John Holt’s ‘Police In Helicopter’ Celebrates 40 Years
VP / Greensleeves Records will celebrate the 40th anniversary of John Holt’s iconic Police in Helicopter LP by issuing a rare 1983 12-inch single mix – informally known as the ‘Sirens Mix’ – to streaming. It is presented in its original form alongside two additional edits and a comic-book-style illustration by the artist Spliffington. It will be out on September 8th.
Released by Greensleeves in 1983, “Police in Helicopter” has remained a pro-ganja, anti-establishment anthem ever since. It carries the urgency of that period in which the United States government invested heavily in and guided Jamaica’s anti-marijuana program.
Jamaican reggae artist John Holt wrote the song as he flew across the island and witnessed helicopters circling above burning marijuana fields. He put the lyrics together on a cocktail napkin during that short flight from Montego Bay to Kingston, channeling a particularly deep anti-colonial sentiment among Jamaica’s working class with the lines: “If you continue to burn up the herbs / We’re going to burn down the cane fields.”
He went on to record “Police in Helicopter” with producer Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes and the Roots Radics Band at Channel One Studios in Kingston, Jamaica, a formula for some of the best reggae of the early 1980s.
Today, Holt’s top streaming track – with over 54 million Spotify plays – is a mainstay on influential editorial playlists, including Spotify’s Reggae Classics and One Love. Its reach also extends beyond the world of reggae and dancehall; it was introduced to a new audience by its inclusion in Grand Theft Auto IV in 2008.
“Police in Helicopter” was re-recorded several times over the years, including John Holt’s 2006 version featuring Sizzla for producer Marvyn Williams, which VP released on a full Police in Helicopter rhythm album in 2007. Million Stylez recorded a popular cover in 2010, and Protoje sampled the original for “Protection,” the opening track to his Ancient Future album in 2015. Most recently, “Police in Helicopter” was covered by Jah9 and Yaadcore on a track produced by Emch Subatomic.
John Holt passed away in 2014 at the age of 67. One of his last major appearances was at Rototom Sunsplash in 2013, where he delivered the definitive live performance of this classic at the end of his set, the culmination of an influential career in Jamaican music.