Top 10 Police Songs
Fans looking for a handy compendium of the Police's top songs could do worse than picking up a copy of their 1986 compilation, 'Every Breath You Take: The Singles' -- in fact, a majority of the tracks on this Top 10 list appear on that album. But the British trio were more than just a collection of hits, of course, and to get a better overall picture of the Police, one must dig a little deeper than the five-times-platinum seller. With that in mind, we offer you our picks for the Top 10 Police Songs.
The influence of reggae on the Police is pretty apparent to even casual fans, but few of the band's song are as overtly connected to the genre as 'So Lonely,' which singer-bassist Sting admits was based on a Bob Marley classic -- with a little punk thrown in for good measure. "Let's be honest here, 'So Lonely' was unabashedly culled from 'No Woman No Cry' by Bob Marley," he told Revolver. "Same chorus. What we invented was this thing of going back and forth between thrash punk and reggae. That was the little niche we created for ourselves."
The Police's 1983 swan song 'Synchronicity' is the disc that made the band global superstars -- it was their only album to top the charts in the US, where it eventually went eight-times platinum -- and 'Wrapped Around' was its second of no less than five hit singles. Supposedly about the dissolution of a doomed marriage, the tune meshes dark-edged New Wave and reggae flourishes to create a moody pop masterpiece.
The second single off the Police's first album, this catchy number nearly topped the UK singles chart -- despite the controversy that surrounded the cover art. The BBC "had a problem with [the cover] because the photo on the cover of the single had Stewart standing on a block of ice with a noose around his neck, waiting for the ice to melt," explained Sting, although he failed to mention that the song is indeed about suicide.
'Invisible Sun' found the Police exploring another rather dark realm, both in sound (thanks to the haunting synthesizer loop that runs through the track) and in the content of the lyrics, which make a veiled reference to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The accompanying video, which featured clips taken from the conflict in Northern Ireland, was also banned by the BBC.
It may come across as rather lightweight in tone -- its lyrics, about a lonely island castaway who one day is surprised with "a hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore" after a year of despair over his unanswered message in a bottle -- but something about 'Message in a Bottle' certainly struck a chord with fans, who helped make the tune the Police's first No. 1 hit in the UK. It's also Sting's personal favorite, he told BBC presenter Jools Holland.
'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' is a key step in the evolution of the Police. The choppy reggae guitars and ire-inflected beats of their early days are still there, but now they are adorned with sweetly subtle layers of pop piano and synth. It all ties together into a four-minute nugget of the kind of pop genius that would make their next LP, 'Synchronicity,' such a massive worldwide hit.
Most bands can't turn a song that references an obscure Hungarian novelist (Arthur Koestler) and the father of analytical psychology (Carl Jung) into an international hit, but then again, most bands don't have Sting writing their tunes. Add in odd tempos and eerie instrumentation on top of the esoteric lyrics, and 'King of Pain' is pure pop brilliance as only the Police can do -- and get away with.
Before his foray into the world of rock 'n' roll stardom, Sting was a teacher, but he later put to rest rumors that 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' -- which tells the 'Lolita'-esque tale of a young student with a crush on her instructor -- was based on any sort of real world experience. The track earned the Police their first non-instrumental Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.
'Every Breath You Take' may be one of the Police's biggest hits, but Sting himself has gone on record to call the song itself "generic" -- and set the record straight that there's nothing all that romantic about it, despite often being interpreted as a love song. It's "an aggregate of hundreds of others," he once admitted, "but the words are interesting. It sounds like a comforting love song. I didn't realize at the time how sinister it is."
'Every Breath' may have been the bigger radio hit, but 'Roxanne,' which barely cracked to Top 40 in the States when it dropped in '78, is now easily the trio's best-known jam (and managed to land at an impressive No. 51 on our Top 100 Classic Rock Songs tally). One thing it's not is a reggae song -- a point which Sting obviously has strong feelings about. “People always tell me that ‘Roxanne’ is a reggae song,” he once told Q. “It’s actually a tango, it’s not a f---ing reggae song.”