"Clampdown" is a single and a song by The Clash from their album London Calling. The song began as an instrumental track called "Working and Waiting".[1] It is sometimes called "Working for the Clampdown" which is the main lyric of the song, and also the title provided on the album's lyric sheet. Its lyrics concern those who have forsaken the idealism of youth and urges young people to fight the status quo.[2] The word 'clampdown' is a neat cover-all term the writers adopted to define the oppressive Establishment, notably its more reactionary voices who were to be heard throughout the 1970s calling alarmingly for 'clampdowns' by government and law enforcement on strikers, agitators, benefits claimants, football hooligans, punks and other perceived threats to the social, economic and moral wellbeing of the UK. The 'clampdown' can therefore be read as a figure of dread for the Clash's generation - and the song stands as a warning to the youth to beware being part of the problem rather than of the solution.

Single by The Clash
from the album London Calling
B-side"The Guns of Brixton"
Format7" single
RecordedAugust–September 1979, November 1979 at Wessex Studios
GenrePunk rock
LabelCBS ES 486
Songwriter(s)Joe Strummer and Mick Jones
Producer(s)Guy Stevens
The Clash singles chronology
"London Calling"
"Train in Vain"

In 1980 "Clampdown" was released as a single backed with "The Guns of Brixton" in Australia. The single was not released in any other territories, with the exception of US promos.

Analysis of lyricsEdit

"Clampdown" was written by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones.

The song's lyrics, written by Joe Strummer, refers to the failures of capitalist society.[3][4] The wearing of the "blue and brown" refers to the color of the uniforms that are mostly worn by workers. This idea goes along with lyrics that refer to "young believers" who are brought and bought into the capital system by those "working for the clampdown" who will "teach our twisted speech." Strummer wrote,

The men in the factory are old and cunning
You don't owe nothing, so boy get running!
It's the best years of your life they want to steal!
You grow up and you calm down and you're working for the clampdown.
You start wearing the blue and brown and you're working for the clampdown.
So you got someone to boss around. It makes you feel big now...

These lyrics are seen to refer to how one gets caught by the capital economic system and its ethos of work, debt, power, position and conformist lifestyle.[5] Strummer, who was a proud and loud socialist, also uses the song's closing refrain to highlight this mindset and potential trap and offers a warning not to give oneself over to "the clampdown". This is emphasized in the coda by Jones' repetition of the words "work" and "more work" on the beat over Strummers breathy repetition of the phrase "working for the clampdown". This reaffirms the idea that Strummer saw "the clampdown" as a threat to all who get caught up in the modern economic wage-hour system. Bass player and Clash co-founder Paul Simonon, in an interview with the LA Times, spoke about the opportunities available to him after he finished his education,

What was worse was that when it got time for us to start leaving school, they took us out on trips to give us an idea of what jobs were available. But they didn't try to introduce us to anything exciting or meaningful. They took us to the power station and the Navy yards. It was like saying, 'This is all you guys could ever do.' Some of the kids fell for it. When we got taken down to the Navy yards, we went on a ship and got cooked up dinner and it was all chips and beans. It was really great. So some of the kids joined up - because the food was better than they ate at home.

Strummer, like Simonon, spent time on the dole, but Strummer did not come from a lower-class family. In the same interview with the LA Times Strummer said,

You see, I'm not like Paul or the others, I had a chance to be a 'good, normal person' with a nice car and a house in the suburbs - the golden apple or whatever you call it. But I saw through it. I saw it was an empty life.

Strummer's father was a British diplomat, and Joe was sent away to boarding school where he detested "the thick rich people’s thick rich kids". Strummer said,

I only saw my father once a year (after being sent to boarding school). He was a real disciplinarian who was always giving me speeches about how he had pulled himself up by the sweat of his brow: a real guts and determination man. What he was really saying to me was, 'If you play by the rules, you can end up like me'. And I saw right away I didn't want to end up like him. Once I got out on my own, I realized I was right. I saw how the rules worked and I didn't like them.

Later verses suggest an alternative in revolution, a theme common throughout Joe Strummer's songwriting. This point of view also points to the lyric "You start wearing the blue and brown" as supporting their cause. The barely audible lyrics at the beginning of the song were deciphered by Clash fan Ade Marks, and first published in Q magazine's Clash special[citation needed]:

The kingdom is ransacked, the jewels all taken back
And the chopper descends
They're hidden in the back, with a message on a half-baked tape
With the spool going round, saying I'm back here in this place
And I could cry
And there's smoke you could click on
What are we going to do now?

Analysis of musicEdit

The song is mostly in the key of A major, with a key change to E major in the bridge.

The coda features a bouncing dance, alternating between G and F# chords as the riff slowly fades, featuring Strummer's ad libs and the repeated lyric based on "work".

Cover versionsEdit

"Clampdown" was later covered by Rage Against the Machine at their first live show in 1991, as well as their more recent show in Antwerp, Belgium on 2 June 2008. It was also covered by Indigo Girls and can be heard on Rarities (2005) as well as the Clash tribute album Burning London: The Clash Tribute (1999). The song was also covered by The Strokes (at their Oxegen and T in the Park appearances in July 2004), Poster Children on their 2004 release, On the Offensive, and James Dean Bradfield (of the Manic Street Preachers) on his solo tour in October 2006. Another band that covered this song was Hot Water Music, on their B sides and rarities compilation album called Till the Wheels Fall Off. The song was also covered by The National on the album A Tribute to The Clash, and by Inward Eye, which they released through a video on their YouTube channel. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band covered the song a few times on their 2014 High Hopes Tour. Metallica played the song at the 2016 Bridge School Benefit.

Popular referenceEdit

The song was featured in the Futurama episode, "The Silence of the Clamps", where the song is played over a montage of Clamps and Fry spending time together. The song was also used in the US television show Malcolm in the Middle during an episode where Malcolm and some misfits organize an anti-prom called "Morp".

In September 2018, during one of the debates between incumbent United States senator Ted Cruz and United States congressman Beto O'Rourke held as part of the campaign for that year's United States Senate election in Texas, O'Rourke claimed that Cruz was "working for the clampdown". [7] O'Rourke would later use the song in his official campaign launch in El Paso. [8]

Rock Band music gaming platformEdit

It was made available to download on 1 February 2011 for use in the Rock Band 3 music gaming platform in both Basic rhythm, and PRO mode which utilizes real guitar / bass guitar, and MIDI compatible electronic drum kits / keyboards in addition to vocals.


The following people contributed to "Clampdown":[9]

The Clash
Additional musician


  1. ^ Sweeting, Adam (October 2004). "Death or Glory". Uncut: 67.
  2. ^ Guarisco, Donald A. "Clampdown Review". Allmusic. Retrieved 13 March 2008.
  3. ^ D'Ambrosio, Antonino (June 2003). "'Let fury have the hour': the passionate politics of Joe Strummer (Page 4)". Monthly Review. CNET Networks. Archived from the original on 31 May 2009. Retrieved 13 March 2008.
  4. ^ D'Ambrosio, Antonino (June 2003). "'Let fury have the hour': the passionate politics of Joe Strummer (Page 5)". Monthly Review. CNET Networks. Archived from the original on 4 June 2009. Retrieved 13 March 2008.
  5. ^ Dimery, Robert (1999). Collins Gem Classic Albums. Glasgow: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0-00-472485-2. OCLC 43582584.
    Related news articles:
  6. ^ a b c Hilburn, Robert (22 January 1984). "Clash make it goo". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, CA. London: Times-Mirror. ISSN 0458-3035. OCLC 3638237. LONDON - The Clash is a rock band that lives up to its name.
    Related news articles:
  7. ^ Ramirez, Ramon (21 September 2018). "Beto O'Rourke makes apparent Clash reference during Cruz debate". The Daily Dot. The Daily Dot. Retrieved 21 September 2018.
  8. ^ Bridgeman, Megan (30 March 2019). "5 takeaways from Beto's speech during the 2020 presidential campaign rally in El Paso". El Paso Times. El Paso Times. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  9. ^ London Calling: 25th Anniversary Legacy Edition (CD liner notes). Epic Records. September 2004.


External linksEdit