"Police and Thieves" is a reggae song first recorded by the falsetto singer Junior Murvin in 1976 (Island WIP 6316). It was covered by the punk band The Clash and included on their self-titled debut album released in 1977. It was a Top 30 UK hit in 1980.
The song was written by Murvin and the man who originally produced the song, Lee "Scratch" Perry. The studio band was jamming and Murvin was playing with words at Perry's Black Ark Studio when suddenly sound, rhythm, melody and lyrics appeared in a structured form and Perry decided to record the song the same afternoon. The next day dub-versions and versions with different lyrics were recorded. The song, about gang war and police brutality, was out on the street in a couple of days and became a big hit in Jamaica. Later on, the song proved to be a bigger sales and club hit in England than in Murvin's and Perry's native Jamaica.
Murvin also recorded "Bad Weed" on the same rhythm with different lyrics. A deejay version of the track, "Soldier and Police War", was recorded by Jah Lloyd (aka Jah Lion). A dub version, "Grumblin' Dub", was released on the B-side of the "Police and Thieves" single, credited to The Upsetters.
The song has since been re-recorded by Murvin several times, most recently on the album Inna de Yard.
The English punk rock band Clash's punk/reggae version appeared on their eponymous debut album. The Clash's version, which is six minutes in length, is an example of a rock band incorporating reggae into their repertoire. Murvin's first commentary was "They have destroyed Jah work!".
The song had been a rehearsal room favourite of the band. It had not originally been planned for inclusion on The Clash, but an impromptu version the band started playing during a break in a recording session, spurred the decision to finalize their own arrangement, record it, and include the finished article on their album.
In the beginning of the song, Joe Strummer reinterprets the line "They're going through a tight wind" as a tribute to The Ramones, already an established American punk band and an influence on The Clash. The lyric line appears in the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop".
Murvin's version appeared in the 1998 movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels by Guy Ritchie, and in the 1978 movie Rockers by Ted Bafaloukos. It was also covered by the group Dubversive in 1997 as a drum and bass song and as a reggae version the following year.
The song also appears on the soundtrack for the Wes Anderson film, The Royal Tenenbaums, and in the Reno 911!: Miami movie where it is performed by Dave Grohl, who is listed in the credits under the pseudonym "Sprechen Sie Deutsch".
Several other versions have been recorded, including several on tribute albums to The Clash, a saxophone version by Tony Greene on the album Midnight Blue, a version by Agent Provocateuron the Peep Show album, a ukulele version by Ukelilli on the Delusions of Uke album, and versions by The Rabble, Charlie Harper, Perez Trop Ska, and Culture Club. The Orb also made a version, together with Perry himself, and was featured on their collaboation album The Orbserver in the Star House