The Clash

Police on My Back

Song Review by

The Clash were the first British punk group to fuse rock and reggae, and their tough, flinty covers of "Police and Thieves" and "Pressure Drop" went a long way toward cementing the image of reggae as urban outlaw music (a side of the music that was often overlooked in favor of the sunnier vibe of much of Bob Marley's output -- a viewpoint that required a commonplace but willful ignorance of Marley's tough political material). However, "Police on My Back" was a rare example of the Clash tackling a reggae tune and, rather than trying to fuse its Caribbean rhythms with the band's muscular approach, instead stripping the tune to its bones and tackling it as straight rock & roll. "Police on My Back" was written by Eddy Grant when he was leader of the Equals, a British group who fused rock, reggae, and soul rhythms; the band's sole international hit was the admirably eccentric groover "Baby Come Back," but the Clash picked up on one of the group's minor British hits, "Police on My Back," while recording their fourth album, the sprawling three-LP set Sandanista!. While the Equals' original version has a clear if muted reggae undertow, with Mick Jones taking the lead (both in his vocals and his slashing guitar parts), the song became a hard-charging, high-velocity rock & roll onslaught. Jones's skittery guitar line effectively translated the song's lyrical confusion into music, and his delivery was a striking blend of rage, fear, and puzzlement as he cried out in the chorus, "What have I done? What have I done?" On those rare occasions when the Clash covered a song, they brought out a side in it that might not have been visible before, and that was rarely more true than on their version of "Police on My Back."

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Sandinista! 1980 Sony Music / Sony Music Entertainment 3:16
No Image 1990 Relativity
Clash on Broadway 1991 Epic / Epic/Legacy / Legacy 3:15
Yellow Riot: Tokyo 1982 1992 Genuine Pig
The Essential Clash 2003 Legacy 3:17
The Singles [Box Set] 2006 Sony BMG 3:19
Live at Shea Stadium 2008 Legacy / Epic/Legacy 3:28
Sound System 2013 Sony Legacy / Sony Music 3:16
Box Set Music on Vinyl 3:15
blue highlight denotes editor's pick