Summer of ‘Synchronicity’Written by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
At least once a week during the summer of 1983, I rode a TARTA bus to Downtown Toledo to visit the Abbey Road record store at Portside. At 17, I was at the zenith of my love for record collecting, but I would walk past the new releases to check the torn-out Billboard pages tacked over the singles bin.
I had been raised on country-western music; other than my mom’s Beatles LPs, I did not know much about pop. During a swim party at a friend’s in the spring of 1979, I heard the slashing guitars and hysterical pleadings of “Roxanne,” and I never again settled for steel guitars and Nashville slickness. I followed The Police through their exponentially successful rise of “Message in a Bottle,” “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.”
When “Every Breath You Take” exploded in the summer of 1983, I followed its chart progress like a sports fan rooting for a team’s pennant chase. I still remember the numbers: A debut at No. 36, a jump to No. 24, a leap to No. 12, a move to No. 5, then an eight-week run at No. 1 that, as a longtime fan of the band, made me feel as triumphant as if I had written the song myself.
No song dominates the memory like a summer song, and to this day, hearing the pistol-shot opening of “Every Breath You Take” takes me back to the summer of 1983.
It’s amazing and a bit scary that this month marks the 30-year anniversary of “Every Breath You Take”; I do not feel 30 years older, though I know my feelings have zero impact on the march of time.
Perfect pop song
If there is such a thing as a perfect pop song, this is it. As critic Dave Marsh wrote, “‘Every Breath You Take’ belongs in that category of singles that announce themselves as classics from the first time you hear them.”
Guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland were as tight a rhythm section as any rock band of their time, but on this single (which echoes the chord progression of the band’s “Invisible Sun”), their playing transcends their individual efforts and gels with Sting’s bass to create a liquid, rolling setting for the cool, obsessive vocal. For four minutes and 13 seconds, the record hypnotizes as it settles in the brain to take up permanent residence.
And it is an obsessive statement, not a love song.
“People tell me they use it as their wedding song, and I back away slowly,” Sting told Rolling Stone. “It’s not about healthy love. It’s about obsession, possession and desperation.”
The song exposed The Police to its widest possible audience. It charted on urban and black stations, and ignited sales of its parent album, “Synchronicity,” which remained at No. 1 for 17 weeks. During its 17-week reign, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was No. 2.
The song’s stylish black-and-white video, directed by Godley & Creme, became an MTV staple and racked up a number of MTV Video Music Award Nominations, unfortunate timing in the era of “Billie Jean” and “Beat It.”
“Every Breath You Take” won the Grammy for Song of the Year but lost Record of the Year to “Beat It.”
During the “Synchronicity” sessions, the band intentionally retreated from the overdubs and ornamentation of its previous record, “Ghost in the Machine.” Copeland told Rolling Stone, “We had a synth line over the bridge that telegraphed an added urgency and became its own hook. We decided to keep it simple and erased it, but it probably would have resulted in more weeks at No. 1.”
That discarded synth line was resurrected for Sting’s “Every Breath You Take” rewrite “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” but Sting wasn’t the first to copy his own song’s style. “Every Breath You Take” has many acknowledged imitators, including “The One I Love” by REM, “I Still Can’t Get Over Loving You” by frequent concept borrower Ray Parker Jr., “Hysteria” by Def Leppard and the No. 1-for-11-weeks remake sampling by Puff Daddy, “I’ll Be Missing You.”
Sting has revisited the song several times, lyrically on “Love is the Seventh Wave” and “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” and on recordings on acoustic and live versions. He also recorded a version with Robert Downey Jr., for an “Ally McBeal” episode in 2001.
At the loftier end of the television spectrum, “The Sopranos” began its third season with FBI agents monitoring Tony Soprano’s every step. A seamless and inspired editing of “Every Breath You Take” and the Henry Mancini twang-fest “Theme from Peter Gunn” graced the soundtrack when the agents appeared. That mix, by Mr. Ruggerio, is featured on “The Sopranos” soundtrack “Peppers & Eggs.”
In ranking the song at No. 71 in his book, “The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made,” Marsh writes, “It’s a permanent fixture in the pop pantheon. The rolling bass line, Sting’s dry vocal, Andy Summers’ precisely plucked guitar part, and the remorseless clop of Stewart Copeland’s drums create an atmosphere in which the song’s metaphors assume a dimension just this side of terrifying. And the way the song pulls back, rejecting the heated rage that such betrayal seemingly deserves and instead serving revenge as it’s meant to be consumed, with a cold, cold heart, is the most frightening facet of all.”
The summer and fall were dominated by The Police, with follow-up singles “King of Pain,” “Synchronicity II” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger.” A B-side, “Murder by Numbers,” provided a chorus I used to sing to psyche myself up for Libbey High School football games. That summer of 1983 has stayed with me, a benchmark for the summers of my youth — every step I take, every move I make.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.