London calling to the faraway towns
Now that war is declared and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, all you boys and girls

London calling, now don't look at us
All that phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain't got no swing
Except for the ring of that 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
Because London is drowning and I, I live by the river

London calling to the imitation zone
Forget it, brother, and go it alone
London calling upon the zombies of death
Quit holding out and draw another breath

London calling and I don't want to shout
But when we were talking I saw you nodding out
London calling, see we ain't got no highs
Except for that one with the yellowy eyes

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
Because London is drowning and I, I live by the river

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

I never felt so much alike

Lyrics submitted by aebassist

London Calling song meanings
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  • +14
    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
  • +10
    General Comment

    This 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 Comment

    The intro was "borrowed" from "Dead End Street" by the kinks, but played on bass rather than French Horn...

    butterfingersbeckon October 25, 2004   Link
  • +4
    General Comment

    I 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 Comment

    I 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.

    rikdad101@yahoo.comon September 19, 2006   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    Some 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
  • +2
    General Comment

    i miss songs like this....the clash stood for soemthing and played and sang about it. if you don't like them, fine, but you gotta respect them. the fact that they are one of the greatest punk bands ever is just dessert.

    bosco9on May 07, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    i took the line "London is drowning-and I live by the river" to mean that the Thames was drowning London, and he would be the first to go... maybe it's me...

    optmstcon June 29, 2003   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    doesn't matter doesn't matter it's all right the universe still works tonight

    shit happens shit happens it's okay what comes to pass will pass away

    whatever hits the fan might splatter It's all right cos it doesn't matter

    titanicsailsatmidnighton July 14, 2021   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    For people who care, this song means a lot. Go to the East End on Monday night, you'll find a pub somewhere full of 30-somethings going mad to this one.

    Joyceyon May 19, 2002   Link

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