The Police - the Band
Created | Updated May 31, 2013
The Police were a British-based Anglo-American pop/rock group whose career began in 1976 during the first rising of punk rock and ended, in a rather pathetic fashion, a decade later. In the UK alone The Police had 17 top-40 hit singles, five of which hit the top-spot, along with five original albums, four of which also made it to Number One, as did the band's first 'best of' collection. By 1983 The Police were one of the biggest groups in the world, if not the biggest - an opinion supported by the vast quantities of records sold all over the globe and the numerous music awards won by them.
There can be few people in the civilised world who don't know at least one Police song, whether it be 'Roxanne', 'Message in a Bottle', 'Don't Stand so Close to Me' or the classic 'Every Breath You Take'. Even now, 15 years after their demise, Police songs resurface through reissues, remixes, in soundtracks or as samples in club tracks, and are still played extensively on UK radio.
At their best The Police created music that was in turns beautiful, touching, haunting, energetic and poignant, and had almost universal appeal. At their worst they were arrogant, greedy, pretentious people who seemed to bicker constantly with each other and moan about everyone else.
Back Street Luv
When aging British prog-rock band Curved Air arrived in Newcastle, UK during the latter part of 1976 the various members had already decided the group would split up after the tour. It was five years since their one and only hit single ('Back Street Luv') but their 24 year old American drummer was relatively new to the music business and wasn't ready to give up just yet. After their set at the Polytechnic1 he decided to go and see Last Exit, a local band who were also playing that night. He was unimpressed by the band's jazz-rock fusion but his eye was caught by their leader who, in his opinion, outshone the rest of the group. It was through journalist Phil Sutcliffe's introduction that drummer Stewart Copeland met bass player and singer Sting.
Copeland, the son of one of the founders of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and later an advisor to various oil magnates (his father was also, rather improbably, one of Glenn Miller's trumpeters) had grown up in a host of different countries, surrounded either by servants or dignitaries. His older brother, Miles III had settled in England and had started work as a rock promoter. It was in this capacity that Miles introduced Stewart to 'the business', although the younger Copeland had been playing drums since the age of 12.
Sting (real name Gordon Sumner), on the other hand had grown up in far less affluent surroundings in the North-East of England, desperate to break out from his family's long line of (what he considered to be) failure. He had spent his youth listening to such diverse artists as The Beatles and Thelonius Monk, leading him to become 'horribly precocious' (his words). Last Exit had a steady following locally, which had earned Sting a publishing contract, but they had yet to move out of the area. It had been decided that the group would move en masse to London during 1977 to seek greater success, with Sting leading the charge.
Stewart chose the name 'The Police' for his new band before recruiting any other members. He persuaded Sting to join him in London before the rest of Last Exit travelled South and found a guitarist - a Corsican by the name of Henri Padovani. Sting was naturally uneasy about joining a new band, but the situation resolved itself when two members of Last Exit reneged on their agreement and returned to Newcastle after only two pub gigs in the capital. The first incarnation of The Police had arrived.
Taking his inspiration from the rapidly growing punk scene Copeland started writing simple, fast, guitar-based songs, no doubt urged on by Miles who had recently taken on second division punk bands such as Chelsea and Alternative TV. After a few rehearsals the three-piece went into the studio on 12 February, 1977, to record, at a cost of £150, their first single.
The Police played their first live show early the following month in Newport, Wales; their set lasted around 20 minutes and consisted of 13 songs written mostly by Stewart. This was followed by a tour of Holland and France supporting one of Miles' acts, 'Wayne County'. Generally the response to them was very poor - even in their mid-twenties the band were too old, and they played their instruments just too darned well for audiences that were becoming used to talentless punks (that's not to say that all punk bands were talentless).
The release of the band's single 'Fall Out/Nothing Achieving' on Miles' Illegal Records during May 1977 did nothing to improve their situation: both songs were raw and naive, but lacking the power of the Sex Pistols or the wit of Buzzcocks.
'I saw my education,
It was my indoctrination,
Just to be another commie machine,
Always had to fake it,
When I mixed with other people,
Cos I knew that I was not very clean,'
- S. Copeland, 'Fall Out', 1977
Sting's naturally high vocals, however, caught the attention of Mike Howlett of Gong and he was invited to sing for Howlett's new group Strontium 90 at a one-off gig in Paris at the end of the month. When the band's drummer pulled out Stewart was also seconded, conveniently giving him chance to keep an eye on his singer.
The band's guitarist, despite being nearly 10 years older than them, caught the attention of both Stewart and Sting. Andy Summers had played in various bands throughout the 1960s and 70s including Zoot Money's Big Roll Band - the second band Sting ever saw play live (he was reportedly 'unimpressed'). In 1973, he settled as a session musician, a job which had landed him work with Neil Sedaka, Mike Oldfield and David Essex, amongst others. But he was not content. He found something new and fresh in Stewart and Sting, and the mutual attraction lead to him replacing Padovani in The Police, much to the amusement of Andy's circle of friends. Copeland once said that it was Andy who suggested sacking Padovani (something he denies) but neither Sting nor Stewart had any qualms about ousting their guitarist.
The Police actually played a few shows as a four-piece before heading into the studio to record an album - a session to which Henri was not invited. Stewart eventually broke the news to their absent guitarist over the telephone. Although little is known of Henri and his reaction to the news, it is certain that most fans of the group (and at least one band member) consider this point to be the true beginning of The Police.
The recording session in August 1977 that was supposed to produce the band's debut LP came to naught. John Cale, formerly of The Velvet Underground, was the producer but when Andy played a riff from a Led Zeppelin song as a test he replied 'Great! You've got it!', and so the session was abandoned.
The first Police gig proper took place at Rebecca's Nightclub in Birmingham, UK on 18 August before the band headed off to Europe - a 'tour' during which they didn't actually play any shows. It was while the band were in the Paris red light district that Sting came to wondering about prostitutes, a initial idea that eventually spawned a song named 'Roxanne'.
Having recruited a 34-year-old guitarist did nothing to enhance their reputation within the punk movement and members of other bands shunned them. By the end of 1977 the offers of gigs had dried up. Said Stewart of that time 'There was absolutely no reason for anybody to be a member of The Police. We were unloved, unpaid... everything.' But seeing other bands who were having greater success only made Sting more aggressive and determined: 'They're s**t. I can do better than this f**king lot,' was his general reaction. And so Stewart went cap-in-hand to his big brother and borrowed £1,500 with which the band bought time at the small Surrey Sound studios run by Nigel Gray located just outside London. In January 1978 The Police, for the second time, attempted to start work on their first album, intending to record it in short bursts over a six month period.
To fill the gaps Stewart began to review drum kits for a music paper while Andy took three weeks work with Eberhard Schoener in Germany. Out of desperation Sting's wife (Frances Tomelty, an aspiring actress) managed to persuade a director to use her husband in a forthcoming Wrigley's commercial. Sting in turn persuaded the director to also hire Stewart and Andy - the only proviso being that all three bleached their hair, something which in future years worked to their advantage, image-wise. The band were criticised at the time for 'selling out' (appearing in a TV commercial wasn't the most punk thing they could have done) but in fact the money they earned allowed them to continue making music on their own terms without having to 'sell out' to a record company first. In his usual derisory fashion Sting once said 'Most bands with street-credibility have instruments bought for them by mummies and daddies. The fact that we were starving in London and had to do any jobs we could made the decision for us.'
The intention was that The Police would release their first LP on Miles' Illegal Records, as they had with their single. During one of his visits to the studio Miles heard the band play 'Roxanne' and was immediately hooked by the unusual blend of rock with reggae, something The Clash were also experimenting with at the time. Using his contacts he was able to sell the song to A&M records as a one-off single. When it was released on April 7th the song received reasonable reviews but very little airplay due to its controversial lyrics, consequently it failed to chart. As a point of interest (and also probably a sign of how cheap the recording was) a tape machine used in the process was started a little too late: on listening to 'Roxanne' one can clearly hear the first few chords speeding up as the tape machine reaches its optimum speed.
Dead End Job
In August Stewart took time out from The Police to record a single on his own 'Don't Care', released under the name Klark Kent, a character who was supposedly the leader of a muso-religious cult in America. Invited to appear on Top of the Pops, Stewart had to swiftly recruit a band and quite naturally turned to Sting and Andy. For their appearance on the show all band members (including Kent) wore masks to maintain anonymity. Although all three deny it there is little doubt that the band was actually The Police together with Kim Turner (their roadie2 and co-manager with Miles), and that Stewart was responsible for all the instruments and vocals on the record.
Undaunted by the failure of the 'Roxanne' ('It absolutely died on its a**e,' according to him) Sting started to write more songs in the same vein including 'Can't Stand Losing You' which, in September 1978, backed with 'Dead End Job' (the first song credited to all three members) was to become the band's second single for A&M. Although it only reached number 42 in the UK singles chart it was enough to restart the band: A&M paid the group £10,000 for the finished album and released it during November under the title Outlandos D'Amour (usually interpreted as 'Bandits of Love') along with the single 'So Lonely'.
Although Stewart formed the group and wrote most of the early songs the LP is in the main filled with songs written by Sting, something that immediately caused tension between the drummer and the singer. Overall the LP has a simple sound with very little added on top of the drums, bass and guitar, the songs usually falling into the 'punk/rock' or 'reggae/rock' categories. Sting's songs include the three singles along with the punk wannabes 'Next to You', 'Truth Hits Everybody' and the dub-reggae-ish 'Masoka Tanga'. A co-writing credit for 'Peanuts' (also the b-side to 'Roxanne') was Copeland's only song-writing contribution to the LP, while Summers began his display of oddity by writing the narrative section of 'Be My Girl - Sally', which includes [adopt broad Lancashire accent]:
'And then by lucky chance I saw, in a special magazine,
An ad that was unusual, the like I'd never seen,
Experience something different, with our new imported toy,
She's loving, warm, inflatable, and a guarantee of joy.'
- A. Summers, 'Be My Girl - Sally', 1978
and continues rather predictably.
Just previous to the release The Police toured the UK with punk band Chelsea and Sting had somehow wangled a part in Quadrophenia - the film of The Who's concept album. The Police had also made their US debut playing at the legendary CBGB's in New York on 20 October, 1978, which was followed by 23 further dates in just 27 days all over the country. It was this gruelling schedule, compounded by a subsequent UK tour with Alberto y Los Trios Paranoias that ground The Police into a tight musical unit, something of a necessity for a three-piece group.
Bring on the Night
When the band returned to an improved Surrey Sound in February 1979 it started an incessant 'album-tour-album-tour' cycle that was set to continue for the next few years. Again The Police chose to record the LP over a period of several months, although this time the total of four weeks recording time came at an inflated cost of £6,000.
Like so many bands they had 'used up' most of their best songs on their first LP, causing them to revisit and rework some old, unused songs of Sting and Stewart's. But the three new songs written by Sting since 'Outlandos D'Amour' proved to be of an excellent vintage: 'Message in a Bottle', 'Walking on the Moon' and 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' all showed a new side to his work, and all were played to perfection by musicians obviously tired of the now-disintegrating punk movement. It is as much the gaps between the sounds as it is the sounds themselves that make these songs so distinctive, once again merging rock with reggae but this time in a far more subtle fashion that had the words 'Property of The Police' stamped all over them. The songs are complete works in their own rights, without having the obvious 'reggae verse/rock chorus' approach used in tracks like 'Roxanne' and 'So Lonely'. The final new song was an instrumental credited to all three band members that, when christened, became the title track from the LP Reggatta de Blanc (again, the title is nonsense, but is generally translated as 'White Reggae').
During the period of the recording The Police returned to the US to promote the stateside release of 'Roxanne', and when it reached number 32 in the charts A&M were prompted to re-release the single in the UK. Second time around 'Roxanne' made number 12 in the UK singles chart which was followed by 'Outlandos D'Amour' climbing to an impressive number six in the album chart. It seemed that having left the sinking ship of punk the rats had finally found success on their own terms - it didn't matter that Dave Vanian (singer with The Damned) had ignored them in The Roxy3, now it was their turn to ignore him!
In an attempt to build on their success The Police set off on what was to be a non-stop, 12-month world tour, including headlining the Friday night slot at the 1979 Reading Rock Festival in front of 20,000 people. A&M also saw their chance and re-released 'Can't Stand Losing You' in June which only stalled at number 2 in the UK singles chart. The Gods were on side their side, however, and the premiere of Quadrophenia in August pushed Sting into the limelight in his role as 'The Ace Face'. When 'Message in a Bottle' was released the following month it reached number one and stayed in the chart for 11 weeks.
A two-month tour of the United States included a visit to the Kennedy Space Centre where the band shot the video for their next single 'Walking on the Moon' which like its predecessor also made number one, in December 1979. Even at this early stage in their career The Police were developing cabaret tendencies: a live recording of 'Hole in My Life' from 1979 has the band perpetuating the last few lines of the song, along with repeated cries of 'One more!' from Sting.
But before the single came the Reggatta de Blanc album - it too topped the charts in the UK and stayed at there for four weeks. On listening to the album critics began to recognise (and praise) Sting's song-writing talent; 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' is one of the greatest Police songs - very much 'white reggae' it almost aches with despair, and the emptiness of the instrumentation accompanies the lyrical content to perfection.
'The bed's too big without you,
The cold wind blows right through that open door,
I can't sleep with your memory,
Dreaming dreams of what used to be,'
- Sting, 'The Bed's Too Big Without You', 1979
Stewart was credited on no less than six of the 11 songs on the LP, most of which appear geeky by comparison to Sting's, but which are filled with wit and honesty. 'On Any Other Day' records the thoughts and actions of a family man for whom everything seems to go wrong (and on his birthday, too!) while 'Does Everyone Stare?' vocalises some of the coy, unsure thoughts of a young man starting to go out with women:
'I never noticed the size of my feet,
Till I kicked you in the shins,
Will you ever forgive me,
For the state I'm in?
- S. Copeland, 'Does Everyone Stare', 1979
From January 1980 the band spread their wings across the world, taking in 37 cities in 19 countries on the tour. The Police were the first western rock group ever to play shows in Egypt and India, and when the tour finished in Sting's hometown of Newcastle 40,000 people applied for the 4,000 available tickets. Even a re-released 'So Lonely' made number six in the charts after having failed to chart at all first time around. Surely it didn't get much bigger than this!?
Man in a Suitcase
After the tour the band took a well deserved break, partly to restore their energy reserves and partly to write material for their third album, which at that time stood at only one new song, 'Driven to Tears'. Having seen parts of the globe he could only previously imagine Sting's writing focus shifted from himself onto the rest of the world. 'It was all me, me, me,' as he said at the time, 'I hadn't seen the world, for a start. And I was too interested in me.'
Hide my face in my hand, shame wells in my throat,
Our comfortable existence is reduced to a shallow meaningless party,
Seems that when some innocent dies all we can offer is a page in some magazine,
Too many cameras and not enough food, this is what we've seen,
- Sting, 'Driven to Tears', 1980
In order to maintain the massive amount of interest in The Police A&M re-released all five singles (excluding 'Fall Out') in one pack. The records came in a foldout plastic wallet with blue vinyl discs and a lyric card for each under the title Six Pack, and also included for the first time on 7-inch one of the band's most potent songs 'The Bed's Too Big Without You'. As a testament to the popularity of the band Six Pack itself reached number 17 in the charts, a remarkable feat considering 10 of the 12 songs on it were straight reissues and the other two only new versions of old songs ('The Bed's Too Big Without You' was a mono re-recording while its b-side was a live version of 'Truth Hits Everybody').
The recording of the LP Zenyatta Mondatta was produced again by Nigel Gray but this time took place in Holland over a solid four-week period, although a full week of that time was lost due to their appearance at two festivals over the summer. The band felt they had to rush-release a new LP so as not to lose momentum, although Sting later admitted that this was probably the wrong attitude to take, as it produced their most flawed record. At 4:00am on August 9th 1980 The Police finished recording their third LP. By 9:00pm that same day they were on stage in Belgium for the first night of their new world tour.
Apart from the fantastic pop of 'Don't Stand so Close to Me' the songs on the album are rather mixed, much like the first two LPs. On one hand there are average pop/rock songs like 'When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around', 'Bombs Away' and 'De Do Do Do De Da Da Da'. On the other there's Andy Summer's first solo composition, the rock instrumental 'Behind My Camel'. On a third hand (or at least, if you're Zaphod Beeblebrox) there are heavily reggae-influenced rock tracks such as 'Voices Inside My Head', the excellent 'Man in a Suitcase' and 'Shadows in the Rain':
'Woke up in my clothes again this morning,
Don't know exactly where I am,
I should heed my doctor's warning,
He does the best with me he can,'
- Sting, 'Shadows in the Rain', 1980
When released in September Zenyatta Mondatta and the first single taken from it, 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' both hit number one in the British charts and stayed put for four weeks each. In the US the album remained in the top-20 albums for six months, eventually selling over a million copies, while the January 1981 release of 'De Do Do Do De Da Da Da' provided The Police with their first single hit since 'Roxanne'.
Much to their amusement The Police were awarded a Grammy4 in February for 'Best Rock Instrumental Performance', not for anything on the new album but for the track 'Reggatta de Blanc' recorded two years previously. But also during February the inevitable happened: tired from the physical strains of touring and recording, and for Sting and Andy the emotional distress of having their marriages begin to crumble the band cancelled some shows, and for a time disappeared from the public eye.
Too Much Information
Between February and June of 1981 Sting resumed his acting career with a part in Artemis 81 and began writing songs for The Police's fourth album. He also started to learn to play the saxophone, something that was to impact dramatically on the overall sound of the LP.
Having fallen out with Nigel Gray during the recording of Zenyatta Mondatta (money, as so often, was the cause) Andy Partridge of XTC recommended Hugh Padgham, whose only work at that time had been to produce Phil Collins' debut solo album Face Value. In order to try and avoid the somewhat fraught sessions of the past The Police took Padgham to the luxury of George Martin's AIR studios in Montsterrat where they recorded their most diverse LP so far. Ghost in the Machine was the first Police LP not to feature a band picture on the front cover, the first not to have a nonsensical title, and the first to include a horn section as well as keyboards played by all three band members.
The three singles taken from the LP are noticeably different: from the haunting political comment of 'Invisible Sun' played somewhat in the style of 'Fade to Grey' by Visage (the striking black and white video was banned by the BBC for its content about the conflict in Northern Ireland), through the Caribbean ecstasy of the love song in 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic', to the synth-heavy reggae of 'Spirits in the Material World'. 'Every Little Thing...' truly is a joyous song in every sense, with its simple, honest lyrics and uplifting chorus it remains to this day one of the most popular Police songs:
'Do I have to tell the story,
Of a thousand rainy days since we first met,
It's a big enough umbrella,
But it's always me that ends up getting wet,'
- Sting, 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic', 1981
(the same four lines are also used in 'Oh My God' (1983, on Synchronicity) and in 'Seven Days' - a solo hit for Sting in 1993)
While 'Invisible Sun' and 'Every Little Thing...' reached numbers two and one respectively in the UK singles chart, 'Spirits...' failed to reach the top 10, halting at number 17. It was the first Police single not to reach the top 10 since the original issue of 'Can't Stand Losing You' in October 1978, excluding Six Pack and reissues of 'Roxanne' and 'Fall Out'.
This may have been a sign that the band were beginning to lose contact with their public, an indication that was supported by much of the rest of the LP and its supporting b-sides: 'Jamming' (mucking about with instruments to you and me) had, since their first trip to America, been an integral part of how The Police wrote and rehearsed songs. Unfortunately this was the method used to produce the dreadful b-side to the UK version of 'Every Little Thing...', namely 'Flexible Strategies', which makes the listener wonder just what the band thought they could get away with. Much better is 'Low Life' - the b-side to 'Spirits...', a song written by Sting in 1977 while in Paris.
Intending to educate himself further Sting had taken to reading the works of philosopher Arthur Koestler, something that was to have a direct influence on songs like 'Spirits in the Material World':
'Where does the answer lie?
Living from day to day,
Is there something we can buy?
There must be another way,'
- Sting, 'Sprits in the Material World', 1981
Aside from the singles Sting's compositions took the form of the pompous 'Demolition Man' and 'J'aurais Toujours Faim de Toi (Hungry for You)' - songs where the band heaped elaborate arrangements and a multitude of instruments on top of the usual three. The more interesting non-singles on the LP were written by Copeland and Summers and include the soothing 'Darkness', the straightforward rock of 'Omegaman' (the simple bass line tells the listener immediately that it wasn't written by Sting) and half a writing credit for 'Rehumanize Yourself', a song (predictably) about losing touch with humanity that includes the shocking:
'Billy's joined the National Front,
He always was a little runt,
He's got his hand in the air with the other c**ts,
You've got to humanize yourself.'
- Sting/S. Copeland, 'Rehumanize Yourself', 1981
Intentionally taking things more easily The Police played comparatively few shows to support the album, although those that they did play were bigger than any they had played before. The Police were now at the top of the rock pile. In February 1982 the band received further Grammies for 'Don't Stand so Close to Me' (Best Rock Vocal Performance) and 'Behind My Camel' (Best Rock Instrumental Performance) as well as Best British Group at the inaugural Brits awards ceremony.
A Kind of Loving
For casual Police fans 1982 was a quiet year, but for those who took the time to look deeper there was new material available. The BBC had commissioned, filmed and subsequently banned Brimstone and Treacle, a play by Dennis Potter. When the film was remade in 1982, Sting was cast in the lead role and the film's soundtrack album contained three new Police songs, two of which were instrumentals credited to Sting/S Copeland/A Summers. Like the best instrumentals they are interesting works in their own rights, but they also accomplish the task of supporting the on-screen action. 'How Stupid Mr Bates' is beautifully tense while 'A Kind of Loving' provides a shocking backdrop to the horrifying scene where Sting's character Martin rapes the invalid girl Patricia.
Also on the album are Sting's first solo songs, one of which ('Spread a Little Happiness') became his first solo single. It only reached a comparatively paltry number 16 in the charts but it laid the foundations for what was to come. It was also during 1982 that he sued Virgin over changes in his publishing contract, his marriage to Frances finally collapsed and media attention in his private life skyrocketed. To escape all of this he shifted his literary attention from Koestler to Carl Jung and rented Ian Fleming's Goldeneye estate in Jamaica where he could write songs for the next Police album.
Stewart and Andy, meanwhile, stuck to music. Copeland wrote and recorded the soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish film and composed the score for the San Francisco Ballet's interpretation of King Lear. Summers on the other hand hooked up with old friend Robert Fripp of King Crimson to record his first 'solo' (instrumental) LP I Advance Masked, released in October 1982.
Murder by Numbers
When the band finally reconvened in December 1982 it was again at AIR studios with Hugh Padgham at the helm, although as with all of their albums The Police credit themselves as co-producers. Between them the three members had around 20 new songs, although perhaps predictably the majority of the final content was Sting's. In defence of this Andy maintains that Sting was generally accepted within the group as their best songwriter, while Sting claims he often found it difficult to sing songs written by other people. The truth of Stewart's opinion that his and Andy's songs on the LP were 'concessions' is fairly obvious to the listener.
The LP Synchronicity (released in June 1983) was deliberately less reggae than the first four and contained fewer horn parts than Ghost in the Machine, relying instead on the traditional guitar, bass and drums, along with keyboards again played by all three members. The influence of Jung appeared in songs like 'Synchronicity I', 'Synchronicity II' and 'King of Pain', where Sting's interpretation of synchronicity as symbolism is represented by relating his soul to images of pain and torment.
Recording the LP proved to be a tortuous affair, particularly for Andy who was caught in the middle ground between the battling egos of Sting and Stewart - Stewart's manic approach to drumming didn't sit well within Sting's more minimalist attitude towards the LP. Sting merely contributed to the confusion by telling the other two to 'make it your own' in reference to their instrument parts, and then disliking what they came up with. Over six weeks the band strove to craft an exciting LP, sometimes spending hours over seemingly trivial parts before erasing what they had done and starting again.
One such song was the first single to be released from the album Every Breath You Take. The process of recording this one song involved piling elaborate instrument parts on top of the basics before paring it back into the relatively simple form in appears today. Andy Summers is justifiably proud of his end-product guitar riff, one that features in many of today's 'How to Play Rock Guitar' handbooks for aspiring musicians. Often enjoyed as a love song (or sometimes as a song about stalking), 'Every Breath You Take' is a tear-jerking reflection on love gone wrong, having been warped into obsession, ownership and jealousy. It is rather ironic, therefore, that the song is one of the most requested at wedding receptions. When it was released in May 1983 the single quite rightly reached number one in both the UK and the US, and the following year it won two Grammies (Song Of The Year and Best Pop Performance). Sting was quoted as saying 'All the b*****ds wrote us off and I knew I had this song. I knew it would be number one.'
'Since you gone I've been lost without a trace,
I dream at night I can only see your face,
I look around but it's you I can't replace,
I feel so cold and I long for your embrace,
- Sting, 'Every Breath You take', 1983
King of Pain
After that single though, it was downhill. Synchronicity contained 11 songs (ten on the vinyl) of which four songs were possible singles, and they used them all (previously only three singles per LP had been released). 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' was the band's last top-10 hit, while the follow-ups 'Synchronicity II' and 'King of Pain' both only made it to number 17. The Police had rid themselves of Derek Burridge, the man responsible for directing all of their videos up until this album, and had replaced him with the award-winning duo of Godley and Creme. The promo for 'Every Breath You Take' is a visually stunning film noir take on the band's performance, whereas 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' consists primarily of Sting wearing a white suit running around a studio full of burning candles. The words 'Pretentious nonsense!' and 'Why?' immediately spring to mind on watching that video.
The video for 'Synchronicity II' also smacks of pretension: the three members of The Police wear ripped, brightly coloured clothing, playing junk instruments while standing upon junk heaps. What sets this video apart, however, is the look on Sting's face - he is mean and moody, yet wild and dangerous with spiked, manic hair. This was no chance happening, though: Sting had recently played the part of Feyd Rautha in David Lynch's film of the classic Frank Herbert novel 'Dune'. 'Synchronicity II' is also notable for containing one of the greatest lyrics from any song, be it pop, rock, reggae, or whatever:
'Another suburban family morning,
Grandmother screaming at the wall,
We have to shout above the din of our rice crispies,
We can't hear anything at all,'
- Sting, 'Synchronicity II', 1983
Aside from the singles the stand-out tracks on the LP are 'Mother' - an off-the-wall rant, played in an odd-sounding 7/4 time, written and sung (his first Police vocal since 'Be My Girl - Sally') by Andy Summers:
'Well I hear my mother calling but I don't need her as a friend,
When every girl I go out with becomes my mother in the end.'
- A Summers, 'Mother', 1983
'Murder by Numbers' (only available on the cassette version of Synchronicity or as the b-side to 'Every Breath You Take'), a sort of guide to killing, this time co-written by Summers with Sting, but again in a slightly odd 6/8 time:
'Once that you've decided on a killing,
First you make a storm of your heart,
And if you find that your hands are still willing,
Then you can turn a murder into art,
There really isn't any need for bloodshed,
You just do it with a little more finesse,
If you can slip a tablet into someone's coffee,
Then it avoids an awful lot of mess.'
- Sting/A. Summers, 'Murder by Numbers', 1983
and 'Tea in the Sahara' - a tale of three sisters who are promised tea in the desert every year with a prince, inspired by the novel Sheltering Sky by Peter Bowles. This gentle, spacious song has been a live favourite for Sting and Andy Summers as solo artists since the demise of The Police.
Regardless of the album's content, however, by this time The Police were huge on the strength of their singles alone. Even the magazine Women's World claimed 'The record sensation of 1983 is definitely Synchronicity by The Police,' in September. The world tour to accompany to album included playing to 70,000 people of New York's Shea Stadium, the same venue as the legendary Beatles gig 18 years previously. In America 'Synchronicity' stayed at number one in the album charts for an astonishing 17 weeks, a feat even more remarkable considering 1983 was also the year of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' LP.
Don't Stand so Close to me
After the tour finished Summer 1984 was the projected release date of a Police Live LP. It didn't happen. Andy forecast an LP full of 1950s songs like 'Summertime Blues' and 'Peggy Sue'. It never appeared. A new studio album was due to be recorded in Monsterrat at the end of 1984. No such luck. Instead, Andy recorded 'Bewitched' with Robert Fripp, Stewart recorded his The Rhythmatist solo LP, while Sting acted in 'Bride' and wrote new songs. These new songs, however, were not destined for The Police, but for Sting's first solo LP The Dream of the Blue Turtles released in June 1985, from which he played songs at Live Aid on 13 July, without Copeland and Summers. It is worth noting that nobody batted an eyelid when Andy and Stewart wrote and recorded their own LPs, but when Sting did it the end of the world (or at least the end of The Police) was nigh.
11 June, 1986 - The Police played five songs in Atlanta, US as part of the Amnesty International tour. For Police fans this was a time for celebration - the band had reconciled their differences, had played live together, and what's more they were booked into a studio to record a new LP the next month. As it turned out the only product of the recording session was a new version of 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' which took three weeks to record because of the continued venomous exchanges between Sting and Stewart.
The track was released in October with an '86' suffix alongside Every Breath You Take - The Singles, a 'best of' LP featuring all of their singles bar three. Although there was never a formal announcement that The Police were finished, that was it. Two (or maybe three) huge egos were too much for a three-piece band, no matter how resiliant Sting claimed the other two were, and The Police shattered, never to play in public again.
If You Love Somebody Set Them Free
- 1987 - Andy is guest guitarist on one track on Sting's ...Nothing Like The Sun LP.
- 1992, August - Stewart and Andy attended Sting's wedding to Trudie Styler where The Police briefly reformed to play two songs. Stewart and Sting continue where they left off and bicker about the pace of the songs.
- 1992, September - A&M release Greatest Hits, the same as Every Breath You Take - The Singles but with four added tracks.
- 1993 - Message In A Box: The Complete Recordings - a 4xCD box-set that was supposed to include everything The Police ever released, but didn't.
- 1995 - Can't Stand Losing You (live) is released, backed by 'Roxanne (live)' and two club remixes of 'Voices Inside My Head'.
- 1995 - Live! double CD released, produced by Andy Summers, containing recordings of two US concerts in Boston (1979) and Atlanta (1983). Interestingly the sleeve uses the present tense in 'The Police are: Stewart Copeland, Sting, Andy Summers'.
- 1997 - Roxanne '97 remixed by Puff Daddy and released by A&M, backed by two Roger Sanchez mixes of 'Walking On The Moon'.
- 1997 - The Very Best Of Sting And The Police, 18-track collection including all five Police number one hits plus 'Roxanne '97'.
Sting has, since The Police, chalked up massive international success releasing a string of best-selling and award-winning LPs, including Bring On The Night, a live LP that was accompanied by a documentary film about the recording of his first solo LP and his first solo gigs. Whereas during the early 1980s Sting was undoubtedly the finest (or at least most popular) writer of hit singles on the planet he is now more concerned with album sales. Of his first 30 solo singles only two reached the top-10 in the UK; one of these a trio with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart ('All For Love') and the other ('When We Dance') was used to promote the first 'best of' Sting LP Field of Gold. He has acted in many films including 'Stormy Monday' and 'Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels' and also founded The Rainforest Foundation.
Stewart Copeland has concentrated on writing and recording film scores and TV themes. These include The Equalizer, Highlander II, Wall Street, Babylon 5 and She's Having A Baby. With Deborah Holland and Stanley Clarke, he formed Animal Logic who released two eponymous LPs in 1989 and 1991. Has also played drums for Simple Minds and Peter Gabriel, and produced the single 'Jennifer She Said' by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. Released an LP entitled Oysterhead in 2001 with the guitarist from Phish and the bass player from Primus.
Andy Summers has released numerous solo and collaborative LPs as well as writing the soundtracks for the films 'Down and Out in Beverly Hills' and 'Weekend At Bernie's' (among others) and contributed to the soundtrack for '2010'. Having demonstrated an interest and ability in photography throughout his career in The Police (a collection of photos entitled Throb was published in 1983) Andy has since staged many exhibitions of his work.
If you know nothing about The Police then we suggest getting hold of:
- Greatest Hits, or at a pinch
- Message in a Box.
For those who only own a 'best of' collection look out for:
- Outlandos D'Amour - cheap and energetic,
- Reggatta de Blanc - for many, the defining Police LP,
- Zenyatta Mondatta - synth/pop/rock (but good, mostly),
- Ghost in the Machine - the Caribbean recording location is obvious,
- Synchronicity - more rock than synth.
And for those interested in the other sides to the band check out:
- 'Next to You' - on Outlandos D'Amour,
- 'Dead End Job' - b-side to 'Can't Stand Losing You' (not US version),
- 'Reggatta de Blanc' - on Reggatta de Blanc (naturally),
- 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' - on Reggatta de Blanc,
- 'Does Everyone Stare' - on Reggatta de Blanc,
- 'Behind My Camel' - on Zenyatta Mondatta,
- 'Man in a Suitcase' - on Zenyatta Mondatta,
- 'Secret Journey' - on Ghost in the Machine,
- 'Low Life' - b-side to 'Spirits in the Material World',
- 'How Stupid Mr Bates' - on the soundtrack to Brimstone and Treacle,
- 'Mother' - on Synchronicity,
- 'Murder by Numbers' - on Synchronicity or b-side to 'Every Breath You Take',
- 'Once Upon a Daydream' - b-side to 'Synchronicity II'.
If you want to find out more on the web:
Related BBC Links
Find out about Sting and his cybersquatter.
Find out about the latest research in bee stings.