Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 168
Mon. June 24, 2012
“♫You belong to me? ♫”
The question mark is key to the lyrical query Sting sung in his most infamous song as lead singer of The Police. For years, “Every Breath You Take” was a question mark in my mind being a Sting/The Police follower. Even as a twelve year old vinyl hound, growing up in the eighties, I had every album from my favorite band —The Police. I remember taking the bus to downtown Ann Arbor to go to my favorite University of Michigan record store to buy The Police’s newest LP Synchronicity on wax. One the way back home, I held that blue, yellow and red colored record cover like it was my girlfriend. It was one of my most holiest possessions but of all the tracks on Synchronicity there was something that kept me from loving “Breath You Take” – the same song that eventually became Billboard’s Number One Song of 1983.
A fact that not too many Sting/The Police fanatics realize is that ““If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” was written as an antidote to the song “Every Breath You Take.” Sting continued his discussion of the link between “Set Them Free” and “Breath You Take” when he explained—
“Every Breath You Take” was about obsessive surveillance of a loved one to the point of paranoia. I wanted to write a song that was the opposite. But both songs are kind of ambiguous because ‘Every Breath You Take’ has a kind of seductive and romantic side to it which a lot of people responded to. A lot of people think it’s their song. I don’t know what kind of relationships they have but to me it’s a very dark song. And some other people would find ‘If You Love Somebody Set Them Free’ quite sinister. But I enjoy that. It’s whatever you make of it.”
“Breath You Take” seems to be Sting’s most blessed curse. The trouble started in the studio while attempting to record his soon to be biggest Police hit. The constant altercations, physical and otherwise, underscoring the erupting tension between drummer Stewart Copeland and Sting himself.
Basically, Copeland wanted to lay his own drum fills on “Every Breath You Take” but Sting just wanted a basic stripped down drum track. It was Gordon Sumner’s song so Sting’s way won out.
Sting was right. Synchronicity Producer Hugh Padgham agreed with Sting because “Every Breath You Take needed a more traditional arrangement. Padgham explained to Sound on Sound, when he said.
“Actually, it’s a lot harder to make a simple record sound good than it is to achieve that with one that has everything but the kitchen sink. Often, you can spend a lot of time working out what to omit and exactly how to play the parts that are included — whether the bass riff should be played on the bottom string on the fifth rack or on the next string on open to determine the thickness of sound — all of which can be instrumental to making simple records.”
Even with it’s simple, straight forward arrangement, “Every Breath You Take” is still, along with U2’s “One” and R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion, one of the most misunderstood pop songs in rock history. Despite not realizing Sting’s original intention, there have been many fans who have used “Breath You Take” as their wedding song; which to me is a shocking head scratcher when Sting, himself, describes his own song as—“I think it’s a nasty little song, really rather evil. It’s about jealousy and surveillance and ownership.”
My favorite part that still resonates with me today, ironically enough is Stewart Copeland’s powerful drum fills—unique for such sinisterly/quasi-romantic pop song. Usually the drums sound flat, too loud or just plain unnoticed on most pop gems but Copeland’s drumming was different as producer Padgham explained—
“Stewart’s snare sound was down to him putting a head on the snare and tightening it as hard as possible; when the lugs couldn’t be tightened any more, that was it; that was the right sound. By that time I’d enjoyed some success recording Phil Collins, where the drums were very much to the fore, and I really liked that kind of crisp, loud sound, so I was comfortable doing the same with Stewart.”
Copeland’s fills are extraordinary but we can’t forget The Police’s axe man Andy Summers exquisite guitar licks for “Every Breath You Take” are simply legendary.
“I knew it was the big one.” Copeland once famously said about “Breath You Take.” Even at the demo stages, Copeland new this was the smash hit for The Police. Stewart reminisced about the greatness of “Every Breath You Take” when he said—
“The demo was Sting singing over a Hammond organ. We threw out the Hammond Organ part completely, since we don’t have an organist in the group, but we do have a great guitarist [Andy Summers] who would be underutilized in such an important song. Andy went away and worked out that guitar part, and suddenly it all made sense. We knew it was a big song, but it sounded too pedestrian, in spite of the great lyric, and it wasn’t until Andy came up with the guitar part that it clicked in.”
“Every Breath You Take” was a hit single because of The Police focused on every detail, from Copeland’s drums to Summers’ guitar riffs – all are key components to the success of this classic Police song. Did you know that Sting plays a one note keyboard part during the middle eight of the song that was listed as one of BMI’s Top 100 Songs of the Century?
“I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle, little love song.” No matter how many times Sting has tried to explain to true meaning of his song that Sound on Sound called—“hypnotic testament to lost love and obsessive domination.” This haunting song is still and will always be beloved by Sting’s most devoted fans.
Now you realize why Sting had to compose his antidote anthem of “If You Love Somebody” in response for the worldwide misinterpretation of The Police’s biggest hit single, “Every Breath You Take.” Even though I know Sting’s true meaning, I encountered some peace of mind while unearthing this Police classic. I found some beauty in Sting’s eerie tale of obsessive love, sometimes when you stare inside the reflective abyss of “Every Breath You Take” you may just rediscover sounds of your own internal wonder. Go back and relive some of the haunted beauty that is “Every Breath You Take.” Obsession rarely sounded this magnificent.