'London Calling,' Repurposed As A Tourism Jingle

From the first few notes, the song is unmistakable. "London Calling," which kicked off The Clash's 1979 album of the same name, became an anthem for a new, edgy London that could be hard, dark, and cutting.

Now, organizers of the 2012 Olympic Games are using song to invite the world to come to London — a curious choice, given the tone of the lyrics. Here's a representative sample:

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 live by the river

Music writer and BBC freelancer Alan Connor took note of that disconnect in an article published earlier this week. He spoke with Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon from a BBC studio in London.

"In the song, London's got zombies wandering around, the river's flooding, and the policemen are beating everyone up," says Connor. "So it's not much of a way of saying, 'Hey, come and watch our beach volleyball — you'll have a great time.'"

That said, there is some important history and symbolism bound up in the song's title. Before the band appropriated it, the phrase "London calling" was mainly identified with the BBC World Service and its broadcasts to occupied countries during World War II.

Connor says the song's opening line, "London calling to the faraway towns," was a battle cry for a different struggle — the cultural war that punk rock had ushered in.

"That line, in itself, did a great job for punk in the 1970s of advertising to the whole world, 'We've got this new music coming,'" says Connor. "It's celebrating London, but it's also repudiating the previous decade's idea of London. When he says, 'We ain't got no swing,' I think Joe Strummer is trying to put in the bin the red-bus, black-taxi, groovy-baby kind of London."

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