The song was written by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones. The title alludes to the BBC World Service's station identification: "This is London calling ...", which was used during World War II, often in broadcasts to occupied countries.
"London Calling" was the first Clash song to chart elsewhere in the world, reaching the top 40 in Australia. The success of the single and album was greatly helped by the music video shot by Don Letts showing the band playing the song on a boat (Festival Pier), next to Albert Bridge on the south side of the Thames, Battersea Park in a cold and rainy night at the beginning of December 1979.
Over the years, "London Calling" has become regarded by many critics as the band's finest. In 2004, Rolling Stone rated the song as No. 15 in its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the highest position of the band and of any punk rock song. In 1989, the magazine also rated the album of the same name as the best album of the 1980s—although it was released in late 1979 in Britain, it came out in January 1980 in the USA.
"London Calling" was also ranked No. 42 on VH1's "100 Greatest Songs of the '80s".