An all-star panel – including Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Terry Chimes – vote for their greatest cuts (from Uncut's December 2003 issue)
3 London Calling
Single A-side and title track of third album, December 1979
JONES: I remember during rehearsals for this we played football, every day, so we were quite fit. Anybody who came along, like any record company guy, they had to play football with us. The teams were normally us against them. It was quite rough cos we used to play on concrete. I was worse than I thought I was.
SIMONON: I remember me and Joe were quite good in defence.
JONES: Yeah, right! Hacking away…
SIMONON: That was our tactic, running into people deliberately.
JONES: But it was the pivotal track on that album. It’s like “London Calling” is at the top and it encompasses all the rest, like an umbrella, like the world in microcosm. With the backwards guitar solo I was thinking of trying to be like The Creation. I was into all that, like playing the guitar with a violin bow which I did on “I’m Not Down”.
SIMONON: Just shows you how good Mick is. He can play and walk backwards [smirks].
JONES: I just think we really found ourselves at that time and it was a lot to do with the football. No, I’m serious! Because it made us play together as one.
BOB GELDOF: I thought The Clash were new wave’s answer to The Bay City Rollers. They were a manufactured band, all dressed up. They came out of pub rock, even though they tried to deny it. And Joe and Mick really wanted to be Mick and Keith, even though they pretended they hated the Stones, because that was the punk attitude you were supposed to have. They were fucking pseuds, with their slogans so carefully sewn on their expensively designed uniforms. I thought the first Clash album was trite and the songs were lame. But they eventually became the band The Clash always tried to be with London Calling. The title song alone is enough to make them one of the greats. Despite all the misgivings, I admit they were a classic band and The Boomtown Rats weren’t.
PETE WYLIE: If this was the only song The Clash ever did, they’d still deserve a special place. The fluke, though, was they had millions.
RODDY FRAME: It’s writ big. It’s cinematic. It ranks alongside the best Rolling Stones stuff or whatever. It’s just a classic record. The musicianship’s great – I know you’re not supposed to say that when you’re talking about The Clash – and it’s got that ominous feel, that juice at the beginning. It was them coming back and establishing themselves as the British rock band, the only serious contenders for that crown. I just like it because it’s world class.
JAKE BURNS: When I heard The Clash had made a double album I thought, “Oh my God, don’t tell me they’ve gone all Tales Of Topographic Oceans on me!” But it was a huge leap forward. Their first two albums were just punk albums, albeit absolutely vital, but London Calling was a whole different ball game. The title track is such a fantastic song. It’s the whole construction of the thing, the rhythm of it, everything. It’s proved to be incredibly enduring.
MARK PERRY: It’s almost like a later “London’s Burning”, isn’t it? It’s just a superb opener to a classic album. It was that moment when they matured, when they grew out of being a UK punk band. When I heard “London Calling” I thought, literally, this is the best band in the world.
DON LETTS: This was the first music video I ever directed. I’ll tell you a secret: it was all done by mistake. Because it was the first one I’d ever done, I was sort of making it up as I went along. We went down to the Thames to shoot the bloody thing but we didn’t know the Thames had a tide. You’re talking to a man who can’t swim here! So we got there and the river had gone down 10 feet. Then we had to fill things on the boat to get it up. Then it started to piss with rain, all by chance. But if those things hadn’t happened, it wouldn’t have been the video that it was. Like everything with punk rock, we made our problems our assets.
ALEX COX: It suggests the possibility of revolution, which is tremendously enticing. “English Civil War” does too; it’s definitely a rallying call for something, but “London Calling” is a bit more advanced – the war is about to take hold.
ROBERT ELMS: It’s almost the national anthem of my city. They play it at QPR games, and as Mick Jones is a fan, that must be a great thrill. We all live by the river.
JEFF HOLMES: You know the video clip, on the dock? Paul Simonon has a six-shooter tucked in his belt, and after the shoot they chucked the gear in the river. The Clash were many things, but they weren’t messing around.
ADAM SWEETING: Brilliant keynote track to possibly the best double album ever made (after Exile On Main St, anyway). It sounded like nothing they’d done before, but its two-chord structure and ominous pulsing motion gave them space to amass quivering tension and a stark sense of threat. This threat seemed to take many forms – nuclear apocalypse, political insurrection, war, Biblical plagues, maybe even the coming of Duran Duran – but Strummer obviously knew something we didn’t. London was burning, and he lived by the river.
PAUL WESTERBERG: Maybe their best. My younger sister was really into them and I would listen to London Calling through her bedroom wall. I went to see them on a triple bill with David Johansen and The Undertones. The sound was awful but they came on and it was probably the perfect thing I needed to see. It was before I was in The Replacements and was still listening to hippie music. I went to see them and everything changed overnight. I was right up front in a big crush of people. I liked the aggression of their music but I didn’t give a damn what they were talking about because it didn’t relate to my life and by Sandinista! I had no use for any of that crap. But I thought they looked very cool and they were a very capable rock band, more than they were a punk band.
TIM BURGESS: When I first heard that song, it was the weirdest thing I’d ever heard. It was rough, but really melodic. Every line just seems to make so much sense, and again with the video, just the classic group thing. I remember Mick Jones saying about London Calling, “Half of it’s brilliant, half of it’s rubbish.” Not sure I agree!
MARC CARROLL: This album’s absolutely timeless. I could have chosen anything from it, but I’ve lost count of the times I’ve soundchecked “London Calling”. I love everything about it: the riff and the lyrics. And that video in the rain.
STEVE ERICKSON: An obvious choice, I know, but sometimes things are obvious for a reason. Of course this has to be No 1 – what else can be? In the closing days of the ’70s, at the juncture of where they had come from and where they were going, they sounded so utterly in charge of their destiny, and this staked such an incontestable claim to their being the best band in the world at that particular moment that even mere apocalypse wasn’t going to stop them. With the wasteland of the world laid out at his feet – “London is drowning/And I live by the river” – Strummer isn’t so much howling as crowing. This was a call to arms that rendered irrelevant anyone who was deaf to it.
TOMMY STINSON: It’s a great song and album – I’m pretty sure it’s the first piece of vinyl I bought for myself. I remember making the pilgrimage to the record store to buy it. And the inside of the record I got had these two pull-out pieces of paper with photos on both sides and, like, all the liner notes and stuff, and I must have read that stuff a thousand times. There were all those great pictures of them playing on their US tour for Give ’Em Enough Rope with The Undertones and shit and I’m pretty sure that was the first record I ever bought. I love the video too for “London Calling”. I thought, man, that’s an awesome look and I’m going for that.
MICKEY BRADLEY Forecasting nuclear disaster, global warming, famine… a surefire Top 10 hit. Performed to a New York audience while Joe Strummer held up a copy of the New York Post with the headline “Beatles To Reform”.
LYNDON MORGANS: The band’s Great Leap Forward, and the record that got America moist and gave rock’n’roll its good name back. Couched in the mother of all album sleeves, and in Elvis’ colours! Guy Stevens is famously credited as the midwife that delivered their masterpiece but I read that Stevens was too far gone to function and that it was mostly the band’s own work. Which, if it’s true, adds all the more to their glory. Plus I’m a sucker for a bit of imminent apocalypse.
BUTCH VIG: I love London Calling. I first got it when I’d just graduated from college and used to play all four sides back to back non-stop for months. There was a huge buzz about The Clash in the US at the time and I remember driving over to Chicago with six of my buddies to see them play The Oregon Ballroom. The atmosphere was so charged you could feel the electricity in the air. Everything they played sounded amazing that night, but when they played “London Calling”, the audience just exploded. A lot of other musicians I know went to see that show and they remember it being just as mind-blowing.
MARK RODGERS: You’ve got to give it to them – The Clash knew how to open an album. Strummer’s lupine howl is a wake-up call to arms, a worldwide announcement of impending doom driven by an apocalyptic rhythm section and the six-string swagger of Jones’ martial chops – a rock’n’reggae fusion of monumental proportions. As Joe’s staccato take on “Singing The Blues” brings it to a close, you just know the future didn’t look too bright.
THURSTON MOORE: Another genuine revolution reggae song that hooked you in and made you daydream about London. Great chorus, great rumbling bass line, and a totally authentic overall feel to it.
NICK JOHNSTONE: The first time I heard “London Calling”, I still thought rock’n’roll could change the world. Now I know that’s not true, that rock’n’roll can only change one person’s life. But that’s enough. And God knows, The Clash changed mine.
STEVE WYNN: One of the best lead-off tracks ever. Give ’Em Enough Rope had been seen as a bit of a disappointment (although it holds up pretty well today), but by the time this song is over it’s pretty apparent that the table had been set for greatness. This was the sound of a band that had set the stakes impossibly high and is just arrogant and insane enough to have no doubt that they can pull it off. You can hear their confidence and fearlessness in every second of this song. And the rest of the album lived up to the promise. I’m sure this will be the consensus No 1 choice for the band’s best song, and it’s a testament to this incredible band that I could think of five better choices.