January 2019

The Police

A Top 25 by the Iconic Rock TrioThe subject of the Icon column in January’s In Tune is The Police. The trio’s trajectory was meteoric, from a chaotic scramble amid the punk-spirited scene of late-’70s London to award-winning pop stardom and the top of the international charts just a handful of years later. By the time singer-bassist Sting, guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland initially called it quits, in 1986, the group had released five studio albums and played to millions across
the globe, recognized as the era’s biggest rock band.

Looking back, it seems scarcely possible that The Police churned out those five studio albums – Outlandos d’Amour (1978), Reggatta de Blanc (1979), Zenyatta Mondatta (1980), Ghost in the Machine (1981) and Synchronicity (1983) – in just six years. The evolution of that music, from the hurtling, visceral rocker “Next to You” to the poetically textured ballad “Every Breath You Take,” feels even more extraordinary. The sound of The Police was born of three musicians with backgrounds in jazz and progressive rock getting together in an environment marked by not only next-generation punk and new wave but also the reggae that British punk musicians considered a kindred expression. The best way to hear band’s youthful fire is the first half of the Live! album, recorded at a Boston club in 1979.

The Police’s tours hit places, such as Egypt and India, that most rock bands didn’t play back then (or now), and the trio had a much wider world of influences than most pop musicians. Sting’s lyrics were informed by a heady range of literary inspirations, while Stewart’s rhythms ricocheted with African-Caribbean accents and Summers’ chordal atmospheres reflected the spirit of jazz, raga and ambient music. Much has been made of The Police’s volatile chemistry,
including on the group’s vast, one-off reunion tour of 2007-08 (which yielded a potent, legacy-cementing live album, Certifiable). Summers says: “Sure, there could be tensions, but we had a
brotherly bond. Our music was the sound of a tight artistic compromise among us. And, after all, it was rock music, which entails a certain energy, even some aggression. Sparks will fly.” — Bradley Bambarger