Friday, May 06, 2011

Friday 80s Flashback for May 6, 2011
[Busted!] -- This week we're taking a look at Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers in the 80s. Of course, from 1977 to 1986 they were collectively known as The Police.

In 1976 the ascent of the Sex Pistols, and all they represented for the punk movement, had all but destroyed the career prospects for bassist Sting's jazz-rock combo (Last Exit) and drummer Stewart Copeland's progressive rock band (Curved Air). After Curved Air's last performance as a unit (in December 1976), Stewart saw a Last Exit gig. He was immediately taken with Sting and arranged for an introduction. Shortly thereafter, Copeland formed the first version of The Police in 1977 with himself, Sting, and guitarist ... Henri Padovani. This trio recorded one single, "Fallout," on a very tight budget and landed a poorly-paying gig (£15 a night) as "pretend punks" that took them all of 20 minutes to blaze through a 13-song set. A brief flirtation with the project band, Strontium 90, introduced Sting and Copeland to guitarist Andy Summers. The Police continued briefly as a four-piece before officially dumping Padovani. Sting, Copeland, and Summers spent the latter part of the 70s scrounging for work, asking Copeland's brother for financial help, and releasing two albums -- Outlandos d'Amour (1978) and Reggatta de Blanc (1979) -- that set the stage for their eventual superstardom, powered by their unique combination of reggae, rock, and jazz influences.

Between 1980 and 1986, The Police released four albums and around 12 singles. What have I selected for your 80s pleasure this week? Read and hear more after the jump.

Flashback #1"Protest is futile | Nothing seems to get trough  |  What's to become of our world  |  Who knows what to do."

After writing very I-centric songs for The Police's first two albums, Sting's approach changed for their third studio release. Perhaps it was the touring in support of Reggatta de Blanc. Perhaps it was simply a growing awareness that had always been there. But Sting turned more to what was happening in the world outside for the songs on their third album, Zenyattà Mondatta (1980). "Driven to Tears," our first Flashback of the day and the fourth single from Zenyattà, is Sting's lament on poverty. It was released in 1981 and reached #35 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. It also appears on the soundtrack for the 1981 concert film Urgh! A Music War, which was not exactly a documentary of punk rock, New Wave, and post-punk acts. Here is The Police's performance of "Driven to Tears" from that film.

Flashback #2
"It's a big enough umbrella | But it's always me that ends up getting wet."

The political influences continued on The Police's fourth album, Ghost in the Machine (1981). The group's internal disagreements were also mounting: they could not even agree on a cover photo, so the cover art features a digital-calculator-like graphic that depicts the heads of the three band members, each with their own distinctive hair style. Our second flashback of the day was the second single from this album, and it is still one of Sting's few, all-out celebratory love songs. It charted within top ten lists around the world, peaking at #3 in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #1 in the U.S. Billboard Top Tracks. Here is The Police ditty with a heavy Caribbean vibe, "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic."

Flashback #3
"Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes."

After taking much of the year for non-Police endeavors, the band reconvened in late 1982 to begin work on what would become their final studio record together. They had outlines of about 20 songs they had to pare down to around 11 tracks for the album. The usual battles commenced, but in the end, they arrived at the typical balance of songwriting credits -- one Copeland song, one and a half from Summers, and the rest by Sting. Fundamentally, as Summers put it, Sting was still regarded as the best songwriter among them so there were "hardly any broken hearts" over the final song selection. Synchronicity (1983) was named after Arthur Koestler's book, The Roots of Coincidence, which mentions Carl Jung's theory of Synchronicity. This was The Police's most successful album to date, spawning four hit singles and winning a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Early in the tour, just before playing to a crowd of 18,000 in New York's Shea Stadium, the band realized that things couldn't get much bigger. According to Sting, this was "the beginning of the end." Before the end came, however, Synchronicity's first single, "Every Breath You Take," hit the #1 position on several charts and won two Grammy awards: Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Song of the Year. Now, I could hardly talk about Synchronicity without mentioning "Every Breath You Take," right? But it is not in our set list today. Instead, I'll work a small bit of synchronicity and feature "Synchronicity II" as our final flashback of the day. The third single from Synchronicity, "Synchronicity II" reached #9 on Mainstream Rock and #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The meaning of the song is still debated among fans and critics alike, but there is no debating this masterful video, directed by Godley & Creme.

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. But if you 80s-philes need more flashbacks, please visit the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If you don't like the flashback, share it with your enemies.

I'll see you in seven!

Sources for today's Flashback:
  • Wikipedia
  • BBC - Music
  • Message in a Box: The Complete Recordings of The Police (1993, A&M Records)

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