The Guns of Brixton

The Clash

Song Review by Rick Anderson

In 1990, Rolling Stone pronounced London Calling the best album of the 1980s, and that pronouncement was not very controversial. By 1980 the Clash had become more than just elder statesmen of punk rock; they were pros whose influences stretched far and wide and included ska, reggae, jazz, and even Latin American styles, and they invoked all of them on this two-LP set. As Village Voice critic Robert Christgau put it at the time, "Here's where they start showing off." No song on London Calling (or on any previous album) demonstrated their mastery of reggae as effectively as "Guns of Brixton" did. The Clash had played reggae tunes before, of course -- the band's debut included a cover of the Junior Murvin classic "Police and Thieves" as well as an original entitled "White Man in Hammersmith Palais." But both of those were punk songs with reggae roots. "Guns of Brixton" is built from the ground up as a reggae song. Based on Paul Simonon's loping, minor-key bass line, it evokes the "dread" style of late-'70s Rastafarian reggae, the kind purveyed by Yabby You and Culture. Topper Headon's drum style is, interestingly, more rock than reggae, but the combination of Simenon's bass and the elastic rocksteady rhythm guitar parts -- not to mention the urban menace in the lyrics -- give "Guns of Brixton" a flavor that has far more to do with traditional roots reggae than with punk rock. Following the song's inclusion in The Story of the Clash box set, Epic released a four-track EP titled Return to Brixton, which featured the song in its original version along with three remixes.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Rockers Galore 1977 Epic / Legacy 3:10
London Calling 1979 Legacy / Epic 3:09
Story of the Clash, Vol. 1 1988 Epic / Legacy 3:10
Return to Brixton 1990 Epic 0:00
Clash on Broadway 1991 Epic / Legacy 3:11
The Clash/London Calling/Combat Rock [2000] 2000 Epic / Sony Music Distribution 3:09
The Essential Clash 2003 Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 3:10
Hang All DJ's, Vol. 2 2003 Head Traxx 1:09
Great British Albums 2012
Various Artists
Sony Music 3:09
Hits Back 2013 Sony Music 3:09
Sound System 2013 Sony Legacy / Sony Music 3:12