The Police As Pioneers: Did They De-Do-Do-Do It For You?

The Police, back in the day, were my favourite pop band. I first heard them in early 1979 on the radio station Q107, Toronto – playing ‘Roxanne’ live at the El Mocambo. As a 14 year old raised on a musical diet of Kiss and Aerosmith, The Police were revelatory. Of course, they were part of the ‘New Wave’ of UK music, making itself present in Canada and the USA in the late 70s, that included Elvis Costello, The Records, Gary Numan etc. and coincided somewhat with American ‘skinny tie’ bands like Cheap Trick, The Knack and The Cars, whom I loved as well.

So off I went to buy ‘Outlandos D’Amour’ from Sam The Record Man in St. Catherines, taped it off the LP, and proceeded to play it constantly on my crappy radio/cassette machine. Most of my friends hated it, but I didn’t care. And better still, we were so behind the times in Southern Ontario that ‘Reggatta De Blanc’ was soon in the shops.

Two months later my family moved to the UK.

Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that music played a huge part in my coming to terms with the culture shock of being a teenager in a new, foreign country – needless to say, The Police certainly played their spiritual part in that. And for a few years there, The Police were pop music. Their hits dominated the charts with 5 Number One singles in the UK between ’79 and ’83.

In hindsight, though, what really interested me about The Police was the guitars and drums. Although Sting’s voice was unique, it wasn’t the ‘sound’ of the band. This was in the instrumental parts – drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers created that, not Sting.








Stewart Copeland & Andy Summers

Summers’ chordal work – with added 7ths and 9ths, 11ths, sus4s etc – gave The Police an obvious connection to the triadic explorations of modal jazz, and this, combined with Copeland’s reggaefied, flamtastic drumming style, gave The Police an easily recognisable ‘jazz-punk’ sound that was hugely influencial – and easily copied.

And so we reach the main point of this blog, showing how this influence was manifest in rock music… and fusion. To that end, here’s Steve Khan’s ‘The Breakway’ from his album ‘Casa Loco’ (1984)

“Are you safe Miss Gradenko?”

Here’s another, Bill Connors ‘Twinkle’ from ‘Step It’ (produced by Steve Khan):

“I’m sending out an SOS!”

And Billy Joel ‘Running On Ice’:

“We are Spirits In The Material World”

The great Jay Gruska from ‘Which One Of Us Is Me?” and ‘Atlanta Calling’:

“Poets priests and politicians…”

Amy Holland’s genius version of ‘Shake Me, Wake Me’:

“De, Do, Do, Do, De, Da, Da, Da”

And there’s more… Mr. Mister “32”, Joni Mitchell’s “Fiction”, and I’m guilty too… witness my track “Pyramid Power” (the title is half “Zenyatta Mondatta” album cover reference, half esoteric reference) from my “Next Stop” (2013) album:

“An island lost at sea-o”

Yeah, oops. Anyway, I like to think it’s taking that Summer’s style and going round to Holdsworth’s house for a pint of Boddington’s…. or something like that.

To conclude, The Police were a terrific band. Despite Sting ruining their reputation somewhat with his dreadful solo career, and the Concert Tour in 2007 that was unnecessary and embarassing, the early stuff is still there for us to enjoy… and be influenced by.


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