The Police’s ‘Synchronicity’ at 40: The Story Behind Every Song
It’s rare for a band’s final album to be their best, but that’s exactly what the Police delivered on June 17, 1983. Synchronicity represented everything – both good and bad – that helped make the Police one of the biggest acts in the world. The trio’s sound was honed to perfection, an expert blend of pop sensibilities, exotic rhythms, engrossing lyrics and dynamic instrumentation.
But behind the scenes, Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers were splintering beyond repair. The always-combustible trio recorded their respective parts in separate rooms and frequently quarreled while working on the album. At one point, Sting and Copeland even came to blows.
Still, those deeper details wouldn’t come out until later. When Synchronicity was released, fans had no clue they were listening to the final creative explosion from one of the era’s greatest groups. The album hit No. 1 in the U.S. and U.K., sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and took home three Grammy Awards. Below we take a look at the album, track-by-track.
1. "Synchronicity I"
Even though its songs are too disconnected to be considered a concept album, Synchronicity’s title comes from psychiatrist Carl Jung's theory of the same name. The basic concept is that every experience and circumstance is somehow connected. In the LP’s frenetic opening track, the theory is spelled out clearly: “A connecting principle / Linked to the invisible / Almost imperceptible / Something inexpressible / Science insusceptible / Logic so inflexible / Causally connectable / Nothing is invincible.” The Police also used this high-energy song as their set opener during the Synchronicity tour. “It was real 'rama-lama' way of starting our set on tour,” Copeland recalled. “Though it almost killed me to start with that kind of onslaught every night."
2. "Walking in Your Footsteps"
The Police delved deeply into world music influences for Synchronicity, with distinctive tribal rhythms and arrangements that were more sparse than in their previous work. The stylistic shift is evident in "Walking in Your Footsteps," a song where Sting compares the plight of the dinosaurs to humanity's potential end. This album cut may get lost among the LP's more popular tracks, but it's well worth a listen if only to hear Sting weave the word "brontosaurus" into his lyrics.
3. "O My God"
The Police dipped back into their history to create “O My God.” Some parts of the track are a new composition, but two earlier songs inspired the lyrics. The first verse and chorus came from “3 O’Clock Shot,” a song that dates to Strontium 90, the band Sting, Summers and Copeland were in with bassist Mike Howlett before the Police. “O My God” also features lines that famously originated on the Police's 1981 single “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic": "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"
Unquestionably the strangest and most distinctive song on Synchronicity, “Mother” is a harsh and aggressive spoken-word track featuring Summers ranting about his mom. Notable lines include "Oh, mother dear, please listen / And don't devour me" and "Every girl that I go out with / Becomes my mother in the end." You don't have to be a psychologist to see the long-simmering issues present here. “We all have our family situations, and I had a pretty intense mother who was very focused on me,” Summers explained to Songfacts. “I was sort of the golden child, and there I was, sort of fulfilling all of her dreams by being this pop star in the Police. I got a certain amount of pressure from her. It’s not heavy — it was written kind of ironic, to be kind of funny but crazy. It’s inspired a little bit by Captain Beefheart. It’s something that’s really off-the-wall.”
5. "Miss Gradenko"
“The music for ‘Miss Gradenko’ came from playing guitars in hotel rooms,” Copeland told Far Out Magazine, addressing his only songwriting credit on Synchronicity. “I had it on guitar, and was struggling to play it, but Andy just picked it up. He can just do that. As for the lyrics, it was during the Cold War, and I remember seeing a picture of a lady in a Russian uniform. I think Sting did something similar with ‘I hope the Russians love their children, too.” How can you compete with a fucking poet?”
6. "Synchronicity II"
Two seemingly unrelated storylines – a domestic dispute and the Loch Ness Monster emerging from its slumber – are presented in “Synchronicity II,” designed to highlight the album's titular psychological concept. "Jung believed there was a large pattern to life, that it wasn't just chaos,” Sting explained to Time. “Our song 'Synchronicity II' is about two parallel events that aren't connected logically or causally, but symbolically." Released as the album’s third single, “Synchronicity II” climbed to No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song is seemingly unconnected in any way to the album’s earlier track “Synchronicity I,” but there’s most likely an underlying link that Sting has never revealed.
7. "Every Breath You Take"
Even on an album of incredible quality and depth, "Every Breath You Take" stands out as The Big Hit. The incredibly catchy song came together at a time of personal strife for Sting. His first marriage had fallen apart, and his new relationship - which started while he was still married - quickly became a tabloid favorite. The song idea suddenly came to Sting when he was in Jamaica at the Goldeneye estate of James Bond novelist Ian Fleming. “I woke up in the middle of the night with that line in my head,” Sting recalled to the Independent. “I sat down at the piano and had written it in half an hour. The tune itself is generic, an aggregate of hundreds of others, 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 You Take" spent eight weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, on its way to becoming the biggest single of 1983.
8. "King of Pain"
Never one to shy away from melodrama, Sting penned "King of Pain" to reflect a bout of self-pity. "I was sitting moping under a tree in the garden, and as the sun was sinking toward the western horizon, I noticed that there was a lot of sunspot activity," the singer recalled in his book Lyrics by Sting. He turned to his then-girlfriend and future wife Trudie Styler. "'There's a little black spot on the sun today.' She waited expectantly, not really indulging my mood but tolerant. 'That's my soul up there,' I added gratuitously. Trudie discreetly raised her eyes to the heavens. 'There he goes again, the king of pain.'"
9. "Wrapped Around Your Finger"
Songs about turning the tables on an oppressive partner have been done many times, but leave it to the Police to give their tale a reggae beat and references to Greek mythology and Faust. In Lyrics by Sting, the frontman explains:"['Wrapped Around Your Finger'] is vaguely alchemical and probably about a friend of mine, a professional psychic and my tutor in tarot, with bits of Doctor Faustus and 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' thrown into the pot for good measure," Sting admitted. Released as Synchronicity's fourth single in the U.S., "Wrapped Around Your Finger" was another Top 10 hit for the Police, peaking at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.
10. "Tea in the Sahara"
The name and inspiration for "Team in the Sahara" came from the book The Sheltering Sky. Sting was a fan of Paul Bowles' novel and based this song on one of its stories. "It's one of the most beautiful, sustained, poetic novels I've ever read," he explained. "It's about Americans that regard themselves as travelers and not tourists, and I class myself in that category. I'm a hopeless tourist, but I'm constantly on the move. There was a story within that story - that was a sort of Arab legend that was told in the story of three sisters who invite a prince to a tea party out in the desert to have tea, tea in the Sahara. They have tea, and it's wonderful, and he promises to come back and he never does. They just wait and wait and wait until it's too late. I just loved this story and wrote a song called 'Tea in the Sahara'. I don't know whether Paul Bowles ever heard it, probably not, but it's still one of my favorite songs."
11. "Murder by Numbers" (bonus track)
The original vinyl version of Synchronicity included 10 songs, but fans who purchased the album on CD or cassette received an 11th bonus track called "Murder by Numbers" (which was also released as a B-side). The song came together quickly while the trio was in the middle of recording. "We are sitting at the dinner table and Andy’s plunking on his guitar with his sophisto jazz chords, and Sting loves that shit," Copeland recalled to Sound Vapors. "He pulls out his book and he’s got a lyric for that." The band soon adjourned to the studio, where Copeland put together the track's rhythm. "So I’m already playing when they plug in their amps and Hugh switches on the tape machine to record and it’s already in progress. They pick it up and just lay the tune down one time and that’s the record. We didn’t even run it through one time. That was it! The first time it was ever attempted, that was the recording.”
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