Don’t be upset ‘London Calling’ is being used in ads for Olympics

Chris Chase
Fourth-Place Medal

The Clash's "London Calling" was used in a recent advertisement for next year's Summer Games, causing a BBC magazine writer to question whether the anarchic song is a proper fit for a triumphant event like the Olympics.

"Food shortages, floods and 'zombies of death' -- welcome to London," Alan Connor writes. "The Clash's breakthrough single is enough to start a housing crash and send tourists fleeing."

Oh, don't get your knickers in a bunch, Alan. If the track is catchy, it's a proper fit.

The discussion about songs being used for unintended purposes in commercials and advertisements is played out. We accept that there's going to be a disconnect between the meaning of the track and its use in a Pepsi commercial. It's been going on for years.

For good reason, Bruce Springsteen didn't like when Ronald Reagan used the caustic "Born in the U.S.A." during his 1984 campaign. (Eight years later few seemed to care that Bill Clinton's use of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" made just as little sense given that it was written as a message from a soon-to-be divorcee to her alcoholic husband.) Fans of The Rolling Stones didn't like it when the band "sold out" by licensing "Start Me Up" for the ad campaign for Windows 95. The Onion brilliantly spoofed this trend over a decade ago.

If there's going to be a rule about using appropriate songs in commercials then there'd never be any great songs in ads. (Which wouldn't be a bad thing, I guess.) Bob Dylan once wrote "behind every beautiful thing there's some kind of pain." Most songs are about love, break-ups and/or a lack of sobriety. There aren't too many good ones about the triumphs of high achievement.

Use what you want, London. "Werewolves of London," "Baker Street," or the theme from Harry Potter; everything is on the table so long as it's not a Morrissey song. That dude's just depressing.

If you do have a problem with "London Calling," here's a helpful Clash-to-Olympics translation tool created by Fourth-Place Medal.


Lyric: London calling to the faraway towns.

Actual meaning: "This is London calling" was the station identification used by the BBC World Service during World War II. The Clash used it to warn of impending crises in the UK.

New meaning: London welcomes you to the Games of the XXX Olympiad.

Lyric: Now don't look to usphony Beatlemania has bitten the dust

Actual meaning: Clearly something about the prevalence of Beatles in Great Britain.

New meaning: Maybe Paul McCartney won't be performing at the Opening Ceremony.

Lyric: Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin

Actual meaning: Gas and drought problems were affecting Britain.

New meaning: Due to traffic concerns, use the Tube and bring Wheat Thins because there may be long waits.

Lyric: London is drowningAnd I live by the river.

Actual meaning: If the Thames floods, London will be underwater.

New meaning: London is drowning in the sea of Olympic spirit and living by the river gives me the best access to all the grand Summer Games venues.

Lyric: We ain't got no swing / Except for the ring of that truncheon thing

Actual meaning: London police menacingly carried truncheons (billy clubs) as weapons.

New meaning: Change "truncheon" to "luncheon" and all of a sudden it's a catchy jingle for the McDonald's that will dominate the restaurant landscape at the Olympic village.

Lyric: We ain't got no high / except for that one with the yellowy eyes.

Actual meaning: Casual use of illicit drugs.

New meaning: A reference to Ivan Ukhov's status as favorite to win gold in the men's high jump and the reflection that will be in his eyes if he does.

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