Back to song list

The Clash - White Riot - Lyrics Meaning

This was the first single released by the Clash in 1977. As with many Clash songs, the lyrics were, and still are, controversial. The intention was to encourage white youths to fight for a worthy cause - instead of just picking random fights - which writers Joe Strummer and Mick Jones felt black youths already had. The song was written after vocalist Strummer and bass player Paul Siminon were involved in the Notting Hill Carnival riots of 1976. The Notting Hill Carnival is an annual event which began in 1959 in response to a spate of race related attacks in Britain. Police involvement at the beginning was aimed at preventing the carnival from going ahead and this led to a number of riots each year. Black youths fought for the right to parade through the streets and the lines, `Black people gotta lot of problems but they don't mind throwing a brick,' and, `Are you taking over, or are you taking orders?' sum up the anti-fascist, anti-establishment message of the song but, ironically, many saw it as enticing a race war in the UK. The lines, `White riot. I wanna riot. White riot, a riot of my own,' created a signature song for the band.

The fast paced, high energy performance of the song made deciphering lyrics difficult and during an interview band members said, "...there was a bloke that told us he thought we were singing `quite right' instead of `white riot'..." which amused them greatly!

Meanings of other songs by The Clash:
Rock the Casbah