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Five for Friday: The Police's Greatest Deep Cuts

"Roxanne." "Message in a Bottle." "Don't Stand So Close to Me." "Can't Stand Losing You." "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." During the Police's run from the late 70s and into the mid-80s, the trio of bassist/singer Sting, guitarist Andy Summers, and drummer Stewart Copeland delivered a bevy of instantly recognizable hits – songs that dominated radio when they were released and later became staples of classic rock. Yet the Police were also quite weird and adventurous. The band shifted from rock to reggae to punk with uncommon finesse. You can hear it all on the newly released Every Move You Make: The Studio Recordings, a celebration of the Police's entire recorded output in audiophile-quality analog via a six-LP box that also includes of B-sides and rarities. So what better chance to talk up some of the Police's deeper cuts? Here are five songs every bit as great as the Police's chart-topping hits.

"When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around"
Built around an effortless, watery groove largely based around Andy Summers' elongated and chiming guitar notes, this 1980 tune from Zenyatta Mondatta feels hypnotic via its repetition. As it fades, Sting brings everything back to the opening verse. The seemingly mundane, repetitive nature serves as one of the song's selling points. Sting sings about a narrator growing old and surrounded only by worthless possessions – a car that barely runs, a stereo with little to play, an X-rated film that provides cold comfort. Said to be written in response to Cold War tensions, the work presents a vivid vision of a post-apocalyptic future in which a former domesticated paradise becomes a bunker.

"Spirits in the Material World"
Tonally, "Spirits in the Material World," from 1981's Ghost in the Machine, feels somewhat of a piece with "When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around." Sting again takes a broad, topical worldview by addressing political corruption and immobility. Featuring a relatively cynical view toward governing and its ability to offer any sort of solution to what ails us, the track boasts poignant lyrics about consumption and the misguided attempts to shop to feel better. "If it's something we can't buy, there must be another way," Sting sings, alluding to a spiritual quest. Musically, the song also brought the Police into fresh realms. Summers' guitar remains relatively muted as Stewart Copeland and Sting fashion a ska-like rhythm around an alarming synthesizer that reflects the push for a wake-up call.

"On Any Other Day"
The Police had a tremendous ability to write in a forthright, direct manner, and by doing so, presented complex – or, in the case of "On Any Other Day," rather sarcastic – songs in an approachable style. Such a tactic also makes many a Police tune worth revisiting, as sly phrases may have been overlooked on prior listens. This Copeland-penned cut from 1979's Reggatta de Blanc seethes, but it's hard to tell if Copeland feels more contempt for his subject or the suburban setting in which he's found. "There's a house on my street/ And it looks real neat/ I'm the chap who lives in it," Copeland barks. Boredom abounds behind closed doors. Here, the narrator's marriage is in shambles and spilt tea sends him into a rage. The arrangement's muscular, rock thrust – a showcase for Summers' rhythmic and riffing prowess – couples with awkward, sing-song vocals to suggest everyday life is rarely ordinary.

"Voices Inside My Head"
This oddity lies about halfway into Zenyatta Mondatta. When the song opens, it feels as if the band is in mid-jam – conveying the impression the trio had been performing it for the entirety of the day. Indeed, if the Police possessed a reputation for knowing how to work a groove, "Voices Inside My Head" comes across as a mantra. "Voices inside my head/ Echoes of things you said," Sting sings. Lyrically, String doesn't expand much on the repeated refrain, and the song runs in circles as it obsesses over a moment until it nears its end, when the trio starts shouting "jump" in unison. The arrangement serves as the hook. Sting's bassline pops throughout, and Summers' guitar creates echoes. Copeland, meanwhile, alternates between stuttering cymbals and more pronounced beats. As a whole, the rhythm shakes and shimmies, the sonic equivalent of the waves inside a plasma globe.

"Walking on the Moon"
The follow-up single to "Message in a Bottle," this Reggatta de Blanc cut became an international hit that didn't fare as well on the U.S. charts. It shows off the band's romantic side, which Sting would greatly explore as a solo artist. Rooted in reggae, the song features jazz elements and feels relatively sparse. The guitar and rhythms are relatively spacious, as if the band wants to emphasize the notes you don't hear as much as the ones you do. Sting has long said the track was written while he was drunk. It follows that "Walking on the Moon" celebrates the euphoria of a new crush, when simple moments feel worthy of NASA-like breakthroughs. Added bonus: Seek out the video, in which the band gets it groove on at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

November 30, 2018

Comments (3)

Re: Police list
The song "Murder By Numbers" was on the album Synchronicity.
12/3/2018 1:05 PM
Brian Seeley
Please consider links to the songs
Please consider adding youtube or other links to the songs. I could easily explore songs from the artists I'm not as familiar with and regale in the songs from ones I am familiar with.
11/30/2018 9:02 PM
Police list
Good choices all! I'd add "Murder by Numbers" (which was never formally released to my knowledge) and "Bombs Away" also from the Zenyatta album. Cheers!
11/30/2018 7:08 PM
Mark Johlke
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