13. The Clash – London Calling

Engines stop running, but I have no fear, ‘cause London is drowning and I live by the river.

Of the forty songs in my list, only three rate membership in the Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Songs.

  • Super Freak, Rick James at 477.
  • Dancing Queen, ABBA at 171.
  • London Calling, The Clash at 15.

According to Rolling Stone, London Calling is the greatest song on my list. I can believe that. You can also figure out that my top twelve does not contain the following: Lust for Life, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Love Will Tear Us Apart, Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground or even the deliriously good Band of Gold by Freda Payne. Look at that quality music I didn’t let past the velvet rope.

London Calling is a global song, but to me it felt local:

London is drowning and I live by the river.

Back in 1979/80 I would stand at the bus stop, a queue of one, and look at the posters like the ones below. It was the time when they were building the Thames Barrier.

flood flood 2

London was going to flood. Nuclear reactors were going to blow up. Southall had rioted (it was just up the road). Brixton was just about to riot. We believed that World War Three was about to start and a thousands of Soviet tanks were going to pour over the border into West Germany. We wouldn’t be able to stand up to the immense might of the Soviet conventional forces and would fire off the nukes. London Calling was music for the end of the world.



The Clash sing London Calling on a barge on the Thames in the rain. It is winter and they are cold and wet, wearing heavy coats. Joe Strummer is fighting to spit out his desolate lyrics. It made me proud to be a kid from London.


Next: 12. Blondie – Atomic

Previous: 14. The Cure – Primary


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