The Police were a British rock band formed in London in 1977. For most of their history the band consisted of Sting (lead vocals, bass guitar, primary songwriter), Andy Summers (guitar) and Stewart Copeland(drums, percussion). The Police became globally popular in the late 1970s […]
The Police were a British rock band formed in London in 1977. For most of their history the band consisted of Sting (lead vocals, bass guitar, primary songwriter), Andy Summers (guitar) and Stewart Copeland(drums, percussion). The Police became globally popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Emerging in the British new-wave scene, they played a style of rock influenced by punk, reggae, and jazz. Considered one of the leaders of the Second British Invasion of the US, in 1983 Rolling Stone labelled them “the first British New Wave act to break through in America on a grand scale, and possibly the biggest band in the world.” The Police disbanded in 1986, but reunited in early 2007 for a one-off world tour that ended in August 2008.
Their 1978 debut album, Outlandos d’Amour, reached No. 6 in the UK Albums Chart. Their second album Reggatta de Blanc (1979), became the first of four consecutive No. 1 studio albums in the UK and Australia with its lead single, “Message in a Bottle”, their first UK number one. Their next two albums, Zenyatta Mondatta (1980) and Ghost in the Machine (1981), featuring “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”, both UK number one singles, saw further critical and commercial success. Their final studio album, Synchronicity (1983), was No. 1 in both the UK and the US, selling over 8 million copies in the US alone. Its lead single, “Every Breath You Take”, became their fifth UK number one, and first in the US. The Police have sold over 75 million records, making them one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time.They were the world’s highest-earning musicians in 2008, due to their reunion tour.
The Police won a number of music awards, including six Grammy Awards, two Brit Awards—winning Best British Group once, an MTV Video Music Award, and in 2003 were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Four of their five studio albums appeared on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The Police were included among both Rolling Stone‘s and VH1’s lists of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
In late November 1976, while on tour in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England with the British progressive rock band Curved Air, the band’s American drummer Stewart Copeland met and exchanged phone numbers with an ambitious singer-bassist (and former schoolteacher) called Sting (so nicknamed due to his habit of wearing a black and yellow striped sweater mirroring a wasp), who at the time was playing in a jazz-rock fusion band called Last Exit. On 12 January 1977, Sting relocated to London; on the day of his arrival, he sought out Copeland for a jam session.
“I was inspired by the amazing energy of the whole thing, and I thought, ‘Well, I’m new to London and I’m totally unknown, so I’ll give it a go.’ We did a 15-minute lightning set and I squealed and screamed.”—Sting on his first jam session since arriving in London.
Curved Air had recently split up and Copeland, inspired by the contemporary punk rock movement, was eager to form a new band and join the burgeoning London punk scene. While less keen, Sting acknowledged the commercial opportunities, so the duo formed the Police as trio with Corsican guitarist Henry Padovani recruited as the third member. After their debut concert on 1 March 1977 at Alexander’s in Newport, Wales (which lasted only ten minutes), the group played London pubs and toured as a support act for Cherry Vanilla and for Wayne County & the Electric Chairs. Their first single “Fall Out,” recorded at Pathway Studios in Islington, North London on 12 February 1977 with a budget of £150, was released in May 1977 by Illegal Records.
Also in May 1977, former Gong musician Mike Howlett invited Sting to join him in the band project Strontium 90. The drummer Howlett had in mind, Chris Cutler, was unavailable, so Sting took Copeland. The band’s fourth member was guitarist Andy Summers from Lancashire in northwest England. A decade older than Sting and Copeland, Summers was a music industry veteran who had played with Eric Burdon and the Animals and Kevin Ayers among others. Strontium 90 performed at a Gong reunion concert in Paris on 28 May 1977, and played at a London club (under the name of “the Elevators”) in July. The band also recorded several demo tracks: these were released (along with live recordings and an early version of “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”) 20 years later on the archive album Strontium 90: Police Academy.
“I thought there was fantastic potential in Sting and Stewart. I’d always wanted to play in a three-piece band. I felt that the three of us together would be very strong. They just needed another guitarist and I thought I was the one.”—Summers on Sting and Copeland after first hearing them at the Marquee Club in Oxford Street, London.
Summers’ musicality impressed Sting, who was becoming frustrated with Padovani’s rudimentary abilities and the limitations they imposed on the Police’s potential. Shortly after the Strontium 90 gig, Sting approached Summers to join the band. He agreed, on the condition the band remain a trio, with him replacing Padovani. Restrained by loyalty, Copeland and Sting resisted the idea, and the Police carried on as a four-piece version but they only performed live twice: on 25 July 1977 at the Music Machine in London and on 5 August at the Mont de Marsan Punk Festival. Shortly after these two gigs (and an aborted recording session with ex-Velvet Underground member John Cale as producer on 10 August), Summers delivered an ultimatum and Padovani was dismissed from the band. The effect of Summers’ arrival was instant with Copeland stating: “One by one, Sting’s songs had started coming in, and when Andy joined, it opened up new numbers of Sting’s we could do, so the material started to get a lot more interesting and Sting started to take a lot more interest in the group.”
The Police’s power trio line-up of Copeland, Sting, and Summers performed for the first time on 18 August 1977 at Rebecca’s club in the English city of Birmingham in the West Midlands. A trio was unusual for the time, and this line-up endured for the rest of the band’s history. Few punk bands were three-pieces, while contemporary bands pursuing progressive rock, symphonic rock and other sound trends usually expanded their line-ups with support players. The musical background of all three players may have made them suspect to punk purists, with music critic Christopher Gable stating,
“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’. What the Police did perhaps take from punk was a brand of nervous, energetic disillusion with 1970s Britain.”
The band were also able to draw on influences from reggae to jazz to progressive and pub rock. While still maintaining the main band and attempting to win over punk audiences, Police members continued to moonlight within the art rock scene. In late 1977 and early 1978, Sting and Summers recorded and performed as part of an ensemble led by German experimental composer Eberhard Schoener; Copeland also joined for a time. These performances resulted in three albums, each of them an eclectic mix of rock, electronica and jazz. Various appearances by the Schoener outfit on German television made the German public aware of Sting’s unusual high-pitched voice, and helped pave the way for the Police’s later popularity.
The bleached-blond hair that became a band trademark happened by accident. In February 1978, the band, desperate for money, was asked to do a commercial for Wrigley’s Spearmint chewing gum (directed by Tony Scott) on the condition they dye their hair blond. The commercial was shot with the band, but was shelved and never aired.
1977–1978: Recording contract and Outlandos d’Amour
Copeland’s older brother Miles was initially sceptical of the inclusion of Summers in the band, fearing it would undermine their punk credibility, and reluctantly agreed to provide £1,500 to finance the Police’s first album. Recording Outlandos d’Amour was difficult, as the band was working on a small budget, with no manager or record deal. It was recorded during off-peak hours at the Surrey Sound Studios in Leatherhead, Surrey, a converted recording facility above a dairy which was run by brothers Chris and Nigel Gray.
During one of his periodic studio visits, Miles heard “Roxanne” for the first time at the end of a session. Where he had been less enthusiastic about the band’s other songs, the elder Copeland was immediately struck by the track, and quickly got the Police a record deal with A&M Records on the strength of it. “Roxanne” was issued as a single in the spring of 1978, while other album tracks were still in the midst of being recorded, but it failed to chart. It also failed to make the BBC’s playlist, which the band attributed to the song’s depiction of prostitution. A&M consequently promoted the single with posters claiming “Banned by the BBC”, though it was never really banned, just not play-listed. Copeland later admitted “We got a lot of mileage out of it being supposedly banned by the BBC.”
BBC Television Centre where The Police made their television debut on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1978, and where they also made their first appearance on Top of the Pops in 1979.
The Police made their first television appearance a few months later, in October 1978, on BBC2’s The Old Grey Whistle Test to promote the release of Outlandos d’Amour. Though “Roxanne” was never banned, the BBC did ban the second single from Outlandos d’Amour, “Can’t Stand Losing You”. This was due to the single’s cover, which featured Copeland hanging himself over an ice block being melted by a portable radiator. The single became a minor chart hit, the Police’s first, peaking at No. 42 in the UK. The follow-up single “So Lonely”, issued in November 1978, failed to chart. In February 1979 “Roxanne” was issued as a single in North America, where it was warmly received on radio despite the subject matter. The song peaked at No. 31 in Canada and No. 32 in the US, spurring a UK re-release of it in April. The band performed “Roxanne” on BBC1’s Top of the Pops, and the re-issue of the song finally gained the band widespread recognition in the UK when it peaked at No. 12 on the UK Singles Chart.
The group’s UK success led to gigs in the US at the famous New York City club CBGB and at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, NY, from which “Roxanne” finally debuted on US radio on WPDH, and a gruelling 1979 North American tour in which the band drove themselves and their equipment around the country in a Ford Econolinevan. That summer, “Can’t Stand Losing You” was also re-released in the UK, becoming a substantial hit, peaking at No. 2.The group’s first single, “Fall Out”, was re-issued in late 1979, and became a minor chart hit, peaking at No. 47 in the UK.
1983: Synchronicity and “The Biggest Band in the World”
In 1983, the Police released their last studio album, Synchronicity, which spawned the hit singles “Every Breath You Take”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, “King of Pain”, and “Synchronicity II”. By that time, several critics deemed them “the biggest rock band in the world”. Recording the album, however, was a tense affair with increasing disputes among the band. The three members recorded their contributions individually in separate rooms and over-dubbed at different times.
The Synchronicity Tour began in Chicago, Illinois in July 1983 at the original Comiskey Park, and on 18 August the band played in front of 70,000 in Shea Stadium, New York. They played throughout the UK in December 1983, including four sold out nights at London’s Wembley Arena, and the tour ended in Melbourne, Australia in March 1984 at the Melbourne Showgrounds (the final concert featured Sunny Boys, Australian Crawl and Bryan Adams, with the Police topping the bill). Sting’s look, dominated by his orange-coloured hair (a result from his role in Dune) and tattered clothing, both of which were emphasised in the music videos from the album, carried over into the set for the concert. Except for “King of Pain”, the singles were accompanied by music videos directed by Godley & Creme.
Synchronicity became a No. 1 album in both the UK (where it debuted at No. 1) and the US. It stayed at No. 1 in the UK for two weeks and in the US for seventeen weeks. It was nominated for Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, but lost to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. “Every Breath You Take” won the Grammy for Song of the Year, beating Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. “Every Breath You Take” also won the Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, while “Synchronicity II” won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. “Every Breath You Take” also won the American Video Award for Best Group video, and the song won two Ivor Novello Awards in the categories Best Song Musically and Lyrically and Most Performed Work from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.
1984–1986: Hiatus, aborted sixth studio album
During the group’s 1983 Shea Stadium concert, Sting felt performing at the venue was “Everest” and decided to pursue a solo career, according to the documentary The Last Play at Shea. After the Synchronicity tour ended in March 1984, the band went on hiatus while Sting recorded and toured in support of his successful solo debut LP, the jazz-influenced The Dream of the Blue Turtles, released in June 1985; Copeland recorded and filmed The Rhythmatist (1985); and Summers recorded another album with Robert Fripp (Bewitched, 1984) and the theme song for the film 2010—which was not used in the film, but included on the soundtrack album. At the 1985 Brit Awards held at London’s Grosvenor Hotel on 11 February, the band received the award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. In July the same year, Sting and Copeland participated in Live Aid at Wembley Stadium, London.
“Even though logic would say, ‘Are you out of your mind? You’re in the biggest band in the world—-just bite the bullet and make some money.’ But there continued to be some instinct, against logic, against good advice, [that] told me I should quit.”—Sting on quitting the band in 1986.
In June 1986, the trio reconvened to play three concerts for the Amnesty International A Conspiracy of Hope Tour. In July of that year, they reunited in the studio to record a new album. However, Copeland broke his collarbone in a fall from a horse and was unable to play the drums. As a result of the tense and short-lived reunion in the studio, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86” was released in October 1986 as their final single and made it into the UK Top 25. It also appeared on the 1986 compilation Every Breath You Take: The Singles, which reached No. 1 in the UK album charts. A rerecorded version of “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da” was subsequently also included on the DTS-CD release of the Every Breath You Take: The Classics album in 1995.
Following the failed effort to record a new studio album, the Police effectively disbanded. In the liner notes to the Police’s box set Message in a Box, Summers explains: “The attempt to record a new album was doomed from the outset. The night before we went into the studio Stewart broke his collarbone falling off a horse and that meant we lost our last chance of recovering some rapport just by jamming together. Anyway, it was clear Sting had no real intention of writing any new songs for the Police. It was an empty exercise.”
Each band member continued with his solo career over the next 20 years. Sting continued recording and touring as a solo performer to great success. Summers recorded a number of albums, both as a solo artist and in collaboration with other musicians. Copeland became a prolific producer of movie and television soundtracks, and he recorded and toured with two new bands, Animal Logic and Oysterhead. However, a few events did bring the Police back together, albeit briefly. Summers played guitar on Sting’s album …Nothing Like the Sun (1987), a favour the singer returned by playing bass on Summers’ album Charming Snakes (1989) and later singing lead vocals on “‘Round Midnight” for Summers’ tribute to Thelonious Monk Green Chimneys (1999). On 2 October 1991 (Sting’s 40th birthday), Summers joined Sting on stage at the Hollywood Bowl during The Soul Cages Tour to perform “Walking on the Moon”, “Every Breath You Take”, and “Message in a Bottle”. The performance was broadcast as a pay-per-view event.
On 22 August 1992, Sting married Trudie Styler in an 11th-century chapel in Wiltshire, southwest England. Summers and Copeland were invited to the ceremony and reception. Aware that all band members were present, the wedding guests pressured the trio into playing, and they performed “Roxanne” and “Message in a Bottle”. Copeland said later that “after about three minutes, it became ‘the thing’ again”. In 1995 A&M released Live!, a double live album produced by Summers featuring two complete concerts—one recorded on 27 November 1979 at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston during the Reggatta de Blanctour, and one recorded on 2 November 1983 at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia during the Synchronicity Tour (the latter was also documented in the VHS tape Synchronicity Concert in 1984).
On 10 March 2003, the Police were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and performed “Roxanne”, “Message in a Bottle”, and “Every Breath You Take” live, as a group (the last song was performed alongside Steven Tyler, Gwen Stefani, and John Mayer). In the autumn of 2003, Sting released his autobiography, Broken Music.
In 2004, Copeland and Summers joined Incubus onstage at KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas concert in Los Angeles performing “Roxanne” and “Message in a Bottle”. In 2004, Henry Padovani released an album with the participation of Copeland and Sting on one track, reuniting the original Police line-up for the first time since 1977. Also in 2004, Rolling Stone ranked The Police No. 70 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
In 2006, Stewart Copeland released a rockumentary about the band called Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out, based on Super-8 filming he did when the band was touring and recording in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In October 2006, Andy Summers released One Train Later, an autobiographical memoir detailing his early career and time with the band.
2007–2008: Reunion tour
In early 2007, reports surfaced the trio would reunite for a tour to mark the Police’s 30th anniversary, more than 20 years since their split in 1986. The tour coincided with Universal Music (current owners of the A&M label) re-releasing some material from the band’s back catalogue. The following statement was released on behalf of the band by a spokesman at Interscope-Geffen-A&M and posted on Sting’s official website: “As the 30th anniversary of the first Police single approaches, discussions have been underway as to how this will be commemorated. While we can confirm that there will indeed be something special done to mark the occasion, the depth of the band’s involvement still remains undetermined.”
“There had been no conversations about The Police getting back together,” Copeland explained in 2007. “Then Andy and I met last year at the record company to talk about doing something with the thirtieth anniversary of the band, and we were yawning our way through the latest plans to scrape the barrel and get another couple of thousand sales out of a hits album. But at the same time, I had my film, which we’d taken to the Sundance Film Festival, and Andy had written a book (One Train Later), so it felt like there might be something more there… Maybe it was the day Sting showed up for the party at Sundance (in February 2006)with me and Andy, and those three blond heads were there together again in a room… Then, last autumn, Sting made the calls.”
On 22 January 2007, the punk wave magazine Side-Line broke the story the Police would reunite for the Grammys, and would perform “Roxanne”. Side-Line also stated the Police were to embark on a massive world tour. Billboard magazine later confirmed the news, quoting Summers’ 2006 statement as to how the band could have continued post-Synchronicity: “The more rational approach would have been, ‘OK, Sting, go make a solo record, and let’s get back together in two or three years.’ I’m certain we could have done that. Of course we could have. We were definitely not in a creative dry space. We could have easily carried on, and we could probably still be there. That wasn’t to be our fate. It went in another way. I regret we never paid it off with a last tour.” The band opened the 49th Annual Grammy Awards on 11 February 2007 in Los Angeles,announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are the Police, and we’re back!” before launching into “Roxanne”.
After the dissolution of the Police, Sting had adamantly refused to reunite with Copeland or Summers for any prolonged period, commenting “If I ever reform the Police I should be certified insane.” Asked what prompted the reunion, he said “I’d just done the lute album—Songs from the Labyrinth. I was thinking: ‘Well, what do I do? What’s going to surprise people?’ I just had this instinct, this desire to call the guys up and say: ‘Let’s give this a go.'” Sting added he saw the reunion as “a kind of healing. I think solving problems is an exercise worth doing”.
In February 2008, the band announced that, when the tour finished, they would break up again. “There will be no new album, no big new tour,” said Sting. “Once we’re done with our reunion tour, that’s it for the Police.”
Drummer Stewart Copeland performing in Marseille with the group
The final show of the tour was on 7 August 2008 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The band performed the opening song, “Message in a Bottle”, with the brass band of the New York Metropolitan Police Corp. Later, they performed “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Purple Haze” as a tribute to the rock trios that preceded them: (Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience). While announcing the show, the group also announced their donation of $1 million to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiative to plant one million trees in the city by 2017. Proceeds of the concert went towards arts programming for the city’s two public television stations, WNET and WLIW.
The tour sold 3.7 million tickets and grossed $358 million, making it the third-highest-grossing tour of all-time at its conclusion. On 11 November 2008, the Police released Certifiable: Live in Buenos Aires, a Blu-ray, DVD and CD set of the band’s two performances in Buenos Aires, Argentina on the tour (1 and 2 December 2007). Those sets with two DVDs also included a documentary shot by Copeland’s son Jordan entitled Better Than Therapy as well as some photographs of Buenos Aires taken by Andy Summers.
- 1982: Best British Group
- 1985: Outstanding Contribution to Music
- 1980: Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Reggatta de Blanc”
- 1981: Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”
- 1981: Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Behind My Camel”
- 1983: Song of the Year for “Every Breath You Take”
- 1983: Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for “Every Breath You Take”
- 1983: Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for Synchronicity II
- Copeland, Ian (1995). Wild Thing. New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-81508-7.
- Copeland, Stewart (2009). Strange Things Happen: A Life with The Police, Polo and Pygmies. London: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-194196-2.
- Padovani, Henri (2010). Secret Police Man. Brighton: Penn Press. ISBN 978-1-907172-83-0.
- Sting (2005). Broken Music. New York, N.Y.: Dial. ISBN 0-7432-3184-8.
- Summers, Andy (2006). One Train Later: A Memoir. New York, N.Y.: Thomas Dunne. ISBN 0-312-35914-4.
- Summers, Andy (2007). I’ll Be Watching You: Inside The Police 1980–83. Cologne: Taschen. ISBN 3-8228-1305-2.
- Sutcliffe, Phil; Fielder, Hugh (1981). The Police: L’Historia Bandido. New York: Proteus. ISBN 978-0-906071-77-9.