Before there was “Fuck tha Police,” there was “Hate the Police.”

Like so many other grunge fans, I was introduced to this song by Mudhoney, who recorded a great cover of it in the late ’80s.  Mudhoney’s version was featured on their Boiled Beef & Rotting Teeth EP along with classics like “You Got It” and their iconic “Touch Me I’m Sick”; like those songs, it was then included on the Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles CD, which compiled all of the material from the EPs and singles they released before their 1989 debut studio album.  Listening to that compilation during high school, I found a lot of memorable rockers, but, even so, “Hate the Police” stood out from the rest.  Although Mudhoney has always been on the punkier side of the grunge spectrum, in “Hate the Police” I found a song which was just straightforward, unadulterated three-chord punk.  It had an exciting rawness and energy to it that seemed irresistible.  These appealing elements were compounded by Mark Arm’s attention-commanding vocal performance.  Sometimes, when I try to convey why I like a vocalist, I have to point to specific songs that demonstrate why I think they’re great.  For Chris Cornell, I’d point to his performance on Badmotorfinger‘s “Slaves and Bulldozers.”  For Layne Staley, I’d point to “Angry Chair” or “Would?” from Dirt.  For Kurt Cobain, I’d point to a selection in which he screams the last part of the song, like “Sliver” or “Lounge Act” or “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.”  And so on — you get the picture.  Anyway, for Mark Arm, I’d point to “Hate the Police.”  His dynamic snarl, and his screamed last verse, elevate this from a good cover to a great cover.

The original version, I learned more recently, was recorded in 1980 by the Dicks, an intensely political punk band from Texas who became quite important in the hardcore genre.  Floyd recorded plenty of rants against racist police and similar targets (in 1983, the Dicks issued songs entitled simply “Anti-Klan, Pt. 1” and “Anti-Klan, Pt. 2”), but “Hate the Police” was the first and most significant of these.  It was their debut single, self-recorded and self-released, and frankly it sounds terrible.  It’s a lo-fi track, presumably not by choice, and the muffled, muddy sound diminishes the effect of the song.  To my ears, it lacks the vibrant rawness of the Mudhoney cover, which features the better vocal performance anyway.  This, therefore, is an instance where I prefer the cover over the original.

What I cannot deny is that, with “Hate the Police,” Gary Floyd wrote a great punk song.  His lyrics take an interesting approach to the topic of bad cops.  Some anti-police songs, like “Fuck tha Police” and “Cop Killer,” are written from the perspective of angry young black men who have encountered brutality from racist and abusive police, and who are eager to take revenge violently.  “Hate the Police,” conversely, is actually written from the perspective of just such a violent, racist cop.  This isn’t immediately apparent; the first verse introduces our antihero not as an officer of the law but as an aggressive, dangerous lunatic:  “Mommy, mommy, mommy — look at your son/you might have loved me, but now I got a gun/you better stay out of my way.”  In the second verse, Floyd reveals that this rage has been channeled into a socially acceptable position on the police force:  “Daddy, daddy, daddy — proud of his son/he got him a good job, killin’ niggers and Mexicans.”  Our antihero sneers tauntingly at these victims, “You can’t find justice, it’ll find you.”  Minorities have no hope of finding justice under this system, but when the law finds them, they’re really in for it.  The third verse introduces the heroes who will combat this menacing cop and others like him:  the Dicks (or Mudhoney) themselves, discussed in the third person, who are “out in the desert sand” and about to “hatch.”  The line “You can’t find justice, it’ll find you” is repeated, and this time it takes on a different meaning:  The corrupt police can’t even grasp the concept of genuine justice, but they’re about to be brought to justice in the true sense of the word.  The fourth and final verse is a reprise of the first, but this time around, instead of introducing us to the protagonist’s naked aggression, it serves to expose the supposedly macho cop for what he really is — a petulant man-child throwing a tantrum.  On the cover version, Arm’s screamed vocal especially drives this home.  “I’ve had a bad day, I’ve had a bad day, mommy I’ve had a bad day, mommy I’ve had a bad day!  Mommy!!!” the emasculated officer cries.  So much for his power trip.

The Dicks – “The Dicks Hate the Police”

Mudhoney – “Hate the Police”