous.
ISBN 1-903318-03-3. OCLC 59417418.
Tobler, John &
Barry Miles (1983). The Clash.
London and New York:
Omnibus. ISBN 0-7119-0288-7. OCLC 21335564.
Topping, Keith (2004) . The Complete Clash (2nd ed.). Richmond:
Reynolds & Hearn. ISBN 1-903111-70-6.
The Clash official website
London Calling" By
The Clash Mix Magazine, 2000 – Very detailed
article with recording setup details from the album's engineer, Bill
Give 'Em Enough Rope
Cut the Crap
From Here to Eternity: Live
Live at Shea Stadium
Black Market Clash
The Story of the Clash, Volume 1
Clash on Broadway
The Singles (1991)
Super Black Market Clash
The Essential Clash
The Singles (2007)
The Clash Hits Back
Album Studio Set
The Cost of Living
"Clash City Rockers"
"(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais"
"English Civil War"
"I Fought the Law"
"Train in Vain"
"The Call Up"
"The Magnificent Seven"
"This Is Radio Clash"
"Know Your Rights"
"Should I Stay or Should I Go"
"Rock the Casbah"
"Straight to Hell"
"This Is England"
"Return to Brixton"
The Clash: Westway to the World
Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten
The Clash on film
Public Image Ltd
Big Audio Dynamite
The Good, the Bad & the Queen
Rolling Stone's Albums of the Year
Rolling Stones – Some Girls
Neil Young – Rust Never Sleeps
The Clash –
Rolling Stones – Tattoo You
Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
R.E.M. – Murmur
Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA
Talking Heads – Little Creatures
Paul Simon – Graceland
Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love
Midnight Oil – Diesel and Dust
Neil Young – Freedom
Sinead O'Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got
R.E.M. – Out of Time
R.E.M. – Automatic For The People
Nirvana – In Utero
Hole – Live Through This
PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love
Beck – Odelay
Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind
Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Rage Against The Machine – The Battle of Los Angeles
Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP
Bob Dylan – Love and Theft
Beck – Sea Change
Outkast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Kanye West – The College Dropout
Kanye West – Late Registration
Bob Dylan – Modern Times
M.I.A. – Kala
TV On The Radio – Dear Science
U2 – No Line On The Horizon
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Adele – 21
Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
U2 – Songs of Innocence
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Beyoncé – Lemonade