Certain Songs #232: The Clash – “Police on My Back”

The_Clash_-_Sandinista! Album: Sandinista!
Year: 1980

I’ll get into the last of the great Clash covers in a second, but I would be remiss if I didn’t take a second to talk about The Equals, one of the greatest 1960s bands you’ve probably never heard. I realize that in 2015, nobody thinks that’s a category, but of course it is.

The Equals blended rock, pop and soul in much the same way that Sly & The Family Stone did, but never made it as big as their American counterparts for a couple of reasons: 1) they weren’t nearly as funky 2) Eddy Grant (yes, that Eddy Grant) wasn’t as good of a songwriter as Sly Stone. Nevertheless, you should go out and find the First Among Equals compilation and find out why their musical blend was an influence on The Clash.

Kicking off side four as unexpectedly as an cop car that’s suddenly running the intersection in front of you, The Clash’s version of “Police on My Back” was their most full-throated rock song since “I Fought The Law.” That probably wasn’t an accident. Fighting the law has consequences. Consequences you can hear in Mick Jones’ voice.

I’ve been running Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Running Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

What have I done?
What have I done?

What have have you done? You fought the law. That’s what you’ve done. And now they think you’ve shot a guy. Maybe you shot him, maybe you didn’t — the song is unclear on that point — but it seems clear that if you’d just stayed clear of fighting the law in the first place, none of this would have happened.

Also: dig Joe Strummer’s low harmonies on each verse. One thing I was reminded digging deep into Sandinista! this time around is that you don’t really hear Joe singing all that much on Mick’s songs and vice versa. Which is a gross oversimplification, to be sure, but it’s true enough to remind me of long-held (and not totally incorrect) theory that Sandinista! is The Clash’s The Beatles.

“Police on My Back” performed live in Tokyo, 1982

Fan-made video for “Police on My Back”

The Equals performing “Police on my Back” on Beat Club

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