After a fairly successful recording career, Junior Murvin left the studio for the stage, joining The Falcons, before leaving Kingston for his hometown of Port Antonio, and enlisting in Young Experience. As that band disintegrated in early 1976, Murvin turned to songwriting, and then made his way to Lee Perry's Black Ark studio later in the year.
One listen to Murvin's "Police and Thieves" was all it took to set the producer immediately to work on the rhythm. Building it around Boris Gardiner's vibrating bass line, Sly Dunbar's metronomic beats, and Ernest Ranglin's incendiary guitar riff, the song quickly took shape, abetted by Keith Sterling's keyboards and Joe Cooper's echoing organ.
It's a fractious backing, the bass a low throb, the sharp clacks of the cymbals, the heavy syncopation of the rhythm and slashes of riffs, but even as Perry hones the toughness of the sound, he still conjures up an almost languorous, smokey atmosphere around. Overhead, Murvin's falsetto soars out like a fresh breeze, backed by the warm, ethereal harmonies of The Heptones' Earl Morgan and Barry Llewellyn. Lyrically, the number is equally heavy-hitting, succinctly summing up the battleground that Jamaica had become in the run-up to the national election held this same year.
Everyone in the studio knew they had a hit on their hands, and Perry released the resulting single through Federal's Wildflower imprint on the island, and through Island in the UK. There was no doubting its success at home, the surprise was just how big a hit it would become in the UK, holding the Top 10 of the reggae chart hostage for almost six months. Particularly impressed were The Clash, who cut a surprisingly faithful cover for their debut album, while also entitling Murvin's own full-length set. In 1980, when the nation was over-run by the Two Tone army, "Police" was reissued, and this time stormed into the Pop Top 25 chart.