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'London Calling,' Repurposed As A Tourism Jingle
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'London Calling,' Repurposed As A Tourism Jingle

Music Articles

'London Calling,' Repurposed As A Tourism Jingle
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SIMON: First few notes are unmistakable. "London Calling," The Clash, 1979, a song that became an anthem for new, edgy London that could be hard, dark, cutting.

THE CLASH: (Singing) London calling to the faraway towns. Now war is declared and battle come down.

SIMON: Now, organizers of the 2012 Olympic Games want to use the song to invite the world to come to London. Have they heard the lyrics? Music writer and BBC freelancer Alan Connor has. He joins us from London.

Alan, thanks for being back with us.

ALAN CONNOR: What a pleasure to be back with you again, Scott.

SIMON: So, how does a post-apocalyptic punk song become the equivalent of "My Kind of Town"?

CONNOR: You put your finger on it when you said to invite the world to come to London, which is what they're trying to do. In this song, London's got zombies wandering around and the river's flooding and the policemen are beating everyone up. So, it's not much of the way of saying, hey, come and watch our beach volleyball. You'll have a great time.


CLASH: (Singing) 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...

SIMON: I can't wait. I'm booked now and I'm wearing my flippers.

CONNOR: Yeah, well, the stadium's by the river. And so, if London is drowning, people aren't going to be enjoying the 4 X 100 meters, are they?

SIMON: Well, they could be participating. The field will grow a lot larger. But, I mean, that first line, London calling, so arresting. It's got important history and symbolism, doesn't it?


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is London. London calling in the home, overseas and European services of the BBC...

CONNOR: It has. And I think the Clash knew what they were doing when they were using it. The phrase before the Clash song was mainly identified with the BBC World Service. It was broadcasting by countries during the Second World War.

SIMON: I got to share something with you: when I covered the seize of Sarajevo, "London Calling" was a very important song to the teenage kids there. They identified with it a lot and in some ways represented a kind of special sophistication, you know, for them that the Clash understood.


CLASH: (Singing) London calling to the faraway towns. Now war is declared, and battle come down...

CONNOR: That line in itself did a great job for punk in the late-1970s of kind of advertising to the whole world, well, we've got this new music coming. So, celebrating them but it's also repudiating the previous decade's idea of London, that kind of when he says we ain't got no swing, he's trying to, I think, Joe Strummer, the songwriter, is trying to put in the bin the swinging London red bus, black taxi, groovy baby, type of London.

SIMON: Yeah. Phony Beatlemania, right? That's the phrase in there.

CONNOR: It's the sort of anti-advert for London, I suppose.


CLASH: (Singing) London calling, now don't look at us. Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust. London calling, see, we ain't got no swing. Except for the ring of the truncheon thing...

SIMON: I guess it's kind of nice that this is one song nobody asked Sir Paul McCartney to write.


CONNOR: Well, I think, you know...

SIMON: And he does a great job, don't get me wrong, OK.

CONNOR: You walk around London and you just hear people breathing a sigh of relief that Elton John hasn't been asked to do it.


SIMON: That's Sir Elton John to you, Alan.

CONNOR: Apologize. Your Honor Sir Elton.

SIMON: I think it's a great song and I can't wait to hear it thousands of times in 2012. Thanks very much for being with us, Alan.

CONNOR: Thanks again, Scott. It's always a pleasure.

SIMON: Alan Connor, music writer, speaking with us from, ah, you know where.

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