Mikhailt. Kalashnikov’s AK-47 “The Badge Means You Suck” b/w “Kiss My Machine” 7"
(Pineapple Records VRRNP-864/VRRNP-865)
I once made a pronouncement, as I have been wont to do, that the single best anti-cop punk song is “The Badge Means You Suck” by Mikhailt. Kalashnikov’s AK-47, released in 1980. To the question, “What about Black Flag’s ‘Police Story’?” my response was simple: “AK-47=smart. Black Flag = dumb.” (The equation may have been more complicated if the response had been “What about The Dicks’ ‘Hate the Police’?”) “Police Story”—with Dez singing, natch—does conjure up memories of getting nailed in the head by a police truncheon outside the Starwood, mostly among those who hadn’t been born yet. What’s more, name me one city that is not run by pigs. But AK-47’s power was in its refusal to attempt to beat the cops at their own game. They wouldn’t fight the cops in the streets. They would brilliantly channel their rage into a 4-minute tirade and match their rage with intellectual acumen by writing caustic lyrics and a chorus that diverted a Houston Police Department slogan. No, the badge doesn’t mean you care. The badge means you suck.
What may be a bit embarrassing to the LBS&A crowd is that the best anti-cop punk song was penned by hippies. Check out the background on the front cover. Then check out the photo of the guitarist printed on the insert of the estimable compilation “Deep in the Throat of Texas.” Then listen to that guitar solo—almost a minute of wild guitar licks played with aggressive reckless abandon. By a hippie. So the best anti-cop song and the best punk guitar solo this side of “Death, Agonies, and Screams,” or perhaps “Warsystem.” It’s starting to sound like I think this record is essential.
So what is it about this song? Well, the bile, the seething hatred of cops, is off the charts. The riff and the hooks are beyond the pale. Great use of phaser too. Actually, the intensity of the song makes me want to call it proto-hardcore, but it’s also punk and hard rock at the same time. And the lyrics. Oh lawd, the lyrics. AK-47 named names—not of cops but of their victims. The front cover of the record lists nine people murdered by the Houston Police Department, a notoriously racist and trigger-happy institution in the 1970s. The song itself details the murder of Milton Glover, a Vietnam vet shot eight times. A bullet, the listener is reminded, pierced the Bible he constantly carried with him. It also mentions Carl Hampton, perhaps the most famous victim of the Houston PD in the 1970s, a black radical who was assassinated after a long stand-off. AK-47 sing, “The man who killed Joe Torres / Never went to jail / The sniper who picked off Carl Hampton / Never paid any bail / The killers of Milton Glover / They might be pulling you over tonight / And if you happen to get shot / Well I guess you started the fight.” Impunity is the essence of state power, and cops are its chief beneficiaries. Perhaps the best defense we (meaning the entire public) have against police excesses is memory. That’s why naming names matters.
Punk songs by definition should not take into account posterity, and AK-47 were clearly engaged in agit-prop for the immediate present, when the Houston PD’s slogan was fresh in the minds of the citizenry. That the band managed to create a historical artifact of unmatched power was actually incidental. Aiming to do so would obviously have resulted in abject failure. But the band did get the attention of the Houston Police Officers’ Association, who sued, to the tune of a million bucks. Problem was, John Law couldn’t figure out the identities of the band members, who used pseudonyms on the record’s insert. So the lawsuit was eventually dropped. The suit, however, did help give the record legendary status—probably not what the boys in blue had intended.
As Texas punk records go, this one is in the mid to low range of rarity and price. It’s no Vomit Pigs. But, yes, in my opinion, it is essential. No serious punk collection is complete without it. This record exemplifies original vinyl’s superiority to latter-day reissues, with its crystal-clear and loud mastering. There were apparently two pressings, but no one seems to know how to differentiate between them. Copies of the sleeve without the back side printed (ie, blank on one side) circulate. A second insert has been spotted in some copies; it must be posthumous because it includes some info about the lawsuit. I’ve seen inserts printed on a variety of paper colors, too. The copy for sale here includes the insert on yellow paper; like most copies I’ve seen, the fragile sleeve appears to be slightly rumpled. I should mention that this record’s sleeve, besides being a brilliant and somewhat bizarre piece of political art, leaves the band name off the front, which is something I love. In this case, the band was subordinating itself to the message, it wasn’t just because they huffed too much glue or something, like Chemotherapy.
I’ll leave you with a quote on the contradictory nature of police under capitalism from The Iron Fist and the Velvet Glove: An Analysis of the U.S. Police, published in 1975: “Although the police are . . . a repressive institution that operates to contain the poor and powerless, they are themselves exploited, not only by miserable working conditions and social isolation but also as instruments of laws and policies which they neither control nor benefit from. The police protect private property but do not own it; as guardians of the peace, they defend government policies of imperialism and racism but do not derive any significant benefit from them; and in their repression of popular movements, the police legitimize a political order which they did not create.”
Oh yeah, the record has a flipside too.
Thanks to Ryan Richardson for spiritual guidance.
This piece was originally published on www.bidhardcore.com on May 20, 2008 and refers to an eBay auction for the AK-47 record that has since ended.