. . .
After releasing an album every autumn from 1978-1981, the Police took an extra six months before they came back with their fifth album, Synchronicty, a record that had the temerity to come out a full 18 months after their previous one. Of course, as far as the world was concerted, it was well worth the wait, as Synchronicity was the number one album in the U.S. from late July until Thanksgiving, except for one week where Thriller intruded.
It was part that weird 1982-1985 run where critically acclaimed albums also topped the charts: Beauty and the Beat, Thriller, Synchronicity, Born in the U.S.A, Purple Rain & Like a Virgin all took their turns, dominating the radio, the stadiums, and of course, the MTV, which I think had the world premiere of the first single from Synchronicity, the long-lost “Every Breath You Take.”
By every possible measurement, “Every Breath You Take” is one of the monster hits of all time: according to the music publishing rights company, BMI, “Every Breath You Take” has been played on the radio over 15,000,000 times, which seems impressive, but not nearly as impressive as the streaming numbers. As of this writing, Spotify has streamed it 476,517,713 times and YouTube has the official video (which didn’t even go up until 2010) viewed 682,822,105 times.
That’s over a billion times people have chosen to experience the now 36 years old “Every Breath You Take” in the past decade. On just two platforms.
And it was ever thus: “Every Breath You Take” was an utter and instant smash, already in the top ten when Synchronicity was released, and basically owning the summer of 1983 in a totally and utterly inescapable way. And yet, at first, I was cynical. Because outside of Sting’s voice, it really didn’t sound all that much like The Police to me.
And here’s why: while doing research for The Police posts, I watched a couple of “Stewart Copeland Explains Drumming” videos, and in one of them, he talked about how much he wanted to avoid playing a basic backbeat on songs, no matter how much “they” wanted him to. And the thing that initially threw me off about “Every Breath You Take” was the straightforward and simple beat.
But of course, it’s the simplicity that’s the key, isn’t it? And if The Police were going to go off-script — which they pretty much did throughout the entirety of this album — doing an unabashedly straightforward pop song was just as much of an experiment as the one with the Africianized drums.
But not a love song of course, but rather a gorgeous stalker song. Which has seemed kinda gross to me in 1983, and remains even more so in an era where it’s even easier for stalkers to stalk. But, apparently, we’ve all decided to give the lyrics a pass because of the utterly irresistible melody and Sting’s melancholic singing.
And yeah, while the arrangement is simple — Andy Summers alternating arpeggiated guitars on the verses and power chords on the solo — that simplicity means that the one-note piano they bring in after the bridge absolutely suffices as the lead in the instrumental break. Or that the repetition of the first verse over and over while Sting murmurs “I’ll be watching you” at the end is totally and utterly sublime.
And so yeah, while The Police were capable of greater things than “Every Breath You Take,” I’m not sure they were capable of better things.
“Every Breath You Take” official music video (in case you’ve never seen it)
“Every Breath You Take” performed live in 1983
“Every Breath You Take” performed live 2008
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