And then, without any warning, in the middle all of these short fast songs where the arrangements are holding on for dear life comes a (relative) oasis, a moment to catch your breath amidst all of the punk rock craziness.
At a skosh over six minutes long, The Clash’s cover of Junior Murvin’s “Police And Thieves” isn’t just two (or three) times as long as nearly every other song on The Clash, it’s also a harbinger of things to come. That these incredibly intelligent guys weren’t just going to be satisfied with hard and fast for the rest of their lives.
It’s also intricately arranged, perhaps the most-arranged song in their entire oeuvre, as even at their most sophisticated, most Clash songs sounded like accidents that got caught on tape. From the opening drumbeat, every note is in place, with the guitars of Joe Strummer & Mick Jones playing with of each other instead of against each other: listen how Strummer gives the verses momentum by doubling up on his rhythm guitar on the “From Genesis to Revelation” part while Jones keeps doing what he was doing before.
And Paul Simonon? Still figuring out his craft, he just holds the whole thing together by making sure Strummer & Jones play nicely with each other while giving Terry Chimes’ tons of space. Not until the rave up at the end does the song break form, and even the rave up realizes that the straight reggae (or “reggae” for you purists) they were doing was better.
Even better, lyrically, “Police and Thieves” was completely on point, and also utterly contemporary: Murvin’s version had been a top 30 U.K. hit only the year previously. It was the equivalent of one of the contemporary R&B covers the Rolling Stones used to fill much of their early albums with, and was a harbinger of The Clash turning into both a world-class reggae band and a world class covers band.
Fan-made video for “Police and Thieves”