Sunday, 13 November 2011

Do I have to tell the story of a thousand rainy days since we first met. It's a big enough umbrella but it's always me that ends up getting wet.

Songs Everybody Should Know

“Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”, by the Police (1981)

The first time I heard the Police was at the student union offices at university. One of the guys had a turntable set up in his office in Mac Hall. He said “You have to hear this amazing new album by the Police”. I said “By what? Who? The Police, what the hell are you talking about”. “The ‘Police’ man this kind of reggae sounding punkish band”.

It seems like punk, with its irreverence and value in substance over form, eventually left one looking for musicianship again – I mean really, most of the punk band couldn’t play and many prided themselves on this. It had its place and time but there was a void in the fabric of pop music tearing wide open.

In step the Police, one of the most amazing power-house rock trios in history. They find a way to convey such a huge intricate sound. It is all about the groove. The beauty of their sound is not having a layered and over-produced sound. As musicians they are all top-notch, highly original and very tight. Complex bass lines, percussion and fascinating leads are at times trance-like but principally based in reggae and ska.   

Because he was always wearing this yellow and black shirt (a rugby shirt I think) Gordon Sumner was better known as ‘sting’ – he looked like a friggin’ bee I guess. He was really the least advanced of the musicians when Stewart Copeland, former member of the band ‘Curved Air’ put together the Police. Andy Summers was a guitar virtuoso in the jazz-prog band Soft Machine.

As a trio they came together on their first album and really did not have to cut their teeth like so many bands – they just exploded. Their sound certainly borrowed from reggae and definitely can’t be called punk, but their sound was something we had never heard. Raw, simple, contagious and with lyrics and ideas that were accessible.

I saw the police in an interview a few years ago on ‘Elvis Costello Presents” and I really thought it gave you a glimpse into why the Police could not have remained together as a band. Stewart Copeland (drummer) is wildly intense, bombastic and opinionated in sort of a zany but subliminally dangerous way. Sting is a bit standoffish but never fails to be a perfectionist (often most critical of himself).

Although their first album contained “Roxanne”, it did not elevate them to immediate commercial success. “Roxanne” would creep into our psyche (partly due to Eddy Murphy singing it in the movie 48 hours) and become an ‘80’s anthem in time. Somewhat experimental, like every Police album really, “Outlandos D’Amour” was a mix of reggae and punk-like tunes such as “So Lonely”, “Can’t Stand Losing You”. Even Andy Summers’ bizarre/dirty (at the time) yet hilarious “Be My Girl –Sally” make for an inspired first album. (This girl I knew at the time had this memorized and said it often.  I don’t know why).

The outlaws of love followed-up with a second album entitled “Regatta de Blanc”, which some say means ““Un reggae, qui n'est pas trop chargĂ© de paroles!” – which is like a few, unintelligent words to form a reggae song. Or just white reggae. It seems to me it is just sort of a weird formulaic title for their albums they used. A Spanish/French bastardization that they finally get over with ‘Ghost in the Machine” a bit later.

Regatta de Blanc’s ‘Message in a Bottle” is the most notable song on the album. ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You” and “Bring on the Night” are also staples now. My favourite on the album is “Walking on the Moon” which to me is like the Beatles “Ob la De Ob la Da”, a fun but not typical offshoot.

The now formulaic but ever-interesting groove came to life once more on 1980’s “Zenyatta Mondatta” with the pounding and sort of melodramatic “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”, Sting of course being a former teacher. The band is now well-known and the well-rounded album also contained the classics “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” my favourite, and “Voices in My Head”, “Shadows in the Rain”, and “When the World is Running Down”

You can hear a little saxophone and keyboards on 1981’s “Ghost in the Machine” but it is clearly for polish and certainly doesn’t mess with the groove. “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and “Spirits in the Material World” were huge hits as the songs become lavish rhythms. The songs also become a bit more political on the confident “Rehumanize Yourself”, “Too Much Information” and “Demolition Man”.

The band was at the top of its game on 1983’s “Synchronicity”. Along with the title song, “Every Breath You Take”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger” and “King of Pain” all charted well. By this time though, Sting was clearly dominating the song writing and this irritated the other members of the group. Summer’s contribution a strange sort of Freudian “Mother” stands out as the strange song of the album.

Sting of course went on to have a phenomenal solo career after the Police and several strained reunions took place. Copeland, has done numerous scores for films and TV shows, and a number of albums. He also released a biography a few years ago.  Summers also has done scores for films and composed since the breakup of the Police.  

You know you have made it when people start making tribute albums to you. Like blues artists covering the Rolling Stones, there are albums of reggae artists covering the Police. The most brilliant I have heard was “Reggatta Mondata: A Reggae Tribute to the Police”, which is brilliant, but if you are not familiar with the Police, please listen to the original Police first!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Time for one of your great quizzes I think!