100 Greatest Songs of the 70’s #66 Junior Murvin – Police and Thieves

Released : 1976

Born in Port Antonio in Jamaica and one of seven children, Junior Murvin was selling watches in Montego Bay when he teamed up with producer Sonya Pottinger and released his debut single, Miss Cushy. After the union failed to bring any success the singer then began working with the legendary Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, to whom he had debuted a version of a song he’d immediately felt would be a surefire hit, ‘After I finished I hear a voice inside me saying I should take the tape to Lee Perry. He’s the only Jamaican producer that can handle these, you know, hard roots.’

The wider backdrop to their partnership was social and political tension on the island. The main parties were heavily factionalised, Michael Manley’s People’s National Party (PNP), with Cuba and by extension Communist Russia, Whilst the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) was in bed with Washington. Blood flowed in the capital Kingston’s ghettos with terrible regularity and youth unemployment hovered at 50%; as the duo schemed in Perry’s newly build Black Ark studio, outside there was definitely trouble in paradise.

What the duo had was a sublime piece of agit-prop that doubled as crossover pop, Murvin’s sugary falsetto trilling verses which doubled as an appeal for peace; “Police and thieves in the streets all night, scaring the nation with their guns and ammunition”. With peerless backing courtesy of The Upsetters, on release it somehow attracted a long standing and unintended notoriety, first getting banned from radio play domestically and then also in Britain after it soundtracked the riotous 1976 Notting Hill Carnival. This didn’t stop The Clash versioning it on their subsequent debut album, but although the song’s regret was universal, it’s true power and effect lay at home.