. . .
One of the things I absolutely denied in the 1980s, but have come to reluctantly accept with the benefit of time, hindsight, and a near-total banishment of actively listening to their music for a couple of decades due to overexposure: The Police were a tremendous band. Yes, I know, duh.
This is, of course a thing I knew at the time: that outside of The Clash — it’s always outside of The Clash — they were the pioneers of fusing punk and reggae. Plus, unlike The Clash, whose reggae got more reggae as their career moved forward, The Police added an extra dollop of musicianship and a whole steaming bowlful of pop (which in this case included looks) to their version of that fusion, which is why they were near-instant stars who were only getting bigger when they threw in the towel.
That said, I know what my problem with The Police was at the start: I didn’t like the first song I ever heard from them, and I heard it all the godsdamn time. That, of course, would be “Roxanne.” Have you even encountered a song that you know is a good song, maybe even a great song, a song which is musically right up your alley, and yet you can’t stand it? It’s happened a few times in my life — all of those early 90s Weezer songs are a prime example — but “Roxanne” is one of the first times that ever happened to me, so I didn’t even bother to listen to the rest of Outlandos D’Amour for a couple of years.
(And yes, I know the irony, but Rox isn’t all that enamored of a song that assholes imitating Sting have been singing at her — each one thinking he’s the first person to ever do it — for forty years.)
So I didn’t really latch on to “So Lonely” when it came out, even though it’s basically the first song where they figured out the formula they rode for their first four albums: reggae on the verses, punk-pop on the choruses, and Sting bringing the hooks throughout, regardless of the situation. And, at least on the first three, tons and tons of space: Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland — who is a fucking god, full stop — all doing their things, with very very few instrumental overdubs.
Which was key, because on the verses of “So Lonely” — which Sting based upon Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” — you could really focus on the interplay between Sting’s just busy enough bassline, Summers weaving in and out of his guitar, and all of the insane stuff Copeland was doing on just his hi-hit, kick and snare.
Well, someone told me yesterday
That when you throw your love away
You act as if you just don’t care
You look as if you’re going somewhere
But I just can’t convince myself
I couldn’t live with no one else
And I can only play that part
And sit and nurse my broken heart
Then, with a couple of whacks of Copeland’s snare, they were off: everybody singing “so lonely” over and over and over and over and over. The first time around, they stop for a second verse, but after the second chorus, things get nuts. First, there’s a long Summers guitar solo that connects the reggae to the rock, at the end of which there’s a random harmonica for another chorus which abruptly ends so that Sting can almost scat “so lonely” over the reggae which then leads into one last chorus which goes to the fade.
If the first half of “So Lonely” was a conventional verse chorus verse song, the second half was The Police humblebragging about just how good they were.
I’m not sure anybody knew what to do with this at first, as apparently The Police released three singles in 1978 prior to the November release of Outlandos D’Amour: “Fall Out” “Roxanne,” and “Can’t Stand Losing You,” none of which made any dents anywhere. As didn’t “So Lonely,” which was released the same time as the album, and also went nowhere. So it was actually the re-release of “Roxanne” that turned them into pop stars. Whew! I’m not sure you needed to know all of that, but what the hell.
Also, check out how each of the live performances below are totally different from each other.
“So Lonely” Official Music Video
“So Lonely” performed in Germany, 1979
“So Lonely” performed live in Atlanta, 1983
“So Lonely” performed live in Japan, 2008
The Certain Songs Database
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.
Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)
Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page