1. The Slits, “Shoplifting”
As a female-centered punk band founded in the late ’70s, The Slits set the table for the Riot Grrrl movement years later. Though the group sang about feminist issues, like any self-respecting punk band, it also expounded on social topics, from racism to the dangers of capitalism. “Shoplifting,” off 1979’s Cut, is classic Slits, fusing the adrenaline rush of stealing with anti-capitalist rhetoric that makes theft sound positively moral. As frontwoman Ari Up sings, “Babylon won’t lose much / And we’ll have dinner tonight.”
2. The Smiths, “Shoplifters Of The World Unite”
For one reason or another, most of the best shoplifting tunes come from British bands, and “Shoplifters Of The World Unite” is no exception. Released by The Smiths as a one-off single in 1987, the track is not so much an ode to actual boosting as it is to, as Morrissey said in a 1987 interview, “spiritual shoplifting” or “cultural shoplifting.” Basically, it’s about “taking things and using them to your own advantage.” Even the song is lifted, to some extent: Musically, it bears a strong resemblance to T. Rex’s “Children Of The Revolution.” Not surprisingly, this egocentric tune is one of Morrissey’s favorite Smiths cuts, and one he performs to this day.
3. Green Day, “Shoplifter”
Not all songs about shoplifting are in favor of the lifters. Green Day’s “Shoplifter,” a B-side from 2001’s American Idiot, is less about theft and glory than about consequences. While the track admits, “It’s not considered stealing / Unless you’re getting caught,” it goes on to admonish shoplifters, saying most are just kleptomaniacs who’ll “never learn,” and that those who “commit the crime” “gotta do the time.”
4. Jane’s Addiction, “Been Caught Stealing”
An ode to razor theft and the thrill of deception, “Been Caught Stealing” is Jane’s Addiction’s biggest hit. The single from 1990’s Ritual De Lo Habitual went to No. 1 on Billboard’s modern-rock chart and produced a video that went into heavy rotation at MTV for years to come—and presumably inspired shoplifters everywhere to try the ol’ fake-pregnancy trick at least once.
5. Afrikanboy, “One Day I Went To Lidl”
While shoplifting seems like a local problem for the most part, Afrikanboy’s “One Day I Went To Lidl” details the global implications. While on the surface the track is about the grime MC’s thwarted attempts to shoplift from UK supermarket chains, it goes on to detail the Nigerian-born rapper’s biggest swindle of all: sneaking into the UK without a passport. After that triumph over bureaucracy, why wouldn’t he try to steal breakfast from Lidl?
6. Mott The Hoople, “All The Young Dudes”
The David Bowie-penned glam anthem “All The Young Dudes,” first recorded by Mott The Hoople in 1972, doesn’t focus closely on shoplifting: It’s just part of the regular program for bored, disaffected youth who “don’t wanna stay alive / when you’re 25.” In painting a portrait of a detached ’70s generation that rejected the “revolution stuff” of their ’60s forebears, Bowie’s lyrics note what the kids are up to these days instead of fighting for love and peace: They’re hanging out, drinking, smoking, talking, screwing, despairing, and “stealing clothes from Marks And Sparks,” a.k.a. the UK food-and-clothing store Marks & Spencer. Even that slang reference was considered close enough to the store’s name to be considered an advertisement, and the radio release of “All The Young Dudes” was changed to “stealing clothes from unlocked cars,” which scanned, but didn’t make much sense. There’s nothing seemingly detached but secretly cool about canvassing parking lots for people who for some reason use their vehicles as unprotected laundry hampers.
7. Madness, “Deceives The Eye”
Among his many talents, Madness frontman Suggs has always been a charismatic, effortless storyteller. In the band’s 1980 song “Deceives The Eye,” he plays that charm to the hilt. Speaking through a character that surely is nothing like the real Suggs at all, the singer recounts a history of shoplifting without a shred of shame. “In the earliest days of my shoplifting career / You could safely say I was filled with fear,” the song begins, and from there the thief grows bolder. By song’s end, he’s trying to defend his actions by blaming his troubled youth in a broken home—both to the police and to himself.
8. Ian Dury & The Blockheads, “Razzle In My Pocket”
Pub-rock madman Ian Dury knows his way around a deadpan tale—and few of his songs with The Blockheads are as wry as “Razzle In My Pocket.” The 1977 tune details Dury’s adventures as a shoplifter of porn magazines, specifically Razzle, and his subsequent apprehension by the shop’s proprietor. With a poker face to match his monotone delivery, he talks his way out of getting arrested, assuming he returns the magazine—but what the merciful shopkeeper doesn’t realize is that Dury has stolen two nudie mags from him, and that the other is still safely hidden in his jersey.
9. The Briefs, “Shoplifting At Macy’s”
Punk revivalist Steve E. Nix of The Briefs has no qualms about wearing his penchant for felony on his sleeve. On the group’s bouncy, 2004 song “Shoplifting At Macy’s,” he tries to outwit the security guards at Macy’s who catch him shoplifting. Only it doesn’t work: “They say, son, you’re quite moronic / Why don’t you try something honest?” Nix isn’t having any of the straight life, though; failing in his mission of securing “money for drugs and food,” he gives up and resigns himself to his fate: “Oh well, oh oh oh / It is off to the clink I go.”
10. The Business, “Do A Runner”
Skinhead bands get stereotyped as right-wing, but that’s not always the case. The Business, one of Oi!’s founding fathers, have long sung numerous working-class anthems that border on leftist screeds, up to and including “Do A Runner.” Anti-banking, anti-consumerist, and downright anti-capitalist, the 1988 song’s blunt, streetwise lyrics advocate a simple solution for hard economic times, then and now: When you have the opportunity to steal something from someone richer than you, “Do a runner.”
11. The English Beat, “The Limits We Set”
The English Beat made its name by borrowing and modifying the sounds of ’60s Jamaican ska. But the band had a different kind of appropriation mind on its 1981 song “The Limits We Set,” where a laid-back rhythm and dreamy jazz undertones uplift a depressing message—one of pain, emotional suppression, desperation, and violence. Ultimately, singer Ranking Roger warns against the life of crime that such things inevitably leads to: “Shoplifting, my little brethren / Shoplifting, my little sister / Tell me which one would you prefer / £100 fine / Or three months in prison?”
12. The Coup, “I Love Boosters”
The Coup tends to filter everything through the class-obsessed Marxist ideology of frontman Boots Riley. So the veteran Bay area duo’s tribute to shoplifting, “I Love Boosters” celebrates shoplifting as a Robin Hood-like way of re-distributing wealth (or at least snazzy outfits) from greedy department stores to working-class souls desperately in need of the savings provided by spunky shoplifters who prefer the old five-finger discount to paying retail, or even wholesale. “The next time you see two women running out the Gap / With arms full of clothes still strapped to the rack,” raps Riley. “Once they jump in the car, hit the gas and scat / If you have to say something, just stand and clap.”