What does London Calling mean?

The Clash: London Calling Meaning

Album cover for London Calling album cover

London Calling Lyrics

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
London calling, now don't look to us
Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust


    #1 top rated interpretation:
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    Jun 16th 2009 !⃝

    London Calling is apocalyptic, written right after Three Mile Island partial meltdown in 1979. (In Clampdown, on the same album, they sing, 'Working hard in Harrisburg (closest town to TMI), working hard in Petersburg (site of a Russian nuclear institute) ... begging to be melted down..."). Engines were theorized to stop running during a nuclear attack - don't know if people still believe that.
    In London, anything close to the Thames would be underwater during a flood caused by sea level rise or nuclear meltdown or any other reason, thus, you'd be the first to go. So no need to fear.
    Other apocalyptic images include the Sun becoming a red giant, an ice age taking place, and mass starvation. Not a pretty sight.
    London Calling itself is, of course, the call sign for the BBC.


    #2 top rated interpretation:
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    Jun 19th 2008 !⃝

    When Joe sings a "nuclear error" he is talking about a nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania that went into meltdown

  3. Mark65165
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    Feb 2nd 2022 !⃝

    At its most obvious level it's an antifascist war song, and among the strongest, too.

    "London Calling" comes from the World War II introduction for BBC radio broadcasts to foreign countries: "This is London Calling. The news from Britain – up-to-the-minute, truthful." read more in: https://www.grunge.com/231812/the-hidden-meaning-of-the-clashs-london-calling (this article goes on to explain far more subtle meanings aside form the obvious one - but let's start with the obvious one)

    I use it, as such, to great effect in rural Germany, where Nazi cells are still very much a thing (strongest around Dresden and Chemnitz, followed by Uckermark), usually to signal a willingness to gladly whack them thoroughly if need be (they like to bully on refugees, as these can't fight back or they lose their permanent resident application, so you see scrawny white trash screaming at fit Africans, who would veritably wipe the floor with them under normal circumstances).

    On a distant second level, it discusses several apocalyptic scenarios, always against the backdrop of the British having endured and overcome worse. Third and finally, it's a punk rallying call.

  4. anonymous
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    May 6th 2019 !⃝

    Two things to bear in mind with this song that people usually overlook. Firstly, Joe Strummer had a scattergun approach to writing lyrics - sometimes a part of the lyrics might be only loosely connected to the rest of the song. Secondly, there's a fair bit of irony in the song that people miss.
    Strummer has said in an interview that the song was about the demise, as he saw it, of the punk scene in London. He is calling the "faraway towns" looking for someone else to take up the baton of producing something new - this was not long after Two-Tone had come out of Coventry, which he had noted. I'm not sure about "war is declared" - perhaps a "war" for the future of music, or a response to Thatcher coming to power and the country moving to the right, something Strummer was concerned about - a fight was on. It's definitely NOT about the Falklands War.
    I would guess the "underworld" is the underground music scene and the culture that goes with it - Strummer believed that artists with something to say should aim for the mainstream.
    I interpret the Beatlemania line as not a dig at the Beatles as such , but as saying that bands should not be put on pedestals , including the Clash ("don't look to us").
    The last line of the verse compares the image of "swinging London" to the reality of police brutality.
    The chorus is actually about something different - Strummer ironically lists various threats to humanity that have been aired in the media - a new ice age, nuclear meltdown (not long after Three Mile Island) , crop failure, oil shortage - and concludes that he is more concerned about the fact the Thames Flood Barrier hasn't been completed as the Thames flooding is a direct threat to him. Strummer himself said that this is what the chorus meant.
    The "imitation zone" in verse two refers to how the punk scene had gone from being something open minded to a rigid set of rules about how to dress and what type of music to play (again Strummer's own explanation). I'm not sure about "zombies of death" but I suspect it's about the more negative, nihilistic elements of the punk scene. The "yellowy eyes" as a reference to hepatitis in the drug scene - Strummer himself had caught hepatitis in 1978 from injecting speed with a dirty needle (not from catching a mouthful of spit at a gig which was the "official" story). This is also not long after Sid Vicious , a friend of the band, had died from a heroin overdose.
    I'm not sure about the last verse, but there seems to be a lot of ironic humour here - "I was there too" is perhaps Strummer pointing out to critics within the punk scene that he had been one of it's original pioneers "you know what they said - well some of it was true" perhaps a defence of the original punk scene that was now being sneered at - but I'm guessing. "After all this won't you give me a smile" - again I'm guessing, perhaps a tongue in cheek response to those who were constantly criticising the Clash or being negative.
    As I say , Strummer's approach was a bit chaotic, jumbling different ideas together, but here as in many other of their songs, it all seems to work and hang together in spite of this.

  5. anonymous
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    Mar 6th 2012 !⃝

    there's not a word about a chance of victory
    in it
    its more about necessity

  6. anonymous
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    Oct 10th 2011 !⃝

    The band are saying `You`ll have to go it alone. In the War, we called out to the free....but don`t look to us now. We have police repression, not freedom`.

  7. anonymous
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    May 4th 2011 !⃝

    yellow eyes can be destroyed liver
    or the eyes of predators like wolfs and cats
    or both

  8. anonymous
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    May 4th 2011 !⃝

    a clear call to arms to the just starting over punk movement around the world when squatting and rioting had become daily busines in some western metropolis.
    all the apocalyptic scenarios like nuklear madnes, global warming/poisoning were well known since the 60s and no one listened.
    all the industrial-waste-cleaning, smokefiltration and stuff hadn't toke place and it doesn't loked as it would.
    in fakt it was top of the dial
    not to late like nowadays.
    so a: dont folow; act! at no mater what cost seamed apropriade
    so give em a smile
    at least they tried

  9. anonymous
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    Apr 3rd 2011 !⃝

    I think it's fairly clear that the song is about various ways the apocalypse could happen.
    The "Nuclear error" is in reference to Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, which went into a partial meltdown in the 70's.

    As others have stated; the line "London is drowning, I live by the river" is about the fear that if the River Thames flooded the majority of central london would be underwater, and thus,living by the river would mean you would be one of the first to drown. The Thames barrier was built a few years later.

    and the chorus is about various causes of the apocalypse, such as an ice-age, "the sun zooming in", and famine.

    The rest, I think, is open to intepretation.

  10. anonymous
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    Mar 23rd 2011 !⃝

    I think it's about how if a nuclear meltdown occurs, it would be good to be near a river, so you can drown before you have to suffer through years of nuclear radiation.

  11. JoeStrummersGhost
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    Aug 27th 2010 !⃝

    I interpret this song as prophetic of what Western Capitalist societies will lead to for the world. The opening four lines appear to be a call to arms for those who stand against it. Strummer is calling out to the leftist punk "underworld" to rebel. The truncheon reference at the end of the verse is a clear reference to police totalitarianism and brutality.

    In the chorus, the lines "the ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in" appear to be a prediction of environmental disaster, something now seen to be true. The rest of the chorus also lists disasters that Strummer believes will or may have occurred due to society's errors.

    Other important lines in later choruses sugget that the people of Western countries are asleep to what is happening e.g "I saw you nodding off" and that the many (including themselves) who predicted a collapse will be proved right, (You know what they said, well some of it was true)

  12. anonymous
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    Jul 18th 2010 !⃝

    Three Mile Island

  13. anonymous
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    Jun 13th 2010 !⃝

    The song is not political, it is about a malfunction at a nuclear plant somewhere. I read this a while ago

  14. anonymous
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    Aug 3rd 2009 !⃝

    Reading these, I think the song is about the end of the world too.

  15. anonymous
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    May 14th 2009 !⃝

    'London is drowning and I live by the river' is a reference to the fear that if the river thames was to flood, a large amount of central London would be left under water, hence the construction of the Thames barrier.

    The part about yellowy eyes is likely just referring to recreational drug use in general.

    The chorus is just referring to different ways in which the world could end. oil crisis (big at the time with trade embargo's and whatnot) famine, ice age/global warming ect.

    Oh and of course 'London calling' is a reference to the BBC radio call sign.

  16. anonymous
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    Oct 9th 2008 !⃝

    The song is about various endings of the world. Ranging from the occult vision of the 2012 Mayan end of the "world as we know it" (IE not total destruction, but a sudden massive mental evolution) which involves the sun expelling massive electromagnetic radiation (the sun's getting closer) which is also thought by some occult to end technology's reign (engines stop running).

    Other possible end of world scenarios presented in the song are global warming (ice age is coming / river is rising and he won't have to face the horrors b/c he'll drown since he lives by it), nuclear war which is initiated accidentally (nuclear error).

    Just my interpretation, but any good artist leaves their songs open to anyone's opinion.

  17. anonymous
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    Jul 20th 2008 !⃝

    I think this is about the end of the world too, it is all about global warming which personally I don't think will occur for thousands of years. But he is either saying I live by the river so I won't suffer I'll just die pretty quick or I live by the river so it won't be as powerful when it hits him so he wil be safe. I'm not too sure but I love the Clash!

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