The song was inspired by raps by old school hip hop acts from New York City, like the Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. Rap was still a new and emerging music genre at the time and the band, especially Mick Jones, was very impressed with it, so much so that Jones took to carrying a boombox around and got the nickname "Whack Attack". The song was recorded in April 1980 at Electric Lady Studios in New York City, built around a bass loop played by Norman Watt-Roy of the Blockheads. Joe Strummer wrote the words on the spot, a technique that was also used to create Sandinista!'s other rap track, "Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)". "The Magnificent Seven" represents the first attempt by a rock band to write and perform original rap music, and one of the earliest examples of hip hop records with political and social content. It is the first major white rap record, predating the recording of Blondie's "Rapture" by six months.
|“||When we came to the U.S., Mick stumbled upon a music shop in Brooklyn that carried the music of Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, the Sugar Hill Gang...these groups were radically changing music and they changed everything for us.||”|
Though it failed to chart in America, the song was an underground hit and received heavy play on underground and college radio. Also popular were various dance re-mixes, both official B-side, ("The Magnificent Dance"), and original DJ remixes such as WBLS's remix known as "Dirty Harry", after the film of same name, which can be found on various Clash's bootlegs, including Clash on Broadway Disc 4: The Outtakes.
The single was reissued in 1981 with "Stop the World" as its B-side and with different sleeve art.
Thematically, "The Magnificent Seven" is somewhat similar to the punkier "Career Opportunities", in that it takes the drudgery of the working life as its starting point. Unlike "Career Opportunities", however, in stream of consciousness fashion it also deals with consumerism, popular media, historical figures, and addresses these subjects with great exuberance and humor. The first verses of "The Magnificent Seven" follow a nameless worker (narrated in the second person) as he wakes up and goes to work, not for personal advancement but to buy his girlfriend consumer goods:
- Working for a rise to better my station / Take my baby to sophistication / She's seen the ads, she thinks it's nice / Better work hard, I seen the price
The nameless worker then goes off for a cheeseburger lunch-break, and the lyrics devolve into a blur of fleeting images from television, movies and advertising:
- Italian mobster shoots a lobster / Seafood restaurant gets out of hand / A car in the fridge or a fridge in the car? / Like cowboys do in TV land!
Finally, the song takes historical figures, including Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Richard Nixon and Socrates, and places them in modern America, before asking sarcastically whether "Plato the Greek" or Rin Tin Tin is more famous to the masses.
An exclaimed "newsflash" near the end of the song, "Vacuum Cleaner Sucks Up Budgie!", was in fact a headline in the News of the World newspaper at the time of the song's mixing in England, according to Joe Strummer.
The song was played by The Max Weinberg 7 on Late Night with Conan O'Brien on its first show since the Writer's Strike. An instrumental version of the song was used with sampled vocals from Basement Jaxx's "Romeo" by 2 Many DJs to create the track "The Magnificent Romeo".