"When they kick at your front door
How you gonna come?
With your hands on your head,
or on the trigger of your gun?
'The Guns of Brixton' is a song by the Clash, written by the group's bassist, Paul Simonon and featured on the group's 1979 album 'London Calling'. Although Simonon featured prominently on the cover of the album, 'Guns of Brixton' was his only songwriting contribution. Nonetheless it is one of the group's most memorable songs, a loping reggae number which foretold the Brixton riots of 1981.
However the song is familiar today for reasons unconnected with the late-70s rock music. The song's bassline featured prominently in Beats International's 1990 hit 'Dub Be Good to Me', a song which was itself a cover of the SOS Band's 'Just Be Good to Me'. Beats International was essentially Norman Cook - post-Housemartins, pre-Fatboy Slim - and some hired help. The song was released in the same year as Deee-Lite's 'Groove is in the Heart' and Vanilla Ice's 'Ice Ice Baby', two other songs based around uncredited sampled basslines. The three singles re-ignited the sampling debate which had broken out in 1987, with the release of M/A/R/R/S' 'Pump Up the Volume'. What with the sampled bassline and the fact that it was a cover version, 'Dub Be Good to Me' made very little money, despite reaching number one.
'Guns of Brixton' references 'The Harder they Come', the classic Jimmy Cliff gangster film, in which Cliff played a character called Ivan; indeed, the song is essentially a summation of the film, transplanted to Brixton. Although the song was prescient, the Brixton riots were not in reality a bullet-ridden bloodbath, and the reference to 'the Brixton sun' suggests that the parallels between Jamaica and south London were not entirely accurate. Indeed 'The Guns of Brixton' is also one of the Clash's most risible songs, an example of 'wigger'-ness long before the term was invented.
For some reason the CD release of 'London Calling' that I own credits this song to Paul Simon, something which is not true at all.