For those who were around to witness it, the rise of The Police was at once subtle and a little shocking. The band that formed in London in 1977 managed to cross genres (sometimes in a single song) and make audiences think. The Police was comprised of Sting on bass and lead vocals; Andy Summers on guitar and Stewart Copeland on drums. Almost 40 years after forming, The Police broke up for good in 2008 after a world tour that began in 2007. However, the legacy of hits the band left behind are worth consideration and remembering.
The Police and the second British Invasion
While the original British Invasion in the 1960s gave US audiences iconic bands such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and others, the second invasion in the 1980s brought bands like The Police, Duran Duran, The Human League, The Eurythmics and numerous bands who also helped to demonstrate the idea of new wave to US audiences.
The Police combined punk, ska and reggae to create songs that detailed problematic love lives or offered up a social critique. The narrative precision of the lyrics and the instrumentation that brimmed with energy derived from punk, reggae or other influences made Police songs classic.
The Police’s most memorable songs
Obviously, this list is arguable. The Police’s unique point of view and instrumentation made their work stand out. From their second album through their fifth and final album, the group managed to release at least one, if not two, chart-topping, memorable song.
From the second album, “Reggatta de Blanca” (1979), the singles “Message in a Bottle” and “Walking on the Moon” found airplay on FM radio and college rock stations.
“Message in a Bottle” addresses loneliness in an artful and straightforward way. The lyrics describe a lonely man’s search for another lonely person. The instrumentation gets a little more tense, hard and rock-like, as he awaits his answer from whoever is out there. The guitar and bass work are particularly masterful. The repetition of the line, “Sending out an SOS” is rather poignant for a pop or new wave song.
“Zenyatta Mondatta” from 1980 contains the song “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” With a bouncy beat that alternates with a tense, sparse guitar motif during the verses, the song details a teenage student’s inappropriate feelings for her teacher. Tellingly, the song mentions the writer Nabokov. Those unfamiliar with the books by the writer will not get the possible reference to “Lolita.”
While 1983’s “Synchronicity” is the band’s highest-selling album, the album’s title track arguably was less interesting than the brooding, yet energetic “King of Pain.” The song’s verses are made of dark and haunting images such as “a skeleton choking on a crust of bread,” birds with broken backs and numerous other unpleasant sights. Even as terrible as the images are, the narrator maintains his position as the king of pain. The brooding guitar and Sting’s straightforward delivery work to make the song interesting.
The Police might have broken up for good eleven years ago, but the members are busy doing music in other contexts, or, as in the case of Sting, acting. Still, the band’s recordings remind audiences why The Police mattered.