Oxford University Press

Pressure’s On: Ten songs about the police from 80s punk bands

By June 1, 2020 June 11th, 2020 No Comments
Flyer for a show featuring The Dicks and Whoom Elements in Houston, TX (1982).

By Kevin Mattson

Editor’s Note: We met Kevin Mattson in 2008, when Rebels All! was published, and then collaborated again the following year on the publicity for What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President? His latest, We’re Not Here to Entertain: Punk Rock, Ronald Reagan, and the Real Culture War of the 1980s, will be out this summer – his first new book in eight years. During the 80s, he played in bands, wrote for zines, and worked with the organization Positive Force at the time of its founding. This past weekend, after protests spread throughout the United States in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless more, he prepared this playlist with 1980s punk songs about the police – long after the hippie 60s and before rap and hip hop dominated the theme in 90s. As Mattson writes on his blog, where this originally appeared, “I’m surveying the tragedies we’re going through right now, and I’m thinking about how many 1980s punk songs focused on suspicions about the police….I’m not sure it’s right to say “enjoy,” maybe flex your anger muscles.”

Dead Kennedys, “Police Truck” One of the best. Not just anti-police but anti-macho.

Black Flag, “Police Story” “A war we can’t win…”  Which was proven when the LAPD practically shut down every show they could.

The Dicks, “Anti-Klan” This song has the great opening line: “I see that you’re a policeman, I know you’re in the Ku Klux Klan.” The Dicks were started in Austin, before moving to San Francisco in 1983. During protests, I remember the chant: “The cops and the Klan go hand in hand!”

The Dicks, “Dicks Hate the Police” Yes they get two, because they were the anti-police band, just as much if not more than MDC. This one lasted, especially when Mudhoney covered it later on.

Red C, “Pressure’s On” Red C was an early political punk group in D.C., with the drummer Tomas Squip, who would later lead Beefeater, also a very political band. This is a great one with its shredded vocals.

Circle Jerks, “Back Against the Wall” The futility of rebellion, much like “Police Story.”

Crucifucks, “Cops for Fertilizer” Get a hold of the album where there’s a recording of the police talking to the band’s leader about an upcoming show.  It ends with the following skirmish, “You guys… shouldn’t go so far out of your way to make fools of yourselves.”  To which, the authority figure on the other side retorts: “Well, that’s a matter of opinion.”  The band’s retort?: “It’s a matter of intelligence.”

The Vandals, “The Legend of Pat Brown” Featured in the movie Suburbia, the quasi-realistic depiction of suburban punk, this one is about a punk arrested for trying to run the cops down in his car.

SS Decontrol, “Police Beat” Slightly obvious, like much of the band’s releases.

MDC, “Dead Cops” Even more blunt than SS Decontrol and clocks in below thirty seconds.

“Firmly establishes American hardcore in the politics of the moment and the economics of the music industry at the time. An essential read for anyone wanting to understand the cultural history of the 1980s.”
–Vic Bondi, founding member of Articles of Faith

“The good news is that Mattson grew up in this scene and he has a clear understanding of it. We’re Not Here to Entertain is a great read that focuses on a vital and largely overlooked time and place in music history.”
–Mark Arm, lead singer of Mudhoney

Oxford University Press | August 2020 | hardcover & e-book
Preorder at Bookshop.org