Sunday, November 22, 2009

London Calling – 1979 – What a Year for Fear!

“The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in,

Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin,

A nuclear error, but I have no fear,

Cause London is drowning and I, I live by the river.”

Just fluffing about it’s amazing the stuff you can stumble through. I Google “greatest song of all time,” and pick up the Rolling Stone Top 500 (a.k.a. RS500) and scan the songs for those I love(d). London Calling (The Clash), would you believe, comes in at number 15.[1] That blew me away! As a twelve year old fantasising about his very own rock career complete with tennis racquet air guitar, this is one of those songs I just loved to ‘play to.’

Let’s try and get a feel for this grungy punk rock dip from before its time. London Calling, is of course, a super-powered post-World War II (WWII) anthem of the covert BBC broadcasts to the occupied territories of Europe under the Nazi oppression. Its lyric matches the secretive element the tune epitomises.

The song recalls for me, someone living at a pre-Nuclear-Arms-conscious time, the advent of rock, disco and punk, pre-pop and the synthpop era that was rapidly approaching in the early to mid-eighties.

London Calling is essentially veined as the hope of the world back in those dim dark days in early WWII, pre-American involvement, but the song has a sinister undertone betraying that confidence, from a 1979-viewpoint. The ‘nuclear error’ foreshadows the growing concern of the world’s community.

Musically it is chilled with a haunting bassy rasp which is cryptic, evocative, yet ironically soothing as the imagination soaks up the driven meandering rhythm.

Lyrically it’s a song full of fear, alluding openly perhaps to WWII regarding its title and chorus, but directed otherwise at the then-present-day. It’s a song with shallow and positively derisive confidence in the political voices of the day. At its core it talks poignantly to the age of propaganda which all sides delved into—a rhetoric of the booming age of Modernism, fast entering Post-modernism.

And what do we take from the song, so far out now—a release thirty years past. The underpinning message of the song is a dazzling, overwhelming fear of an ugly, suspicious world threatening to crash down. But, like all music and art, it says different things to different people, and certainly it says more, much more, than it was perhaps intended originally to communicate.

And that’s okay. We still love it, and we’ll still love it in 2039 I suspect.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

[1] From Wikipedia: The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. RollingStone. 2004-12-09. Retrieved by Wikipedia 2007-11-22. “15. London Calling, The Clash,”

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