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Jan 11

Reassurance Saturday with “I’m Not Down”: The Clash

"I'm Not Down" is Marty's Song of the Day for January 11, 2014“You’re streets away from where it gets the roughest.”

I’m not saying that songs like the Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child (Things Are Gonna Get Easier)” lack integrity, but the fact is that one can “walk in the rays of a beautiful sun” every single day in California and still be depressed.

“I’m Not Down,” on the other hand, nestled in the middle of the fourth side of The Clash’s iconic “London Calling” album, is most reassuring because it acknowledges that (you) are always in physical danger and that, even when everything is going well, you’re still mere “streets away” from loss and regret. It’s a triumphant song because we get a real sense that everything might go away any moment. Indeed, the last few lines suggest that there might be a downturn sooner rather than later.

Mick Jones wrote most of the Clash’s music, while Joe Strummer handled the lyrics and most of the vocals. I’ve always liked Mick Jones’ voice, though. It is thinner than Strummer’s but has more personality. It sounds more like the type of voice you’d hear in post-punk London, not yet so far removed from the London of World War II.

“I’m Not Down” features a comparatively rare Mick Jones vocal for The Clash (he also did “Train in Vain,” “Police on My Back,” “Lost in the Supermarket,” and “Should I Star or Should I Go?” the only Clash song to make it into the Billboard Top Ten), and I like that occasionally he sings the lyric like he’s not so sure.

I’m Not Down” as performed by The Clash
Year: 1979
Composers: Joe Strummer and Mick Jones

Lyrics

If it’s true a rich man leads a sad life
That’s what they say, from day to day
Then what do the poor do with their lives?
On judgment day, with nothing to say?

I’ve been beat up, I’ve been thrown out
But I’m not down, Oh I’m not down
I’ve been shown up, but I’ve grown up
And I’m not down, Oh I’m not down

On my own I faced a gang of jeering
In strange streets
When my nerves were pumping out
I fought my fear in, I didn’t run
I was not done

I’ve been beat up, I’ve been thrown out
But I’m not down, Oh I’m not down
I’ve been shown up, but I’ve grown up
And I’m not down, Oh I’m not down

So I have lived, that kind of day
When none of your sorrows will go away
Go down and down and hit the floor
Down and down and down some more
Depression

But I know, there’ll be some way
When I can swing everything back my way
Like skyscrapers, rising up
Floor by floor, I’m not giving up

So you rock around and think that
You’re the toughest
In the world, the whole wide world
But you’re streets away from where
It gets the roughest
You ain’t been there

I’ve been beat up, I’ve been thrown out
But I’m not down, Oh I’m not down
I’ve been shown up, but I’ve grown up
And I’m not down, Oh I’m not down

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