I was on my way home from Christmas shopping the other day, exhausted from the search for gifts among the crowds in the various stores. Once I got outside of the suburbs I was driving faster than I should have been. I slowed down when I saw that a state trooper had someone pulled over on the west bound shoulder.
I felt relieved that I had not been the unfortunate driver who was likely getting a citation two days before Christmas. I realized also that the trooper was merely doing his job, one which most people despise. I began to think of all the songs that mention policemen or other law enforcement employees, wondering if any of the tunes depicted cops in a positive light. Most of them, of course, were critical of our brothers in law enforcement.
10. “Deputy Dan” by Chris Cross: The title sounds sort of cartoonish, but the song has that soothing sound characteristic in Cross’ popular recordings several decades ago.
9. “Dear Constable” by The Harrisons: The rock quartet from Sheffield sends a letter to their British patrolman in the form of a song, accusing him of being dishonest, unsympathetic, and cruel.
8. “The Sheriff” by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer: Keith Emerson’s organ gives this song from the
Trilogy album a happy appearance, but underneath it the lyrics mention gun shots and the sheriff’s eventual death.
7. “The Sheriff of Coffeeville” by Hammonds and Woods: This duo never really gained notoriety outside of the Cincinnati area. The song is an electric-folk narrative about getting revenge against an elected law official. I found it on an album that a local radio station, WEBN, produced from various artists in the area.
6. “I Shot the Sheriff” by Eric Clapton: Bob Marley wrote the song, and his version with the wailers provides the humor intended. I have always preferred Clapton’s version from
461 Ocean Boulevard. His laid back vocal allows us to appreciate the indifference of the so-called crime.
5. “Dream Police” by Cheap Trick: This title track about paranoia is one of the band’s best-known songs. It has a great rhythm, and the falsetto backing vocal of “police, police” is quite contagious.
4. “Officer Ray” by Hoyt Axton: The well-respected songwriter penned many popular tunes for other artists (such as “Joy to the World” and “Never Been to Spain” by Three Dog Night), but this one he kept for himself, with great results. He tells a half serious, half-humorous story of being pulled over by the LAPD. For revenge, he prays for Officer Ray’s wife to run away with a hippie and for his testicles to fail, among other misfortunes.
3. “Piggies” by The Beatles: George Harrison’s poke at law enforcement officers from the White Album is quite enjoyable. It’s amusing, in spite of the fact that he advocates whacking the policemen. The reference to bacon at the end is delicious.
2.”High Sheriff of Hazard” by Tom Paxton: We are given Paxton’s opinion about this law man in a line from the very first stanza: “With his hands in our pockets he’ll take what he can.” The crooked official always sides with his fellow mine owners against the workers, frequently beating the miners and throwing them in jail.
1. “Cops of the World” by Phil Ochs: There is way too much about this great song to try to fit in this space. Not only does Ochs rip policemen, but the entire U.S. for trying to boss other nations throughout the world. The lyrics are angry, witty, bitter, and vulgar all at the same time. Most of all, though, they are as true now as they were when he wrote it forty years ago.