The Police were an English rock band formed in London in 1977. For the majority of their history, the band consisted of Sting (lead vocals, bass), Andy Summers (guitar) and Stewart Copeland (drums). The Police became globally popular in the late 1970s and are generally regarded as one of the first new wave groups to achieve success, playing a style of rock that was influenced by punk, reggae, and jazz. They are also considered one of the leaders of the Second British Invasion of the US. They disbanded in 1986, but reunited in early 2007 for a one-off world tour lasting until August 2008.
Their 1983 album, Synchronicity, was number one on both the UK Albums Chart and the US Billboard 200, and sold over 8 million copies in the US alone. They have sold more than 75 million records worldwide, and were the world's highest-earning musicians in 2008, thanks to their reunion tour.
The band has won a number of music awards throughout their career, 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".
After the demise of the British progressive rock band Curved Air in 1976, the band's drummer, American expatriate Stewart Copeland, was eager to form a new three-piece group and join the burgeoning London punk scene. Singer-bassist Sting was a teacher and a ditch digger who played in jazz-rock bands. In early 1977, the two musicians met at a local jazz club and decided to form a progressive pop band with guitarist Henry Padovani. For the first few months, the group played local London pubs. Their first single "Fall Out" was recorded with a budget of £150, and released in May 1977.
In March and April 1977, the threesome toured as a support act for Cherry Vanilla and for Wayne County & the Electric Chairs. In May, ex-Gong musician Mike Howlett invited Sting and former Eric Burdon and the Animals guitarist Andy Summers to form a project band with him for a Gong reunion, which they named Strontium 90. The drummer Howlett had in mind, Chris Cutler, was unavailable to play, so Sting brought along Stewart Copeland. Strontium 90 recorded several demo tracks, and performed at a Gong reunion concert in Paris on 28 May 1977. An album with some of these live and studio tracks (along with the first recorded version of "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic") was released 20 years later in 1997 under the name Strontium 90: Police Academy. The foursome also performed at a London club as "The Elevators" in July 1977.
Shortly after the Strontium 90 gig, Summers ran into Copeland, and sensing Sting's increasing dissatisfaction at Padovani's relatively limited abilities, proposed to join the band on the condition that they would be a trio. Restrained by loyalty to Padovani, both Copeland and Sting initially resisted the idea, and the Police began performing as a four-piece version in July 1977. Shortly after two gigs at the Music Machine in London and at the Mont de Marsan Punk Festival, and an aborted recording session with producer John Cale on 10 August, Padovani was informed he was out of the band and Summers became the sole guitarist. Padovani went on to play with Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, eventually forming his own band, Flying Padovanis, and later becoming Vice President of IRS Records. The line-up of Copeland, Sting, and Summers was an unusual trio at a time when progressive rock, symphonic rock, and other sound trends lent themselves to musical ensembles with support players. Even for punk standards, three-men bands were a rarity. This line-up would endure for the rest of the Police's history.
Paralleling these developments, in 1977/1978, Sting and Summers recorded and performed (alongside other invited musicians) with 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 would become a trademark of the band was a lucky 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 that they dye their hair blond. Although the commercial was shot with the band, it was shelved and never aired.
Recording contract and Outlandos d'Amour (1977–1978)
Stewart Copeland's older brother Miles Copeland III was initially sceptical of the inclusion of Summers in the band, fearing that it would undermine their punk credibility, and reluctantly agreed to come through with £1,500 to finance the Police's first album. Outlandos d'Amour was a hardship for the band, working on a small budget, with no manager or record deal. It was recorded at the Surrey Studios in London, a basic recording facility run by two MDs, Chris and Nigel Gray. During one of his periodic visits, Miles Copeland heard "Roxanne" for the first time at the end of the session and immediately got them a record deal with A&M Records.
The band made their first ever TV appearance on BBC 2's The Old Grey Whistle Test in October 1978. "Roxanne" did not chart when originally released in 1978, however it became a hit when re-released in 1979, gaining the Police widespread recognition in the United Kingdom where it peaked at number 12 on the UK Singles Chart, as well as scoring a minor hit in several other countries. This success led to a gig at the famous New York club CBGB and a gruelling United States tour in which the band drove themselves and all their equipment around the country in a Ford Econoline van. "Roxanne" failed to make the BBC's playlist, which the band attributed to the subject matter, and was promoted by A&M with posters claiming "Banned by the BBC". The BBC did ban the second single from Outlandos d'Amour, "Can't Stand Losing You" for the cover of the single, that featured Copeland hanging himself over an ice cube being melted by a portable radiator.
Reggatta de Blanc (1979)
In October 1979, the group released their second album, Reggatta de Blanc, which was a major seller throughout Europe. The album topped the British charts for four weeks and spawned the UK number-one singles "Message in a Bottle" and "Walking on the Moon". The band's first live performance of "Message in a Bottle" was on the BBC's television show Rock Goes to College filmed at Hatfield Polytechnic College in Hertfordshire. The instrumental title track "Reggatta de Blanc" won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. In March 1980, the Police began their first world tour, which included places which had seldom hosted foreign performers, including Mexico, India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Greece and Egypt. The tour would be subsequently documented in the film The Police Around the World (1982), directed by Kate and Derek Burbidge, which encompasses footage shot by Anne Nightingale originally intended for a BBC production The Police in the East.
In May 1980, A&M in Great Britain released Six Pack, an expensive package containing the five previous A&M singles (not including "Fall Out") in their original sleeves plus a mono alternate take of the album track "The Bed's Too Big Without You" backed with a live version of "Truth Hits Everybody". It reached No. 17 in the UK singles chart (although chart regulations introduced later in the decade would have classed it as an album).
Zenyatta Mondatta and stardom (1980–1981)
Pressured by their record company for a new record and a prompt return to touring, the Police released their third album, Zenyatta Mondatta, in October 1980. The album gave the group their third UK No. 1 hit, "Don't Stand So Close to Me" (the UK's best selling single of 1980) and another hit single, "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da", both of which reached No. 10 in the United States. While the three band members and co-producer Nigel Gray all expressed immediate regret over the rushed recording for the album, which was finished at 4 a.m. on the day the band began their world tour, the album would receive high praise from critics. The instrumental "Behind My Camel", written by Andy Summers, won the band a Grammy for "Best Rock Instrumental Performance", while "Don't Stand So Close to Me" won the Grammy for "Best Rock Vocal Performance for Duo or Group".
Ghost in the Machine and Brimstone and Treacle (1981–1982)
The Police's fourth album, Ghost in the Machine, co-produced by Hugh Padgham, was recorded at Air Studios on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, and released in 1981. It featured thicker sounds, layered saxophones, and vocal textures. It spawned the hit singles, "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" (featuring pianist Jean Roussel), "Invisible Sun", and "Spirits in the Material World". As the band were unable to agree on a cover picture, the album cover had three red pictographs, "digital" likenesses of the three band members in the style of segmented LED displays, set against a black background. In the 1980s, Sting and Summers became tax exiles and moved to Ireland (Sting to Roundstone in Galway, and Summers to Kinsale in County Cork) while Copeland, an American, remained in England.
The group opened and closed the 1981 concert film, Urgh! A Music War. The film, which captured the music scene in the wake of punk, was masterminded by Stewart Copeland's brothers Ian and Miles Copeland. The film had a limited release at the time but developed a mythic reputation over the years.
At the 1982 Brit Awards in London, The Police received the award for Best British Group. After the Ghost in the Machine Tour concluded in 1982, the group took a sabbatical and each of the members pursued outside projects. By this time, Sting was becoming a major star, and he established a career beyond The Police by branching out into acting. Back in 1979, he had made a well-received debut as the 'Ace Face' in Quadrophenia, the film version of The Who's rock opera, followed by a role as a mechanic in love with Eddie Cochran's music in Chris Petit's Radio On. In 1982, Sting furthered his acting career by co-starring in the Richard Loncraine film Brimstone and Treacle. He also had a minor solo hit in the United Kingdom with the movie's theme song, "Spread A Little Happiness" (which appeared on the Brimstone & Treacle soundtrack, along with three new Police tracks, "How Stupid Mister Bates", "A Kind of Loving", and "I Burn for You"). Over 1981 and 1982, Summers recorded his first album with Robert Fripp, I Advance Masked.
In 1983, Stewart Copeland composed the musical score for Francis Ford Coppola's film Rumble Fish. The single "Don't Box Me In (theme From Rumble Fish)", a collaboration between Copeland and singer/songwriter Stan Ridgway (of the band Wall of Voodoo) received significant airplay upon release of the film that year. Also in 1983, Sting filmed his first big-budget movie role playing Feyd-Rautha in David Lynch's Dune. As Sting's fame rose, his relationship with band founder Stewart Copeland deteriorated. Their increasingly strained partnership was further stretched by the pressures of worldwide publicity and fame, conflicting egos, and their financial success. Meanwhile, both Sting's and Summers' marriages failed (Sting settled down with new partner Trudie Styler, whom he later married, while Summers, after a brief relationship which produced a son, Andrew Jr., re-married his second wife Kate).
Synchronicity and The Biggest Band in the World (1983)
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". The Synchronicity Tour began in Chicago, Illinois in July 1983 at the original Comiskey Park, and ended in Melbourne, Australia in March 1984 at the Melbourne Showgrounds (the final concert featured Simple Minds, Flock of Seagulls, The Fixx, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and The Police topping the bill). Sting's look, dominated by his orange-coloured hair (a result from his role in Dune) and tattered clothing, all which were emphasized in the music videos from the album, carried over into the set for the concert. The tour was the band's largest to date, each of the band members had expanded gear with added instruments (such as Stewart Copeland's auxiliary percussion and Andy Summers' guitar synthesizer components), and the band used backup singers for the first time.
Except for "King of Pain", the singles were accompanied by music videos directed by Godley & Creme. This album hit No. 1 in both the UK (where it debuted at No. 1) and the U.S. It stayed at No. 1 in the UK for two weeks and in the U.S. for 8 weeks. It was nominated for the "Album of the Year" Grammy, 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.
Hiatus and aborted sixth studio album (1984–1986)
During the group's 1983 Shea Stadium concert, Sting felt that performing at the venue was "Everest" and decided to pursue a solo career, according to the documentary 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. 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 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. De Do Do Do De Da Da Da was subsequently included on the DTS-CD release of the Every Breath You Take: The Classics album in 1995. The song remains hard to find because later versions of the DTS release do not include the remake.
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." In a Qantas inflight radio program named "Reeling in the Years", Copeland said an ongoing argument between himself and Sting over what drum machine to use in the sessions was "the straw that broke the camel's back", and led to the group's unraveling.
Each of the band members continued with their solo careers 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 favor 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 "Roxanne" and "Every Breath You Take". 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, south-west 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 Andy Summers featuring two complete concerts – one recorded on 27 November 1979 at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston during the Reggatta de Blanc tour, and one recorded on 2 November 1983 at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia during the Synchronicity Tour (the latter one was also documented in the VHS "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 Stewart Copeland and Sting on one track, reuniting the original Police lineup 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 made 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 the early 1980s. In October 2006, Andy Summers released One Train Later, an autobiographical memoir detailing his early career and time with the band.
Reunion tour (2007–2008)
In early 2007, reports surfaced that 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 would coincide 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."
On 22 January 2007, the punk wave magazine Side-Line broke the story that the Police would reunite for the Grammys, and would perform "Roxanne". Side-Line also stated that the Police were to embark on a massive world tour. Billboard magazine later confirmed the news, quoting Andy 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, California, announcing "Ladies and gentlemen, we are the Police, and we're back!" before launching into "Roxanne". A&M Records, the band's record company, promoted the 2007–2008 reunion tour as the 30th anniversary of the band's formation, and of the release of their first single for A&M, "Roxanne".
The Police Reunion Tour began in late May 2007 with two shows in Vancouver. Stewart Copeland gave a scathing review of the show on his own website, which the press interpreted as a feud occurring two gigs into the tour. Copeland later apologized for besmirching "my buddy Sting", and chalked up the comments to 'hyper self-criticism'. Tickets for the British leg of the tour sold out within 30 minutes, and the band played two nights at Twickenham Stadium, southwest London on 8 and 9 September. On 29 September 2007, Henry Padovani joined the group on stage for the final encore of their show in Paris, and the Police played "Next to You" as a 4-piece band. In October 2007, the group played the largest gig of the reunion tour in Dublin, Ireland, in front of 82,000 fans. They continued their reunion tour in 2008, and locations included New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Macau, Japan, Canada, US, France, Germany, Norway, Denmark, UK, Serbia, Poland, Puerto Rico, and South America including Chile, Argentina and Brazil, where they played for 75,000 people each.
The group were headliners at the TW Classic festival in Werchter, Belgium on 7 June 2008. The Police also headlined the last night of the 2008 Isle of Wight Festival on 15 June 2008, in addition to headlining the Heineken Jammin' Festival in Venice on 23 June and the Sunday night at Hard Rock Calling (previously called Hyde Park Calling) in London on 29 June. In February 2008, the band announced that once they were finished touring, they would break up again. According to Sting, "There will be no new album, no big new tour, once we're done with our reunion tour, that's it for the Police".
The final show of the tour was held on 7 August 2008 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The band performed the opening song of the night, "Message in a Bottle", supported by 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 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.
During the entire tour, the Police 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 DVD and CD set of the band's performance in Buenos Aires, Argentina on the tour. Those sets with 2 DVDs also included a documentary shot by Copeland's son Jordan entitled Better Than Therapy.
Legacy and influence
In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked The Police number 70 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and in 2010, the band was ranked 40th on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Four of the band's five studio albums appeared on Rolling Stone's 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time: Ghost in the Machine (number 322), Reggatta de Blanc (number 369), Outlandos d'Amour (number 434), and Synchronicity (number 455). In the magazine's 2004 list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, "Every Breath You Take" ranked number 84 (the highest for any song by a new wave band), and "Roxanne" ranked number 388. "Message in a Bottle" ranked number 65 in the magazine's 2008 list of the 100 greatest guitar songs of all time. The Police are typically regarded to be in both the vanguard of the Second British Invasion as well as the new wave movement. The Police are also hailed for maturing in a very brief amount of time from their Post-punk image on their first album (Outlandos d'Amour) to their fifth and final album (Synchronicity).
Although the early style of the group has been classified as punk rock, Allmusic Guide argues that this was only true "... in the loosest sense of the term"; the Guide states that the band's "... nervous, reggae-injected pop/rock was punky" and had a "punk spirit", but it "wasn't necessarily punk".
Prior to his days in the Police, Sting had spent time as a secondary school teacher for English and Mathematics, and his work with the band reflects a literary awareness. For example, material on the album Ghost in the Machine was inspired by the writings of Arthur Koestler, and the Police's final studio album Synchronicity was influenced by the writings of Carl Jung. Sting also peppers his songs with literary allusions: the song "Don't Stand So Close to Me" mentions Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita; the song "Tea in the Sahara" alludes to the novel The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles; and the song "Wrapped Around Your Finger" refers both to the sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis, from Greek mythology, and to Mephistopheles, from the German legend of Faust.
- Outlandos d'Amour (1978)
- Reggatta de Blanc (1979)
- Zenyatta Mondatta (1980)
- Ghost in the Machine (1981)
- Synchronicity (1983)
- The Police Around the World Tour (1977–80)
- Zenyatta Mondatta Tour (1980–81)
- Ghost in the Machine Tour (1981–82)
- Synchronicity Tour (1983–84)
- The Police Reunion Tour (2007–08)
- Final Lineup
- Sting – lead vocals, bass guitar and double bass; keyboards and saxophone (studio only) (1977–1986, 2003, 2007–2008)
- Stewart Copeland – drums and percussion; backing vocals, keyboards (1977–1986, 2003, 2007–2008)
- Andy Summers – guitars; backing vocals, keyboards (1977–1986, 2003, 2007–2008)
- Other members
- Henry Padovani – guitar (1977; reunion with Sting and Copeland in 2004; 2008, reunion tour finale, Paris with Summers, Sting & Copeland)
- 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
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- The Police were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 10 March 2003.
- Ranked No.70 on Rolling Stone's Immortals, the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time
- Ranked No.40 on VH1's List of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time
- Best selling music artists
- 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 0-061-99469-2 Check
- Padovani, Henri (2010). The Secret Policeman. Brighton: Penn Press. ISBN 0-717-2830 Check
- 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 3-822-81305-2.
- Fielder, Hugh (1981). Historia Bandido. New York: Proteus. ISBN 0-906-07177– Check
- Official website
- The Police at AllMusic
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