NBC’s Use of “LONDON CALLING”: Brilliant or Bollocks?

Have you been following the flap about the US Olympic teams’ Chinese-made uniforms?  Since righteous indignation is the fuel that feeds political fires, it’s predictable enough that Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi et al, would make a stink about this. But amidst all that acrimony, they’re missing another opportunity for angst: NBC’s use of “London Calling” by The Clash in Olympic promo spots.

Since this song is 30+ years old, most people aren’t going to think twice about it, and on the surface it certainly fits.  But its use has to strike fans of The Clash as hugely ironic on multiple levels.  To begin with, the song is hardly a paean to London – its dark, dystopian lyrics talk about impending nuclear meltdowns, floods and police brutality in between snipes at British culture.  Of course, The Clash were equally adept at making snipes at American culture, including its entertainment industry. Check out classics like “I’m So Bored with the USA” or “Washington Bullets” (or the whole Sandanista album, for that matter.)  The “Only Band That Mattered” made a career out of being politically provocative, and they were certainly no fans of the Reagan-era USA. What’s more, Clash leader Joe Strummer was supposedly no fan of sports fans visiting London.

On the flip side, yes, the song (as NBC is using it) fits nicely.  It not only references the city, impending battles and global significance, but also hearkens back to the BBC’s use of the “London Calling” phrase in broadcasts to occupied countries during World War II.  And the song definitely has a war cry vibe to it.  So, as an armchair ad critic and music fan, part of me thinks it is pretty cool that NBC isusing it. Heck, it might foster a whole new generation of fans for The Clash (to steal Yoko Ono’s argument in support of Nike using the Beatles “Revolution” back in 1989.)  Plus, I just read that an even more incendiary punk anthem – The Sex Pistols “God Save the Queen” – is going to be used during the Olympic broadcasts.  Apparently anything goes here.

Still, as a PR guy, I’m surprised that no one has taken NBC to the mat on this. But hey, I live in America, where – to paraphrase Strummer/Jones – we’re absorbed with insipid TV detective shows “seven days a week.”  I guess we’ll worry about it later.