The Police (final of 2) – The Sort of Thing They Ban

Continuing the tradition of giving their albums meaningless pseudo-French names, the Police’s second album was called Regatta de Blanc. This disc had more great tunes and big hits like “Message in a Bottle,” and “Bring On the Night.”

The guys, to a man, think that “Message” is Sting’s – and their – best song.  And I am going to tell you that that lick on it is a bitch to play. Summers does not play traditionally and so you really have to work. Still can’t get it right:

Lest you think the Police were some one-hit wonder, Regatta was the first of five straight number one UK albums. And this great run neatly coincided with the new MTV. The band were fairly photogenic, especially having dyed their hair blonde for a chewing gum commercial.

However, as good as they were, they were not always above criticism. One critic said, “The truth is that the band merely utilized the trappings of 1970s British punk: the bleached blond short hair, Sting in his jumpsuits or army jackets, Copeland and his near maniacal drumming style. In fact, they were criticized by other punk bands for not being authentic and lacking street cred.” At one point, Summers is criticized because he is “wearing trousers that are half an inch wider than regulation punk.”

I’m sorry. But what the fuck? Who cares? I can tell you that exactly zero people outside the UK cared one way or the other whether or not they had street cred. Is Sting arrogant? Couldn’t possibly care less. All we cared about was they were a great band with high musicianship and great songs. Eventually even the punks came around to this.

By this period, the early eighties, the band did a world tour. And that, along with MTV and FM radio play, helped build them up to an international phenomenon. As these things always go however, media attention went to the charismatic (and handsome) lead singer. Sting started to appear in movies and by Andy Summers’ account, all this attention caused much tension in the band.

Sting, as primary songwriter, increasingly wanted things his way and the guys fought (sometimes physically) over their sound and what songs would go on an album. (Sting hated Summers’ song “Behind My Camel” so much he hid the tape and refused to play on it. It won a Grammy for best rock instrumental.)

Summers talks fairly eloquently in his autobiography about the price of fame, a price he was all-too-willing to pay. “I destroyed my marriage for this, and what is this anyway? A Faustian pact?” Later, holding his guitar he says, from the strings stream “a Buddha smile from what might truly be called my most loyal friend.” He and his wife divorced but later reconciled after the band broke up.

In 1981, the band released Ghost in the Machine. And if they weren’t the biggest band in the world, they were well on their way.  In 1982 they won the Brit Awards which are annual pop music awards in the UK.

From Ghost, here’s a song I couldn’t love more if I tried – “Demolition Man.” (Grace Jones did an insane cover version of this song.)

I’m a walking nightmare, an arsenal of doom
I kill conversation as I walk into the room
I’m a three line whip
I’m the sort of thing they ban
I’m a walking disaster
I’m a demolition man

In mid-1983, the band released their monster album Synchronicity. (Title based on the works of psychologist Carl Jung.) This thing was gigantic and I don’t believe there was much question they were the biggest band in the world. Even though they recorded this album with tensions rising high in the band, it’s still one of their best works, losing Grammy album of the year to Thriller.

This album includes “Every Breath You Take,” “King of Pain,” “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” and a great bonus track called “Murder by Numbers.” Which to pick?  Well, I’m gonna go with “Every Breath.” Not only is it a great song, it is widely and heartily celebrated as one of best rock songs ever written.

Sting admits he wrote it in the aftermath of his breakup with his first wife. He says it’s about “the obsession with a lost lover, and the jealousy and surveillance that follow.” And so he’s puzzled when couples tell him they played it at their wedding or it’s their favorite song. “Good luck,” he says. Andy Summers came up with the (again) tough-to-play guitar part that frames this song:

If you weren’t around for this, you must realize that if  the Police weren’t quite as big a phenomenon as The Beatles, they were pretty damn close. Summers talks eloquently in his book about the usual big star stuff – back stage hangers-on, groupies, fans who wanted something from them, screaming girls, drugs, celebrities (Jack Nicholson! Michael Douglas!) at their shows, the loss of self. All this eventually had to give. And it did.

While the band didn’t break up immediately after this album, they might as well have. Their last show – in August of 1983 – was at Shea Stadium in front of 70.000 fans. After that, they sort of limped along for a while, each doing solo projects.

They reunited in 1986 to try to do some new material. But Stewart Copeland, having broken his collarbone, could not play drums. So they did an updated version (using drum machine) of “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” which wound up on a compilation record and box set.

Twenty years after they disbanded, the band reunited for The Tour I Stupidly Missed. It is the seventh-highest grossing tour of all time. Original guitarist Henry Padovani joined them on-stage in Paris.

Accolades: Two Brit awards, Six Grammy awards, ranked on both Rolling Stone magazine and VH1’s Greatest Artists of All Time. Sting has won a ton of awards including induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Andy Summers won Guitar Player magazine’s pop guitarist of the year so often he is in their Guitar Player Hall of Fame. He is also on Rolling Stone’s list of greatest guitar players of all time. Stewart Copeland is in the Modern Drummer hall of fame and tenth – tenth! – in Rolling Stone’s top 100 drummers of all time.

The Police were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 10 March 2003.

Sources: The usual web sites; One Train Later: A Memoir. Andy Summers.

10 thoughts on “The Police (final of 2) – The Sort of Thing They Ban

  1. Great couple of posts. There’s something truly catchy about their music (even if Sting is a bit of berk as a person) and there’s some real gems in their catalogue – I still maintain that the gear change at the start of “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” is one of the greatest musical moments.
    Little tidbit for you: in the “sending out an S.O.S” fade of “Message…” Sting sings “sending out an S.O.S, sending out an Esso Blue” – it was a popular brand of paraffin for domestic heaters

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  2. Yea, they have a bunch of good songs and it was fun to listen to them as part of doing this. I would love to have added “Bring On the Night,” “Canary in a Coal Mine,” and “Murder by Numbers,” (just for a few) had I done a third post.

    That Esso thing is a great bit of trivia. I had no idea. To my knowledge, we never had Esso Blue here. But for years we did have Esso gas stations, later renamed Exxon. You might be able to drive around the country and still find some forlorn Esso (Route 66?) but they have by and large disappeared.

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    1. There was an advert in the UK that appropriated that famous song, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. It went something like this:

      They asked me how I knew
      It was Esso Blue.
      I, of course, replied
      With other brands I find
      Smoke gets in your eyes.

      Unforgettable!

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      1. Crotchety Guy, for the record, your comment somehow wound up in my spam box which I now check just about every other day. So I “non-spammed,” it and approved it. There’s nothing in my setup that would cause that so chalk it up to an over-aggressive spam catcher!

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