The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #16: London Calling by The Clash (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #16: London Calling by The Clash.

“London Calling”, the album, was a double album released in 1979 by The Clash. It was their third release. In the time since its’ release, this album has been hailed as being the very best album of the 1980s and one of the Top Ten albums of all-time, according to Rolling Stone Magazine, who had it at #8 in their latest rankings. This was a very important album because it took an entire genre of music….Punk Rock….and re-positioned it for future growth in the decades to come. “London Calling” has been described as the first real Post Punk album. It showed the world that the sensibilities that drove the Punk movement forward could happily co-exist and share musical space with other genres such as Reggae, Ska, Rockabilly and even, Rock n’ Roll, itself. The whole album is noteworthy for many reasons; one being the variety of musical styles it explores as the track list unfolds. There were many hits from this album including, “Rudy Can’t Fail”, “The Clampdown”, “Guns of Brixton”, “Train in Vain” and, of course, the title track, “London Calling”. The album is also revered because of the iconic photo on the album cover. It shows bassist, Paul Simonon, smashing his guitar on stage. Many critics point to this photo, with its interplay of light and shadow, as being the photo that best captures the essence of Punk Rock; its energy and violence and passion. For those Elvis lovers in the building, the font type and colours used to spell the words, “London Calling” were inspired by how Elvis used to do his own album covers. In any case, the album, “London Calling” is terrific and showed much musical growth for The Clash.

The song, “London Calling” has its roots firmly in the news of the day in 1979. But first, in order to understand that, we have to travel back in WWII. If you know your history then, you will be aware that, for a time during WWII, Britain found itself alone against Germany who, at that time, had conquered and occupied all of the European countries directly to England’s east. But, as we discovered recently with Edith Piaf and her song, “La Vie En Rose” *(which you can read about here), music played an important part in helping conquered citizens to maintain their morale. In addition to music, the BBC news out of London played a part, too, by broadcasting into France and Holland, specifically, with news of Allied advances and other topics of interest. In order to send a clear message to those in captivity that they were being seen and thought about, the BBC always began their reports with the words, “London Calling”.

Fast forward to 1979, there came a time during the year’s events when a series of calamities all happened at the same time, which caused the boys in the band to feel as though Life was spinning out of control. The event that acted as catalyst was the nuclear meltdown at the Three-Mile Island Nuclear Reactor in Pennsylvania. Then, there was a climate-related emergency which, at the time, caused people to believe that London was about to be flooded. Add to this, the general discontent that many in the UK felt toward the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and you had a perfect storm of misery closing over The Clash as they began to work on their album. Thus, when The Clash start off this song, they borrowed the old WWII BBC clarion call that London was calling with important news…..and then, the song begins. All throughout the song, the band speak of apocalyptic events such as Ice Ages, nuclear meltdowns, floods and many things out of their control.

It may sound funny that such a downer of a song should be such a hit but, then again, fans of The Clash didn’t look to them for romantic ballads. They came to the band’s shows to hear about songs that reflected the reality that they were experiencing in real life. The Clash were one of the few bands to consistently speak to the need for social change and to willingly use their platform to campaign for that through music. As such, when they sent out the clarion call of “London Calling” they were tapping into something from within the fabric of the nation that immediately took the events of the day and linked them in historical context. That they could do this and still produce a rocking song was a bonus that helped elevate their message of the need to change the way we are all living before it is too late.

As a band, The Clash moved into their Post-Punk phase of their career with their integrity intact. They evolved without selling out, which isn’t as easy a feat as it may sound. Their songs lengthened, the musical structure became more varied and complex but, they never stopped singing about injustice and the hope that change could be brought through music. It may be almost forty years since they played their last concert together but they have remained a band that mattered all through the years that followed. It is not by fluke that this band and this song, have found themselves so close to the top of a list that purports to be a record of the best and most important music of all-time.

So, without further delay, here are The Clash with their most famous and well-known tune, “London Calling”. Enjoy.

The link the video for the song, “London Calling” by The Clash, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Clash, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for playing the best and most important music of all-time. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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