The Early Morning Store Visit that Inspired “Lost in the Supermarket” by The Clash

Rock ‘n’ roll songwriting duos have evolved out of bands over the years. John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings of The Guess Who, and David Gilmour and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd have all had big success. When members of The Clash got together in London in 1976, singer Joe Strummer would typically write the lyrics, and guitarist Mick Jones often wrote the music.

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Inspired by the emergence of the Sex Pistols, The Clash were a band with a message. Their left-leaning lyrics focused on social problems, such as unemployment, politics, career opportunities, drug use, racism, and oppression. As the band evolved, they expanded their musical landscape. By their third album London Calling, The Clash were exploring jazz, pop, R&B, reggae, rockabilly, pop, lounge, rock ‘n’ roll, and ska. Let’s take a look at one song from that album, “Lost in the Supermarket” by The Clash.

I’m all lost in the supermarket
I can no longer shop happily
I came in here for that special offer
A guaranteed personality

The Songwriting

As Mick Jones sang the song, many listeners believed he wrote the lyrics. It was actually Strummer who composed the words as he imagined the situation Jones grew up in. In the liner notes for The Clash on Broadway, Jones said of the song, “It was written by Joe, and I always felt that he was talking about me growing up, even though I didn’t grow up in the suburbs. It touched me on a personal level, and everybody thought that I’d written it because I sang it. It’s not always the way it seemed in terms of who wrote what, but generally, I wrote the music, and Joe wrote the lyrics.”

I wasn’t born so much as I fell out
Nobody seemed to notice me
We had a hedge back home in the suburbs
Over which I never could see

Under a Block of Flats

As the band prepared for London Calling, they wrote a lot of material at once. Strummer was cranking out lyrics. He said, “We never stopped writing. The body of work was done all in one go, as far as I can remember.”

In 1999, he talked about writing “Lost in the Supermarket” with Andrew Collins of Q magazine, “The song was conceived in the supermarket under a block of flats, next to a parking lot. It was 5 a.m., and the song occurred to me as I stumbled around, dazed by the colors and the lights.”

Strummer told musician and DJ Don Letts, “The day I joined The Clash was very much back to square one, year zero. Part of punk was that you had to shed all of what you knew before. We were almost Stalinist in the way that you had to shed all your friends, or everything that you’d known, or every way that you’d played before.”

I heard the people who lived on the ceiling
Scream and fight most scarily
Hearing that noise was my first ever feeling
That’s how it’s been all around me

“Not a Lot to Go Back to”

Strummer wrote some of the lyrics on the back of an Ernie Ball guitar string paper envelope. He was putting himself in bandmate Jones’ shoes as he grew up in London with his grandmother. In 1980, Jones told author James Henke, “It’s not a lot to go back to, if you know what I mean. My Dad was working abroad, and my mother was tagging along. I don’t think I really gave them a thought after a while.”

I’m all lost in the supermarket
I can no longer shop happily
I came in here for a special offer
A guaranteed personality

The Recording

The band recorded the song in Wessex Sound Studios with producer Guy Stevens. The lush layering of instruments, including the funky basslines by Paul Simonon, made replicating the song onstage a challenging task. The Clash rarely performed the song live. Drummer Topper Headon used a floor tom instead of a snare drum. He shared the inspiration in the liner notes for The Clash on Broadway, “The night before we recorded that, I went to see Taj Mahal play, and his drummer played a lot of snare beats on his floor tom. When I went in the next day, I thought, Sounded good last night, I’ll try that on this track.”

I’m all tuned in. I see all the programs
I save coupons from packets of tea
I’ve got my giant hit discotheque album
I empty a bottle. I feel a bit free


CBS Records was not thrilled by the band’s decision to ask Guy Stevens to produce London Calling. His production methods were anything but conventional, as he swung a ladder and upturned chairs to create a more rock ‘n’ roll atmosphere. The band responded positively to it, especially Simonon, who was inspired and encouraged by Stevens’ antics. The Clash recorded London Calling over six weeks with many 18-hour days. The band recorded many of the songs in one or two takes. Songs about Montgomery Clift, Jimmy Jazz, Rudie, safe sex, adulthood, Three Mile Island, and the status quo.

The kids in the halls and the pipes in the walls
Make me noises for company
Long-distance callers make long-distance calls
And the silence makes me lonely

Other Versions

In 1999, a trio of Clash tribute albums contained “Lost in the Supermarket.” The Afghan Whigs contributed their take on the song to Burning London. Singer Greg Dulli ad-libbed lyrics from other songs over the outro, including The Clash’s “Train in Vain (Stand by Me)” and Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” Lady Luck’s version appeared on City Rockers – A Tribute to The Clash. Battershell cut the song for Backlash – Tribute to The Clash. In 2005, Yo Yo Mundi recorded it for an Italian tribute to Joe Strummer. In 2006, Ben Folds recorded “Lost in the Supermarket” for the soundtrack of the movie Over the Hedge.

I’m all lost in the supermarket
I can no longer shop happily
I came in here for the special offer
A guaranteed personality

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Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns

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