Get the police, there’s a “sting” operation going down. Actually, it’s more of a “Sting” admiration.No matter how much time passes, listening to the Police still injects a healthy dose of liveliness into my everyday life. When the Police’s first big hit surfaced on American charts, they were considered “new wave,” and their exotic reggae-turned-technorock sound rode the crest of success across the U.S. almost immediately.
Like waves, once the Police hit our illustrious shores, their hits just kept rolling in.
Music was always second nature to me. During high school I played everything from marching band trombone to intricate cello pieces, but my true fascination laid within the six strings of my guitar.
Eventually the rock ‘n roll world beckoned, and I stumbled into a “band” that was looking for a female vocalists. After a few tinny sounding practices, it became apparent that we needed a bassist. Four guitarists and a drummer wasn’t cutting it musically, and none of their guitar-fed egos could tolerate the thought of making the switch.
So I went to the music store and traded in my guitar for a shiny, new Fender Precision bass.
As a budding bassist, my style was stiff and uncoordinated. I could sing and play, but I complained constantly that it was much easier to strum a guitar while I was singing than the clumsy, heavy, one-string-at-a-time bass.
It’s amazing how quickly I changed my proverbial tune after I was obliterated by watching my very first Police video. The instant I laid eyes on Sting, as he danced, played bass, and sang to “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” I suddenly had a musical goal to reach. A high note to strive toward. I never complained about playing the bass again. Instead, it became my passion for two decades of live performing.
Thus, the emotions woven into the delicate fibers of this article come from the bottom of my E-string. To this day, I still work out while playing bass to my favorite Police CD. The majority of my subdued, suburban neighbors know all the words to “Message in a Bottle,” “Walking on the Moon,” “Roxanne” and “Can’t Stand Losing You.”
The Police are the ultimate power trio, and it’s sometimes difficult to imagine that only three people are behind their invigorating wall of sound. My two teenagers were shocked when told of this fact. They’d been listening to Police for about two years prior to this disclosure, and tried to argue with me when I told them that there were only ever three musicians in this generation-bridging group.
But enough about me. Let’s get to the real heart of this poignant Police piece.
As promised, here are Xtine’s Top 10 Police hits, in her order of preference:
1.”Roxanne.” This artistically-inspired hit was released in 1978. It was written by about the prostitute with whom Cyrano de Bergerac was hopeless smitten.
“Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light.
Those days are over, you don’t have to sell your body to the night.”
The song is rhythmic and sparse during the verses, and crescendoes into full-fledged rock mode during the chorus. Sting’s ever-strong vocal range is showcased as he croons to the spirit of love gone awry.
As with all Police tunes, Sting’s musical prowess is complemented by Andy Summers on guitar and Stewart Copeland on drums, who both added to the mix with backup harmonies.
Although “Roxanne” never stormed the charts the way other Police hits did, this tango-esque tune scored #388 on “Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
One of the reasons for labeling this song #1 in this article is because it is the first song on the CD to which Xtine still tickles her bass strings.
2. “Message in a Bottle.” This 1979 musical work of art depicts an enchanting story of profound despair and loneliness with twist that steers the song to a happy ending. It tells the story of a sad man who is stranded on an island, so he puts forth a message in a bottle without really expecting any notable results.
“More loneliness than any man could bear,
Rescue me before I fall into despair.”
These lyrics culminate with:
“Woke up this morning, don’t believe what I saw,
Hundred million bottles washed up on the shore.
Seems I’m not alone at being alone.
Hundred million castaways looking for a home.”
The bassline for this song is very tenacious and vibrant, and includes sets of triplets beneath the chorus words, “message in a bottle.” Triplets (three notes to one beat) are very difficult musical components to play when the singer is also playing the bass. Sting, of course, executes the entire song flawlessly.
3. “Walking on the Moon” is also from when the Police were fresh and raw musically. Released in 1979, it bounced in at #1 in the UK after “Message in a Bottle.” Unfortunately for us, this classic reggae-inspired ballad never left a deep impression on American charts.
Sting, according to Wikipedia, explains, “I was drunk in a hotel room in Munich, slumped on the bed with the whirling pit when this riff came into my head. I got up and starting walking round the room singing : ‘Walking round the room, walking round the room.’ That was all. In the cool light of morning I remembered what had happened and I wrote the riff down. But ‘Walking round the room’ was a stupid title so I thought of something even more stupid which was ‘Walking on the moon.'”
4. Can’t Stand Losing You” features one of the more difficult-to-play bass riffs offered by Sting. In order to hit the notes in the opening theme bass part, one must really have a wide stretch and extremely nible fingers. This lively hit is about being wrapped in the throes of a breakup, and was released on a single in the UK in 1978.
Even though no crime was actually committed by the Police, they ran into obstacles with the initial cover on the single, which featured drummer Stewart Copeland standing on a large piece of ice. The problem with this picture was that he had a noose around his neck, and when the ice melted, well, you can fill in that blank.
5. “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” Although he denies that this classic hit is autobiographical, it’s no secret that Sting was a former UK schoolteacher. And, as you may know, this tempting little piece from 1980 tells the tale of how a teacher is unwillingly attracted to a young female student, who most likely has a crush on the teacher.
“Wet bus stop, she’s waiting, his car is warm and dry.
Strong words in the staff room, the accusations fly.”
Initially, this song just doesn’t jump into any sort of rhythmic pattern. When it starts, random sounds begin filtering into a mixture of musical odds and ends. Eventually, a curious sort of rhythm erupts, and with a dash of reggae and a pinch of new-waviness, the song kicks in.
6. “Every Breath You Take” was also authored by Sting, and was a resounding musical success in the UK in 1983. It held the #1 spot in the US in 1984, so Xtine isn’t the only one who feels emotionally touched whenever the song is played. In the big picture, it is ranked #84 in “Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” and #25 on “Billboard’s All Time Top 100.”
For many years, I thought it was the ultimate song of undying adoration. Ironically, as it turns out, this song was the result of Sting’s marital failure to Frances Tomelty.
“Every step you take
Every claim you stake
I’ll be watching you.”
Wikipedia quotes Sting: “I woke up in the middle of the night with that line in my head, sat down at the piano and had written it in half an hour. The tune itself is generic, an aggregate of hundreds of others, but the words are interesting. It sounds like a comforting love song. I didn’t realise at the time how sinister it is. I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control.”
7. “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” from 1980 includes one of my favorite figurative musical phrases of all time:
“When their eloquence escapes you
Their logic ties you up and rapes you.”
Sting says that he wrote this song as a tribute to the way people are typically attracted to simple songs. Funny how all these years I thought it was a protest against politicians. I guess these same lyrics are versatile enough to describe a plethora of different scenarios. He referred to the catchy little early ’60s hit, “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy Doo,” when explaining the relevance of the title lyrics.
8. “Wrapped Around Your Finger.” Here’s another hit that sounds like one thing but was inspired by another. For the longest time, I took these phrases literally, and thought this 1983 ballad was about tieing the matrimonial knot:
“I’ll be wrapped around your finger
.. You’ll be wrapped around my finger.”
Sounds breathtakingly romantic, doesn’t it? Then I learned that this soothing song actually tells the story of a so-called apprentice searching for wisdom from his erotic mentor. Leave it to Sting to keep this musican-turned-writer guessing at every rhythmic turn.
9. “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” Musically, this tune always reminded me of a jungly-Jamaican medley, maybe this erroneous impression stems from the “eee oooo ohhhh” lyrics. It was released in 1981 even though Sting wrote the song several years beforehand.
One might deduce that when he penned these words, his outlook on life was fresher and more inspired, and he was still susceptible to deeply-rooted feelings of love.
“It’s a big enough umbrella
But it’s always me that ends up getting wet.”
One unique aspect about “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” is the fact that the piano was played by Jean Roussel. Rumor has it that even though the band permitted him to be a part of this historical track, Andy Summers wasn’t too pleased.
10. “Spirits in the Material World” is an unusual song with a twinge of philosophical depth:
“Our so-called leaders speak, with words they try to jail you
They subjugate the meek, but it’s the rhetoric of failure.”
This Sting-written song was the opening track for their 1981 album, “Ghost in the Machine,” and it’s punctuated with a crisp, heavily accented ska beat. When the chorus evolves, the melody morphs into a more rock-tangible rhythmn, which further illustrates this talented trio’s immeasurable musical capabilities.
The heart of the Police’s reign only spanned a few short years, but the ramifications of the stunning music they gave to the world will continue to resound for decades into the future.
Sheer speculation: On a personal note, I always wondered what prompted these three admirable music-makers to choose the name The Police.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s because their music is so “arresting.”
Be still my beating heart.