The Police are a three-piece rock band consisting of singer/bassist Sting (Gordon Sumner), guitarist Andy Summers, and drummer Stewart Copeland. The band became globally popular in the early 1980s, playing a style of rock that was influenced by jazz, reggae, and punk music. Their 1983 album Synchronicity was number one in the UK and the US and went Platinum eight times in the US. The band broke up in the mid-1980s, but reunited in early 2007 with the announcement that they are undertaking a huge, international world tour dubbed The Police Reunion Tour from the middle of that year on until early 2008, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of their hit single "Roxanne" and also, to a lesser extent, that of their formation as a group.
The Police were founded by American-born drummer Stewart Copeland in early 1977. After the demise of his progressive rock band Curved Air, Copeland was anxious to form a new three-piece group and join the burgeoning London punk scene. Singer-bassist Sting and guitarist Henry Padovani began rehearsing with Copeland in January 1977, and they recorded their first Police single, "Fall Out"/"Nothing Achieving," the following month. Acting Manager Paul Mulligan paid for the recording of this first single. In March and April, the threesome toured as a support act for Cherry Vanilla as well as Wayne County & the Electric Chairs.
In May, ex-Gong musician Mike Howlett invited Sting and veteran guitarist Andy Summers to form Strontium 90 with him, as a project band for a Gong reunion. The drummer Howlett had in mind for this band, Chris Cutler, was unavailable to play, so Sting brought along Stewart Copeland. Strontium 90 recorded several demo tracks at Virtual Earth Studios, and then performed at a Gong reunion concert in Paris on May 28, 1977. An album with some of these studio and live tracks (with the first recorded version of "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic") was released twenty years later in 1997 under the name Strontium 90: Police Academy. The foursome also performed at a London club as "The Elevators" in July 1977.
In July 1977, Copeland, Sting, Padovani, and Summers began performing as a four-piece version of the Police. Padovani's relatively limited ability as a guitarist meant that his tenure in the band was short, and soon after an aborted recording session with producer John Cale on August 10, Padovani left the band and Summers took over sole guitar duties. This lineup of Copeland, Sting, and Summers would endure for the rest of Police history.
Sting proved to be a capable songwriter. He had previously spent time as a secondary school English teacher, and his lyrics are noted for their literary awareness and verbal agility. Material in the later album Ghost in the Machine was inspired by the writings of Arthur Koestler, and material in Synchronicity was prominently inspired by the writings of Carl Jung. "Tea in the Sahara" on the latter album showed interest in the work of author Paul Bowles as well.
The Police, along with The Clash, are notable as one of the first mainstream white bands to adopt reggae as a predominant musical form, and to score major international hits with reggae-styled material. Although ska and reggae were already very popular in the United Kingdom, the style was little known in the United States or other countries. Prior to the emergence of the Police, only a handful of reggae songs — such as Eric Clapton's 1974 cover rendition of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" or Paul Simon's "Mother and Child Reunion" — had enjoyed any significant chart success. The bleached blonde hair that would become a trademark of the band was a lucky accident, occurring before they cut their first album. The band, desperate for money, was asked to do a commercial for Wrigley's Spearmint chewing gum on the condition that they dye their hair blonde.
For the Police, their first album, Outlandos d'Amour was a hardship, working on a small budget, with no manager or record deal. Stewart Copeland's older brother Miles Copeland III heard "Roxanne" for the first time and immediately got them a record deal with A&M Records. Originally released in 1978, the single was re-released in 1979, and it was then that the Police gained widespread recognition in the United Kingdom, as well as scoring a minor hit with the song in several other countries, notably Australia. Their success led to a gig at the famous New York club CBGB and a grueling United States tour in which the band drove themselves and all their equipment around the country in a Ford Econoline van.
In October 1979, the group released their second album Reggatta de Blanc, which was a major seller in many countries and which spawned the U.K. singles "Message In A Bottle," their first #1, and "Walking on the Moon," also a chart topper. The instrumental title track would win the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
In March 1980, the Police did their first world tour, and they were one of the first major rock bands to play in places like Mexico City, Mexico, Bombay, India and Egypt. The Mexico City show was filmed by Canal 13. In May A&M in Great Britain released "Six Pack," an expensive package containing the 5 previous A&M singles (not including "Fall Out") in their original sleeves plus a mono mix of the popular album track (from Regatta De Blanc) "The Bed's Too Big Without You" backed with a live version of the Outlandos d'Amour track "Truth Hits Everybody." It reached #17 in the U.K. singles chart although chart regulations introduced later in the decade would have classed it as an album.
Pressured by their record company for a new record and a prompt return to touring, the Police released their third album, Zenyatta Mondatta, in the fall of 1980. The album gave the group their third U.K. #1 hit, "Don't Stand So Close to Me", and "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da", which charted in the United States. In subsequent interviews Sting stated that he regretted the rushed recording for the album. However, many critics would later cite it as one of their strongest efforts. It was the last album that they worked on as a band. The instrumental "Behind My Camel," written by Andy Summers won the band a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. The song "Don't Stand So Close to Me" won the Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance For Duo Or Group.
By this time Sting was becoming a major star, and he established a career beyond the Police by branching out into acting. He made a well-received debut as the 'Ace Face' in the film version of The Who's rock opera Quadrophenia, followed by a role as a mechanic in love with Eddie Cochran's music in Chris Petit's Radio On. He also played the character Feyd Rautha in Dune and a soldier who is executed for being too brave in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
As Sting's fame rose, his relationship with band founder Stewart Copeland began to deteriorate. The increasingly strained partnership was further stretched by the pressures of worldwide publicity and fame, conflicting egos, and their financial success. The Police's fourth album, Ghost in the Machine, co-produced by Hugh Padgham, was released in 1981. It featured thicker sounds, layered saxophones, and vocal textures. It spawned the hit singles, "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic", "Invisible Sun", and "Spirits in the Material World". As the band were unable to agree on a cover picture, the album cover had three red pictographs, "digital" likenesses of the three band members in the style of segmented LED displays, set against a black background.
The Police took a sabbatical in 1982, with Sting pursuing his acting career, co-starring with Denholm Elliot and Joan Plowright in the Richard Loncraine film version of Dennis Potter's play Brimstone and Treacle. He also had a minor solo hit in the United Kingdom with the movie's theme song, "Spread A Little Happiness" (which appeared on the Brimstone and Treacle soundtrack, along with three new Police tracks). Summers recorded his first album with Robert Fripp, I Advance Masked.
The Police released their last album, Synchronicity, in 1983. Notable songs from that album include "Every Breath You Take", "Wrapped Around Your Finger", "King of Pain" and the foreboding "Synchronicity II". Except for "King of Pain", the singles were accompanied by music videos directed by Godley & Creme. This album hit #1 in both the U.K. (where it debuted at #1) and the U.S. It stayed at #1 in the U.K. for only two weeks and in the U.S. for 17 weeks. It was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy, but lost to the inevitable winner, Michael Jackson's Thriller.
The Police beat out Jackson in one category: "Every Breath You Take" won the Grammy for Song Of The Year, beating Jackson's "Billie Jean" in that category. "Every Breath You Take" also won the Grammy for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal. "Synchronicity II" won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal. "Every Breath You Take" also won the American Video Award for Best Group video and nabbed two Ivor Novello Awards for the categories Best Song Musically & Lyrically and Most Performed Work. In 1983, Stewart Copeland composed the musical score for Rumble Fish a film directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola from the S.E. Hinton novel. A song released to radio on A& M Records "Don't Box Me In (theme From Rumble Fish)" - a collaboration between Copeland and singer/songwriter Stan Ridgway leader of the band Wall of Voodoo received significant airplay upon release of the film that year.
Although there was never an official split, each band member pursued his own solo career after the Synchronicity tour ended in March 1984. In June 1986, the trio reconvened to play three concerts for the Amnesty International A Conspiracy of Hope Tour. In July of that year, a tense short-lived reunion in the studio produced only subdued re-recordings of "Don't Stand So Close to Me" and "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da". The former was released in October 1986 as their final single together in the form of "Don't Stand So Close To Me '86" (a substantially reworked version of the 1980 original), appeared on the compilation Every Breath You Take: The Singles, and made the UK Top 25. By this time, it was clear that Sting had no intention of continuing with the band, having already released a successful solo debut LP in 1985, the jazz-influenced The Dream of the Blue Turtles.
In 1992, Sting wed Trudie Styler. Summers and Copeland were invited to the ceremony and reception. Aware that all band members were present, the wedding guests pressured the trio into playing, and they ultimately performed "Roxanne" and "Message In A Bottle." Copeland said later that "after about three minutes, it became 'the thing' again." Also in 1992, Andy Summers served a brief stint as Musical Director on the short-lived "Dennis Miller Show".
On March 10, 2003, the Police were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and performed "Roxanne," "Message In a Bottle," and "Every Breath You Take" live, as a group. The last song was performed alongside Steven Tyler, Gwen Stefani, and John Mayer. Towards the end of the song, Copeland, known for tightening his drum heads until his knuckles turn white, as well as striking the drums with excessive force, was playing the drums so hard that the head of his snare drum broke. That fall Sting released his autobiography, "Broken Music".
In 2004, Henry Padovani (the band's guitarist before Andy Summers joined) released an album with the participation of Stewart Copeland and Sting in one track, reuniting the "original" Police members in a performance for the first time since 1977. Also in 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked The Police #70 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
In 2006 Stewart Copeland made a rockumentary about the band called Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out, based on Super-8 filming he did when the band was touring and recording in the late '70s and the early '80s. Andy Summers' autobiographical memoir of his career during and before his career in The Police released in October of 2006 was called One Train Later. Sting released an album of 16th century classical music written by John Dowland (1563-1626) in cooperation with lutenist Edin Karamazov called Songs From The Labyrinth in 2006.
In early 2007, reports surfaced that the trio would reunite for a tour to mark their 30th anniversary, over 20 years since their 'final' split in summer 1986. The concerts would coincide with Universal Music (current owners of the A&M label) re-releasing some material from the band's back catalogue. The following statement was released on behalf of the band by a spokesperson at Interscope Geffen A&M Records and posted on Sting's official website: "As the 30th anniversary of the first Police single approaches, discussions have been underway as to how this will be commemorated. While we can confirm that there will indeed be something special done to mark the occasion, the depth of the band's involvement still remains undetermined."
On January 22, 2007, the punk wave magazine Side-Line broke the story that The Police would reunite for the Grammys, adding that the song performed would be "Roxanne". All this information appeared to be correct. Side-Line also announced in its news coverage that The Police were to embark on a massive tour bringing them to cities all over the world. Billboard magazine later on confirmed the rumours, quoting Andy Summers who had discussed earlier in 2006 how the band could have continued post-Synchronicity: "The more rational approach would have been, 'OK, Sting, go make a solo record, and let's get back together in two or three years. I'm certain we could have done that. Of course we could have. We were definitely not in a creative dry space. We could have easily carried on, and we could probably still be there. That wasn't to be our fate. It went in another way. I regret we never paid it off with a last tour."
The Police opened the 49th Annual Grammy Awards on 11 February 2007 in Los Angeles, California, announcing "We are The Police and we're back!" before launching into "Roxanne." A&M Records, the band's record company, is promoting the current 2007-2008 reunion tour as the 30th anniversary of the release of their first single and not indeed that of the band's creation. ABC reported, "This year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of 'Roxanne,' the single that broke the Police in the United States." The single was released in April 1978.
The Police opened their Reunion Tour in Vancouver on May 28 in front of 22,000 delighted fans at one of two nearly sold-out concerts. However, Stewart Copeland gave a scathing review of the show on his own website, which the press picked up as a feud occurring two gigs into the tour. It was only meant to be tongue-in-cheek and the band took it as lighthearted as it was intended. In fact, Andy Summers commented about it to The Star Online eCentral: "It was done in a hotel room on a day off in an idle moment as a piece of playfulness, possibly ill-advised."
Summers believes Copeland's tongue-in-cheek tone eluded most of the journalists who picked up the report. "We're laughing about it," he says, "(and) the media is trying to just turn it into a piece of dirt." In Summers' mind, the episode proves that there's one thing technology hasn't changed: "We all know you can't make a joke to the press."