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
Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain't got no swing
Except for the ring of the truncheon thing

The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin
Engines stop running, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning
I live by the river

London calling to the imitation zone
Forget it, brother, you can go it alone
London calling to the zombies of death
Quit holding out and draw another breath
London calling and I don't want to shout
But while we were talking, I saw you nodding out
London calling, see we ain't got no high
Except for that one with the yellowy eye

The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in
Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear era, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning
I, I live by the river

The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in
Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear era, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning
I, I live by the river

Now get this

London calling, yes, I was there, too
And you know what they said? Well, some of it was true
London calling at the top of the dial
And after all this, won't you give me a smile?

(London calling)

I never felt so much alike, alike, alike, alike


Lyrics submitted by aebassist

"London Calling" as written by Mick Jones Joe Strummer

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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London Calling song meanings
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  • +11
    General Comment"London's drowning and I live by the river," comes from the concern that if the Thames burst its banks, most of central London would be flooded. Strummer was actually living in a high rise flat when he penned this.

    "This is London calling..." was used by the BBC World Service station to identify themselves in broadcasting to occupied companies during WWII.

    "A nuclear error" is a reference to what happened at Three Mile Island, in 1979.

    The lyrics are also said to reflect the bands desperation at their debt, lack of management and internal arguments etc

    "Now don't look to us, all that phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust.." is a reference to their insecurities over their position as a band, post 1977 punk rock boom in England.

    It was certainly a new song for The Clash.. they'd rarely used minor keys before. It has a kind of apocolyptic feel, with Topper's drumming, perfectly synchronised to staccato guitar, the deliberation in the tempo, Strummers baleful delivery and animalisti howling really emphasise the paranoia and desperation.

    Note how the song doesn't fade out or anything; it breaks down... in a kind of Tonwshend-esque manner.
    Ingidoon January 08, 2006   Link
  • +7
    General CommentThis song, and most Clash songs have to be seen as a part of ( and a response to ) the time and place that they were written in. If you were'nt in England in the mid to late '70's it's really hard to imagine how bleak a place it was. There simply were NO jobs. No way to stand up and have any pride and the Government was completely out of touch with both its young citizens and its ever increasing minority population. Taken in that context, most of the songs of the Clash ARE about war; it's just that the war is metaphorical. The war is poor vs rich, young vs old and most importantly lower class against middle and upper class. London Calling is the closest thing to an actual manifesto we ever got out of the clash. What they're sayng is that they ARE London (the youth and the artists and the agitators ) and they are calling out to the apathy of the rest of the country (zombies of death ?) It's a fantastic song, and I'm not sure that they ever equalled this mix of passion and clarity of message again.
    magpi1on January 06, 2006   Link
  • +5
    General CommentI only found this song when Joe Strummer died a couple of months back, I downloaded it, began to love it and absoloutely LOVED the tribute to Joe by Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl and Steve Van Zandt at this years Grammys. It was simply awesome, if you love this song and missed the show, download it. It is hella worth it.
    Little_Matton March 04, 2003   Link
  • +4
    General CommentThe intro was "borrowed" from "Dead End Street" by the kinks, but played on bass rather than French Horn...
    butterfingersbeckon October 25, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI agree with those who have said that the song is about chaos, in the form of anarchy/revolution, enveloping London. Similar to war, but destruction from within. "London calling" was a tagline during WW2, when London was being the hardest hit (by bombing) of anywhere. In 1979, they were saying that London was being the hardest hit again.

    I've puzzled over the words "A nuclear era, but I have no fear; London is drowning and I live by the river", and I've read what people here have said. My conclusion is that he's saying that he has no fear OF the nuclear error... he won't be alive long enough to suffer from that BECAUSE London is drowning and he lives by the river. Literally, the anarchy that is coming will sweep over London before the rest of the world succumbs.

    The song definitely has a greatness beyond the lyrics. The anger and urgency of the song is clear, and you can absorb that from even isolated lyrics you hear over the instruments in a casual listen.
    rikdadon September 19, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentSome of the lines contradict themselves, like
    "The Ice Age is coming, the sun's zooming in.
    Meltdown expected; the wheat's growing thin.
    Engines stopped running . . ." Every time I hear that part, I think of someone walking down the street and hearing bits and pieces of other people's conversations about what's going on. Someone thinks the Ice Age is coming, another person says the sun's zooming in, and "meltdown expected, the wheat's growing thin, engines stopped running" sound like things heard on the news, like a weather forecast and two breaking news updates, maybe.

    As for the "but I have no fear, 'cause London is drowning and I, I live by the river" line that everyone's so confused by, I really don't see what's so confusing about it. Even though London's drowning, he has o fear because he lives by the river, so he most likely won't suffer as much because he will be one of the first to die when the river overflows.
    knockout000on July 08, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song is one of my favourite songs of all time. As to what it is about:

    < Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin
    A nuclear error, but I have no fear
    London is drowning-and I live by the river>>

    A nuclear error? The ice-age? Sun zooming in? This is all apocalpse imagery. Why? Because we were right in the middle of the Cold War. The Clash were about current politics, about the present, not the past.

    And about London drowning...the river is the Thames, and the Clash lived in London. I don't know the exact meaning behind every line. But I always assumed this was about the Cold War
    zoecedon March 16, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThat's one word?
    Bratton December 07, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentEverything I was thinking about this song has pretty much been covered. i think one thing I could point out is my interpretation of the 'Imitation zone - another breath' verse. I think Joe is trying to say here that the imitation zone is the London youth looking to bands such as The Sex Pistols and The Clash to save them, and he's telling them to 'forget it' because there's really nothing he, or any of the others, can do for them. They have to do what they can themselves, as that's the only way the world can move forward. The Zombies of Death are the people so afraid of all the perils mentioned in the chorus, that they stop living life and trying to make a difference. They are 'holding out,' and waiting for the inevitable disaster. But Joe doesn't care - he's just going to do what he can, and if the apocalypse arrives, so be it. Dumb interpretation, I know, but that's just what I think.
    NellieWhiskeyon March 08, 2009   Link
  • +1
    My Opiniondecay and failure of optimistic postwar society that was exemplified by London in the late 50s and sixties.

    I think the recorded lyrics for the track are slightly different from what is presented on site.

    the sun's zooming in => The suns at an end
    london is drowning => london is burning.

    the change is probable the result of the CBS feeling the actual lines are too subversive, (ie too "violent", too "dangerous")

    Taking these differences into accoun we find the song becomes more potent in its symbolism, underlying meaning and general tone--and this way we find that it also fits more harmoniously in tune with some of the broader themes and images that permiate through the entire album. meaningsthe
    bahoevelon June 08, 2012   Link

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