The Clash – “London Calling” (Singles Going Steady Classic)

The Clash were punk's proud, leftist poet-intellectuals, equally interested in cultivating their own political identity as they were in capturing rock's unbridled ferocity.

Pryor Stroud: Alongside Gang of Four, the Jam, and, to a lesser extent, the Sex Pistols, the Clash were punk’s proud, leftist poet-intellectuals, equally interested in cultivating their own political identity as they were in capturing rock’s unbridled ferocity. “London Calling”, the lead single from 1979’s album of the same name, demonstrates this dual sense of purpose — intellectualism yoked to barbarism, ideology to fury — with one of the band’s most thunderous and affecting songscapes. The dour-reggae bass presages a post-apocalyptic London drowned in the Thames, and the guitar figure that counters it — an insistent, locomotive rally cry — doesn’t resist this future of desolation, but taunts it, urging it to inch closer to the present if it dares. It’s a song, in theory, about the Clash’s fear that militarism, capitalism, and authoritarianism would domino into each other and plunge England into an Orwellian nightmare. In practice, it’s a thrash punk nightmare with some of the most incendiary guitar work on record. Joe Strummer’s final chorus declaration — “Cause London is drowning / And I live by the river” — is delivered with such abandon, such verve and venom, that it’s hard not to succumb to the reality it enforces: Joe, Mick, and their bandmates are watching the destructive “Revolution” that the Beatles counted themselves out of, and it’s gone completely out of control, leading the British government to use nuclear weaponry against its own populace. The song, then, in this formulation, is the first light of a detonated bomb. [10/10]

Emmanuel Elone: Without a doubt, the Clash’s album London Calling proved to be one of the biggest successes of the ’70s punk scene going on in Great Britain at the time. The title track is a short, visceral piece of punk rock full of social critique and despair in the lyrics whilst having a distinct bass line that’s reminiscent of reggae or even ska music. To many punk fans of today, “London Calling” may feel tame for a punk song, but it still embodies all of the aspects of punk that people love to this day. From the emotion to the gritty guitar riffs to its unabashed social message, “London Calling” is a track as relevant today as ever before, and still stands up to many of the punk and post-punk songs that are inspired by it. [8/10]

Ian King: One might wonder if the boy-band synchronized guitar moves in the beginning of this video are a conscious knock at how “phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust”, or if it was a byproduct of their co-opted militant imagery. One might also wonder why the rhythm section are wearing hats while Strummer and Jones brave the rain without them. Perhaps it was a conscious decision to keep viewers’ eyes off of Paul Simonon, bass player extraordinaire who also happened to have the looks and height of a male model. Either way, for these three minutes they really do sound like the Only Band That Matters. [10/10]

Kevin Korber: In which four London kids with spiky hair proclaim the imminent apocalypse. This is one of Strummer’s finest hours as a songwriter, one of the moments when his lofty ambitions as a lyrical siren matched his band’s capabilities. Unlike some of the Clash’s later hits, though (*cough* “Rock the Casbah” *cough*), “London Calling” endures without relying on gimmickry or novelty. This quick burst of righteous power encapsulated everything that was great and vital about the Clash in under four minutes. And that’s just how the album starts[10/10]

Chris Ingalls: I’m docking one star only because it’s not anywhere near my favorite song on the album, but what an album. The title track from the Clash’s genre-defying third album, it’s a declaration, a call to arms, with Mick Jones’ insistent rhythm guitar acting as air-raid siren for the indifferent cocaine and disco crowd. While it works well as the Clash’s mission statement, it’s also the first track of an album that flirts with a whole mess of different genres, all quite successfully. The ’70s are over, folks. Let the Clash show you the way. [9/10]

John Bergstrom: The iconic title track to the iconic album. Decades of overexposure on soundtracks, compilations, and college dorm rooms have failed to smooth the edginess of “London Calling”. You have to love that Joe Strummer is up front about the fact the Clash “ain’t got no swing”. They don’t, but they more than make up for it in badass staccato guitar chords and general awesomeness, which the straight up performance video does a good job of accentuating. As with the album as a whole, punk meets rock meets pop, and the Clash eat them all whole. Oh, and there’s howling. [10/10]

John Tryneski: Confession… “London Calling” is probably my least favorite song on London Calling. It’s the Clash song for rock fans who never really got into punk but like to think they can still appreciate the genre. Hearing with fresh ears is difficult at this point, which is too bad because it is a great little nugget of dystopian guitar gloom. Hearing it again now I realize that I’d forgotten how much fun Joe Strummer has with the lyrics. In fact he gets downright hammy on lines like “phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust” and “well some of it was TRUE”. Still though, my most positive association with “London Calling” is the fact that it serves as an introduction to one of the greatest romps through musical history ever recorded. In fact, I can’t help feeling a little disappointed every time this song ends without leading right into the opening guitar line of “Brand New Cadillac”. [8/10]

Chad Miller: While the vocals were pretty humorous, I actually really liked how the song sounded. I loved the guitar chords in the intro. There are some interesting lyrics too though it can get to be a lot. This is especially true at the point where the Clash seems to just be naming off natural disasters. [8/10]

SCORE: 9.12