Junior Murvin recalls a classic
DURIING the summer of 1976, singer Junior Murvin hooked up with Lee 'Scratch' Perry to create what became the classic song, Police and Thieves. Interestingly, 10 years earlier, he had failed to impress the unconventional producer in an audition.
"The first time mi meet him was at 'Coxson' (producer Clement Dodd) an' mi do a song but the song did short an' him sey it want one more verse. So, nuthin' neva really gwaan," Murvin said in a 2002 interview with the Jamaica Observer.
Murvin died December 2 at the Port Antonio Hospital in his native Portland at age 64. Police and Thieves was a big hit in the United Kingdom in 1976 and remains his signature song. It was produced at Perry's Black Ark studio in Duhaney Park, Kingston.
Born in the district of Swift River, Portland, Murvin had written Police and Thieves while living in Port Antonio and decided to take the song to the erratic Perry whose edgy productions included Duppy Conqueror and Small Axe by the Wailers, War Ina Babylon (Max Romeo) and Junior Byles' Curly Locks.
Murvin remembered Perry's reaction when he first heard Police and Thieves.
"Scratch change some a the word dem, an' the words wey him change was very important an' wi jus' record it same time," he recalled.
Though Murvin composed the original music on his guitar, the eventual song was arranged by Boris Gardiner who also played bass on the record. The rest of the side on the session was Sly Dunbar (drums), Keith Sterling (keyboards), Joe Cooper (keyboards), Ernie Ranglin (guitar), with Barry Llewellyn and Earl Morgan of the Heptones providing harmonies.
At the time, the political atmosphere in Jamaica was fever pitch. Criminal gangs supporting the ruling People's National Party and opposition Jamaica Labour Party kept police busy throughout Kingston.
Yet, Murvin insisted political tension did not inspire the song.
"Mi neva look pon nuthin like dat, all mi a do was sing song. All my song dem mi get dem from Proverbs, angels an' vision," he said.
Dunbar rates Police and Thieves as one of the great reggae songs.
"Even now, when I listen it I still don't know the verse, jus' the way him sing 'Police and Thieves in the streets'. The song jus' have a great hook," he said.
Police and Thieves hit in Jamaica and the UK where it was embraced by the burgeoning punk movement. The album of the same name was released there by Island Records in 1977.
It was a massive breakthrough for 27-year-old Murvin who had been knocking at the door for 10 years. He was part of singer/producer Derrick Harriott's Crystal record label alongside deejay Scotty, Keith and Tex and the Chosen Few.
While at Crystal, Murvin wrote Solomon, one of Harriott's biggest hits.
Police and Thieves was covered by punk group The Clash for their self-titled 1977 debut album. Culture Club's Boy George also put his spin on the song in 1998.
It has been used in several movies including Rockers, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Third World Cop.