Smiley Culture – “Police Officer”

It has been 20 years since this simple song was released and about a dozen since I fell for it, playing it on a dare in an 80s disco. I have listened to it well over a hundred times, and I’m not tired of it, which isn’t something you can say for many records where the pleasure is in the punchlines.

Certainly more feted ‘story records’ don’t come close. Dylan’s “Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts” is by one of my favourite acts, on a really good album: it’s awful. The Shangri-Las’ death ballads are sublime but I don’t listen to them as much as Smiley, and I don’t smile at them as much either. What is it about this song?

Not the story, really, especially as the ‘twist’ is dumb: Culture’s already told the coppers his name a few lines ago. No, it’s the telling that stays fresh. That slight increase in tempo at the end when he knows he’s going to get away with it, and his natural cockiness reasserts itself, “me draw out me Parker”. The venal cop, all oily mangnanimity, “a favour for a FAYvour”. The bubbling pride, while the situation’s still in the balance, “number one was its number”. And the brilliant interrogation, switching on a half-beat between eager police and weary, hassled, contemptuous Smiley, “What you got in the boot then son? Me cyassete recorder.” Right then the police are everybully, and Smiley is you.