Police And Thieves

Album: Police And Thieves (1976)
Charted: 23
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Songfacts®:

  • This song was co-written by Junior Murvin with the legendary reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry. At a session at Perry's famous Black Arc studio in Jamaica, Murvin and his backing band The Upsetters were jamming on a version, when out of nowhere lyrics, structure and melody all came together and Perry made the snap decision to record the song in that form that very day. The next day a dub remix and alternative versions were recorded, and by the end of that week the record was released and gaining heavy airplay in Jamaica.
  • "Police and Thieves" had already become a huge hit in the UK before the British Punk band The Clash made the song even more famous with their cover version on their debut album. Originally recorded simply to fill space, the band were incredibly nervous about being a white rock band covering a reggae song so deeply entrenched in Jamaican roots. In the Westway to the World documentary singer Joe Strummer explained: "We had some brass neck to do that. By all rights they should've said 'ya heathen mon, ya ruined de works of Jah!' But they were hip enough to realize that we'd brought our own music to the party."

    "In the way that '60s bands would cover contemporary R&B classics, we covered the latest record from Jamaica," noted guitarist Mick Jones.

    The Clash's version features rearranged guitar patterns (playing on both the on-and-off beat to set it aside from reggae, at the behest of Jones) and an opening homage to The Ramones by quoting the line "They're going through a tight wind!" from "Blitzkrieg Bop." It became a live standard for the band, being played from April 1977 through to pretty much the end of the band, and Strummer often enjoyed improvising new sections of lyrics or music into live versions, often more parts of "Blitzkrieg Bop" or Ray Charles' "Hit The Road Jack."
  • This became a hugely popular song in the UK club scene, and was particularly popular amongst punk rockers thanks to exposure by DJ Don Letts, who championed many reggae songs. Since early on in punk history there weren't many actual singles out (The Damned's "New Rose" was the first and only punk single for a while), DJs in clubs had to play other songs aside from punk, and often played reggae singles - including "Police and Thieves." As a result of it's popularity in the UK and The Clash's cover version, Murvin's original version was re-released in 1980 and became a UK Top 40 hit at #23.
  • Other covers aside from The Clash's version include a drum 'n' bass rendition by the group Dubversive in 1997, a version by Foo Fighters singer Dave Grohl for the Reno 911!: Miami film, and further covers by The Rabble, The Orb, Charlie Harper (of fellow UK punk band The UK Subs), Perez Trope Ska, and Culture Club.
  • "Police and Thieves" has featured on many film soundtracks, most famously in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) where it soundtracks a scene in a cannabis farm in an apartment. It also features in the Wes Anderson movie The Royal Tenenbaums, and in the 1978 movie Rockers.

Comments: 1

  • Moses Mugweru from KenyaWell informed. I desperately need police & thieves fever riddim.
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