'Police On My Back' and the Postcolonial Experience
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This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in Social Identities (2013), copyright Taylor & Francis, available online at: <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/13504630.2013.796882">http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/13504630.2013.796882</a>
'Police On My Back' was written in England by Eddy Grant and recorded by his group, The Equals, in 1967. Since then it has been covered by a number of artists. In this article I am concerned with the original and four covers. Over the 40 years between the Equals' version of the song and the final version with which I am concerned, the meaning of the lyrics has changed from being an expression of Jamaican rude boy culture to being a song that expresses the oppression of migrants from British and European colonies living in the metropoles of the colonisers. This article tracks the changes in musical and lyrical expression in the song against the increasingly oppressive circumstances of those migrants and their descendents. These are the circumstances that contributed to the British riots of 1981 and of 2011. and the French riots of 1981, and the many subsequent riots climaxing in those of 2005. 'Police On My Back' has always been hybrid. Grant's version placed rude boy lyrics with a British beat group sound. Later, as the lyrics came to reflect the circumstances of the migrants, so the musical backing came to include a variety of musical forms, many of which expressed the heritages of the performers and asserted the legitimacy of those heritages in a multicultural context.
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