Junior Murvin – Police & Thieves

Junior Murvin (rollingstone.com)

Junior Murvin


1977 was an extremely good reggae year. This album, too, was an instant-classic. And this album also had Lee “Scratch” Perry’s involvement.

Junior Murvin - Police & Thieves (clashmusic.com)

Junior Murvin – Police & Thieves

Police & Thieves – the album

Barry Heptone, Lee Perry & Junior Murvin voor Black Ark Studio (pinterest.com)

Barry Heptone, Lee Perry & Junior Murvin in front of the Black Ark Studio

Rightfully so, this album is a steady part of all lists containing must have reggae recordings. It has been recorded by soundwizard Lee “Scratch” Perry in his Black Ark Studio (see the story on The Congos – Heart Of The Congos). Perry lends his own unique brand of sound to this album also. Junior Murvin sings the, oftentimes dark, songs using his beautiful (falsetto) voice, among which Lucifer, Roots Train and the genius title song. Perry adds just the right amount of echo and reverb to the voice and keeps the riddim slow and intense.

The album’s subjects are heavy, with, as on a lot of reaggae albums, many Biblical references.

The album, accompanied by Party Time by The Heptones and War Ina Baylon by Max Romeo, is part of the so-called “holy trinity”: the three best Lee “Scratch” Perry/Black Ark productions.

Police And Thieves – the song

Junior Murvin - Police And Thieves (single) (45cat.com)

Junior Murvin – Police And Thieves (single)

The song Police And Thieves was recorded and released as early as 1976. It was initially written by Junior Murvin. Murvin made contact with Lee “Scratch” Perry in May 1976 and made him listen to his song. Duly impressed, Perry decided to record the song the same afternoon. He made some minor changes to the lyrics. Some of the musicians playing on the song are Boris Gardiner (bass), Ernest Ranglin (guitar) and Sly Dunbar (drums). The background vocals are done by two members of The Heptones. The following day additional recordings were made to accommodate the various (dub) versions of the song.

Within a couple of days the song was made available to the public and it became a major hit on Jamaica. The song is about police brutality, which was a very recognizable theme on the violence infested Jamaica of the mid 1970’s. The song was consequently released in the UK (where it became a hit as well) and the US.

Notting Hill Carnival 1976 (twitter.com/punkandstuff)

Notting Hill Carnival 1976

In England it became a kind of anthem after riots took place at the 1976 edition of the yearly Notting Hill Carnival. At the time evidence seemed strong that the police invoked the riots. However, the blame was put on the (predominantly black) visitors. Two white boys were also present: Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon of the recently formed punk-band The Clash. The events inspired them to cover the song Police And Thieves, using the style “‘punk reggae’, not ‘white reggae'”.

The Clash - The Clash (spotify.com)

The Clash – The Clash

The Clash’ version of the song was released on their debutalbum, called The Clash. Many punkmusicians favored reggae, and this performance is an early example of the melting of (punk)rock and reggae. Joe Strummer altered the openinglines of the song, as to make it a tribute to the song Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones.

Junior Murvin himself was not that enthusiastic: “They have destroyed Jah work!”. Lee “Scratch” Perry also thought The Clash had “ruined” the song, yet did put up a photo of the band on the wall of his Black Ark Studio (the only white artist/band that was given the honour) and even worked with the band at a later stage.


All songs written by Junior Murvin and Lee “Scratch” Perry, unless stated otherwise:

  • Roots Train
  • Police and Thieves
  • Solomon *
  • Rescue Jah Children
  • Tedious
  • False Teachin **
  • Easy Task *
  • Lucifer
  • Workin’ In The Cornfield **
  • I Was Appointed *
* Written by Junior Murvin
** Written by Lee “Scratch” Perry
Junior Murvin - Police And Thieves - BBC Television recording (youtube.com)

Junior Murvin – Police And Thieves – BBC Television recording

In closing

Junior Murvin never stopped making music, but he was unable to recreate this album’s or song’s success. He died in 2013 aged 64 or 67, due to a combination of diabetes and hypertension.

Do you know this album? What’s your opinion? Let me know!



Other 1977 reggae classics

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