The Clash’s London Calling for the BBC and NPR

London punks

As the countdown to the 2012 Olympics kicks off with an unlikely theme song, I look London Calling and its zombies and heroin for the BBC.

“The Clash were supporters of pirate radio and considered launching their own station; this love song to the wireless signal recounts what, in punk terms, is up-to-the-minute and truthful news. But it isn’t saying ‘come and enjoy the canoe slalom’.”

Major hoorays to Marcus Gray’s Route 19 Revisited for the key fact that London Calling was originally inspired by Joe Strummer’s dislike of sports fans visiting London, as he explained to Kosmo Vinyl (Clash On Broadway box set booklet, 1991). Awkward [Update [1 Aug]: Praise be! Route 19 is imminently in paperback. There is nothing more interesting to say about 1979; I know – I tried! Buy it – it is The One.]

Sadly there was no space to mention Clash fan of Indian origin Harraj Mann, questioned in 2006 under the Terrorism Act after a taxi driver taking him to Heathrow airport became alarmed that he was listening to London Calling and called the police. The incident was seen as a massive overreaction, suggesting either that the song has lost its incendiary power, or that the authorities were being over-cautious – or both.

Also neglected was the way Strummer starts “doing” Tommy Steele’s Singing The Blues at the end (“I’ve never felt so much a-like…”), never better described than by Tom Ewing: “No consonant is safe with Steele around, words pool into one another in a shrugged gush of pre-meditated moodiness.”

Update [30 Jul]: Here is wireless nabob Scott Simon of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday yakking with me (see also NPR’s blog The Record):

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4 Responses to The Clash’s London Calling for the BBC and NPR

  1. dave olson says:

    after having listened to you and scott simon chatting about having “london calling” as a theme song for the olympics next year, i decided to take it to heart and see if through the practice in sacrilegious rewording of said song, it could be made to work. a thankless job as there will always be loads of people ready to unload their garbage at any such attempt, i of course loving an impossible challenge, have given it a try while maintaining as much of the original in spirit as well as in how it has been redone, this is a sketch, but a real attempt at making it usable. we’ll see as i run this by stephen daldry’s ears this week. the way i see it is the london symphony orchestra playing a grand version with a hundred children singing “london calling” and then the orchestra stage splitting and the clash (whats left of them) and a singer yet to be figured in, (who is cool enough and of stature and yet can really do a great job at it) coming out and sing it to the world. the rewritten version is done, the symphonic bits are being worked on, i would love to send it to you to see if running it up your flagpole, has it catch and wind. nice piece, inspiring to say the least, i took it to heart. where would i send such a song? in an mp3.

  2. dave olson says:

    so is this where one posts access to the song? here is the link to the song with video on youtube.

  3. […] Me at the BBC and NPR on the 2012 launch music […]

  4. […] Since this song is 30+ years old, most people aren’t going to think twice about it, and on the surface it certainly fits.  But its use has to strike fans of The Clash as hugely ironic on multiple levels.  To begin with, the song is hardly a paean to London – its dark, dystopian lyrics talk about impending nuclear meltdowns, floods and police brutality in between snipes at British culture.  Of course, The Clash were equally adept at making snipes at American culture, including its entertainment industry. Check out classics like “I’m So Bored with the USA” or “Washington Bullets” (or the whole Sandanista album, for that matter.)  The “Only Band That Mattered” made a career out of being politically provocative, and they were certainly no fans of the Reagan-era USA. What’s more, Clash leader Joe Strummer was supposedly no fan of sports fans visiting London. […]

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