Giant steps are what you take…. Five from The Police

I spent a good chunk of time yesterday evening sat on the grass listening – from outside of the festival grounds – to a Sting and The Police tribute act (The Rozzers). Regular readers will know I have a fondness for them that only seems to grow as I get older. Hearing some of their classics played out at such volume by a very accomplished band was actually more of a treat than I was expecting it be and reinforced to me just how many great tunes those three chaps put to tape (we wandered away once they started with ‘Fields of Gold’ – there’s only so much vomit you can get in a bucket after all).

In their relatively short nine year original span they put out five albums of increasing depth that saw them get better with each outing before the inevitable inter-band tensions arose and Sting’s ego grew so large that it become self-aware, ate Andy Sumner and made a drumstick-kebab with Stewart Copeland and convinced The Artist Formerly Known As Gordon that jazz was the way to go (that’s if Wikipedia is to be believed). It’s often been suggested that if they’d been allowed to have a bit more time off between albums that they would’ve been around longer but there’s both that thing about hindsight and the fact that A&M had money to be made there and then.

While Sting may have struggled with truly strong lyrics – see Aphoristic’s brilliant take on this – the trio always had a knack for creating great tunes, surging out with the energy of the punk scene with genuine musicality and some brilliant song dynamics.

So, without a red dress in site, here are five crackers from The Police which, conveniently, seem. to have fallen as one from each album.

Truth Hits Everybody

Message In A Bottle

An obvious choice, perhaps, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a cracker.

Driven To Tears

Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic

I still think it’s the most wonderful gear change in music and, for once, Sting’s lyric ‘and ask her if she’ll marry me, in some old fashioned way’ is pretty decent. Shame about that Sandra Bollox movie

Synchronicity I

The Police’s later career is where you’ll find most of my favourite cuts. I named Synchronicity my choice for 1983 in the (currently on hiatus due to artistic differences) Albums of My Years series – for me they were at their peak and as both a title track and album opener this is a corker and shows how far they’d come.

Tracks: Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86

It’s been a while since I dusted off this format to highlight / ramble about a specific track but this one has been cause for much enthusiastic discussion between my wife and I since we discovered it a couple of months back so here we go.

The Police are oft-played in my ears and yet pretty under-represented in my collection save a copy of ’92’s ‘Best Of’ cd and a cassette of Synchronicity that I can no longer find. Well, that was true until I found a very clean copy of Every Breath You Take: The Singles at Electric Palace Records* back in January.

It’s a cracking compilation – as I’ve said before it’s got eleven perfectly crafted songs and ‘Roxanne’. The Police had a knack for creating these precise, glorious tunes and rhythms that got better as they went. Every album may have had a bit of filler but when the gold was as gloriously shiny as ‘King of Pain’ or ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’** then you could forgive a ‘Mother’ or two per album.

After the tour for Synchronicity the band parted ways for a bit. Solo albums were recorded all round and Sting continued his climb up his own rear pipe with The Dream of the Blue Turtles and by the time they were meant to head back into the studio on the back of some Amnesty International concerts the tension between the band was into toxic levels. To make it worse, Stewart Copeland broke his collarbone the day before they were due to record so jamming was off the table – not that it mattered: writing new songs for The Police was the last thing on Sting’s mind.

Instead either the label or the band decided to use the time to create a new album made up of re-worked versions of their hits. But even this wasn’t simple, of course. Copeland wanted to use one drum loop programming setup, Sting insisted on using something different. Personally I’d wonder why the choice wouldn’t be left to the drummer but you get the impression that, at this point, the band would argue over how to open a door at this point in their relationship. Regardless of reason, Sting’s request sent the engineer down an alley he couldn’t find his way out of for a few days and Copeland ended up using his chosen method after days of delay and would later claim the argument was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ was the only song they managed to rework during these sessions as the band fell apart at the seams quickly thereafter. It would be released as a single and on a compilation of their hits, Every Breath You Take: The Singles, as ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me ’86’. I’m guessing there were some moans that the compilation didn’t feature the original as it was deleted in ’95 and replaced with Every Breath You Take: The Classics with the ’86 version swapped out for the original. Nor does it appear on streaming services.

So why am I highlighting this? Because I think that was a mistake. The Police only got better as they developed and this new arrangement is the superior, to me. The moodier take, while at times very clearly a mid-80s song, is much more suited to the subject matter than the original from six years prior (although that version’s intro is spot-on as an album opener too) and Sting sings with an appropriately mature tone vs the bouncier, faux-reggae tint he applied earlier. Given how little of a shit he probably gave about The Police at the time this performance is brilliant. Even with the more mature vibe they remained the masters of the chorus and here the shift in rhythm and sheen of the ‘don’t stand so’ is positively euphoric in its arrival. Again, while it’s clearly a mid-80s song, it’s the best kind of mid-80s song and hits all the right spots.

When I spun this for the fist time I was a little jarred as the original is so embedded in my mind – especially having heard it on the radio so often since it was released – but I was hooked and with each listen became more convinced it was the better of the two.

From here it was curtains for ‘Gordon and the Boys’. They wouldn’t even share a room for the cover photo of the single or its music video – another of Godley & Creme’s classics (of which surely a piece here is deserved) which itself used a different version of the ’86 take and appropriated footage from the video for the original – and The Police were done for twenty years. Solo careers took over, Sting’s being the most successful as he gradually climbed down from his ego trip (if never entirely), before a brief reunion and final tour across 2007-2008 to mark their 30th anniversary.

*It’s billed as ‘Kent’s smallest record shop’ and manages to fit a very healthy choice of records, books etc in a store that feels smaller than my garden shed. This is not a paid promotion but if you’re ever in the area it’s worth a punt if they’re open.

**I think this song is home to the greatest ‘gear change’ in music