For a band that almost didn’t happen, the Police were truly outlaws, instead of “Outlaws of Love” by the end of their somewhat rocky road. Formed in London in 1977,the line-up consisted of primary songwriter Sting (lead vocals, bass guitar), Andy Summers (guitar), and Stewart Copeland (drums).
Initially considered a “new wave band,” their style was influenced by punk, reggae, and jazz, and was multi-dimensional and transcended traditional genre categorization. Their first album was initially recorded with a budget of £1,500 that the band borrowed from Stewart Copeland’s brother, Miles. The album was recorded over six months, with the band jumping in whenever the studio had free time. Miles agreed to pay additional £2,000 when the album was completed. At first Miles was unhappy with the result, until he heard “Roxanne.” He took that recording to A&M records and persuaded them to release it as a standalone single. The song initially failed to chart, however A&M saw promise in the band and released “Can’t Stand Losing You.” That became the band’s first hit, and the label quickly released the by-then finished album. Initially, they called it “Police Brutality,” but Miles suggested “Outlandos d’Amour,” which was a loose French translation of “Outlaws of Love.”
The album initially performed poorly in the UK due to low exposure and an unfavorable reaction from the BBC to its first two singles: “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “Roxanne”, which were about suicide and prostitution, respectively. Undaunted, the band took off to America for a low-budget tour in support of the album. This tour made people across the U.S. aware of the band, and especially the song “Roxanne.” Initial reviews were largely unfavorable, critically citing the band as “posturing as punks” while also playing the more sophisticated reggae and rock. The general consensus was that “Can’t Stand Losing You” was the superior song of the album. Nonetheless, the album peaked at #6 and went gold.
The lads quickly rushed back into the studio and recorded their second album “Reggatta de Blanc” at the end of 1979, which only took 4 weeks to complete. While the first album had benefited from one of the most prolific songwriting periods of Sting’s early life, the recording sessions for Reggatta de Blanc were so short on new material that the band even considered re-recording “Fall Out” at one point. Stewart Copeland said, “We just went into the studio and said, ‘Right, who’s got the first song?’ We hadn’t even rehearsed them before we went in.” The album continued to build on the success of the band’s previous album, hitting No. 1 on the UK and Australian album charts. “Message in a Bottle” and “Walking on the Moon” were released as singles and both reached No. 1 on the UK Singles chart.
Not to be caught unprepared a second time, the band’s third album (“Zenyatta Mondatta”) was written during their second tour but again, recorded in only four weeks. Released in October 1980, the band felt that the album was “too rushed,” and made a few attempts in later years at re-recording some of the songs. Drummer, Stewart Copeland, said: “We had bitten off more than we could chew. … we finished the album at 4 a.m. on the day we were starting our next world tour. We went to bed for a few hours and then traveled down to Belgium for the first gig. It was cutting it very fine.” Sadly, the album is the last of the Police’s early era, influenced by reggae and punk, which is what made them so unique.
Also considered by many as one of the leaders of the Second British Invasion of the U.S., in 1983 Rolling Stone labelled them “the first British New Wave act to break through in America on a grand scale, and possibly the biggest band in the world” at that time.
While the critics were much kinder upon release of the 4th and 5th albums (“Ghost in the Machine” and “Synchronicity” respectively). By this point, as often happens with artists, the differing creative approaches and personalities began to cause internal dissention within the band. One critic stated of the 5th album “It’s the sound of a group coming apart and coming together, a widescreen drama with a fascination at a molecular level,” referring to the much different sound. He had no idea how prophetic he was. Mojo’s David Buckley more aptly called it “the work of a disintegrating unit.”
After the Synchronicity tour ended in March 1984, the band took a much needed break, and went on hiatus while Sting recorded and toured in support of his very successful solo debut LP. This was the beginning of the end for the band.
Following a failed effort to record a new 6th studio album, the Police effectively disbanded. Summers explained on the later released box set: “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.”
While each band member continued as a solo act, Sting has had the most obvious success with his solo career. The band has re-formed on occasion to play special events, and even a short reunion tour, giving hope to many fans that a much larger reunion tour might still be possible someday…
Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected].