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"Every Breath You Take"
The Police
The Police

In 1983, four years after their first number 1, 'peroxide reggae' band The Police were still churning out the hits.

Released that May, "Every Breath You Take" was taken from the band's fifth and final album Synchronicity which entered the UK album charts at number 1. Selling in excess of 10 million, the success of the LP culminated in sell-out stadium shows after also enjoying the top spot in the US chart for 17 weeks.

However, tensions between band members were beginning to take their toll, and as Sting relates, he even had to fight to get the song onto the album.

"It was very, very contentious and very bitter ..."

Luckily it was included on the LP, as "Every Breath You Take" became one of the band's biggest hits with four weeks at the top of the UK charts and double that on the US top spot. Recently ranked 79th in Radio 2's Songs Of The Century it allegedly still earns Sting £715 daily from US airplay alone.

Sting penned the words and much has been made of the fact that when he wrote it he was in the middle of breaking up with his first wife Frances Tomelty. Although it has been subsequently denied many saw it as a possessive reaction to the split. In later interviews however, Sting did concede that writing songs helped him through this very difficult time, as he "processed the grief of it through songwriting and performing".

At the end of 1983, in an interview with Annie Nightingale, Sting also revealed that "Every Breath You Take" was a song about unrequited love.

"I think the song is very, very sinister."

The simplest of chord sequences (in essence C/Aminor/F/G), forms the basis of this Sting biggie. But the subtleties begin with the hypnotic Michael Nyman-like guitar riff, weaving in extras like added ninths, and echoing the obsessive lyric. The first bridge ("Oh can’t you see ...") is largely driven by Sting’s vocal, but it's the second ("Since you’ve gone ...") which is more innovative, and really seals the song’s greatness.
Dominic King

The lyrics to the song are very simple – there is no clever word-play for instance, but the underlying context is pretty subtle. On a first hearing it could just be a pretty love song, however on repeated listens the mood becomes more sinister as you realise that this love is of an obsessive nature. Michael Stipe of REM particularly enjoyed this underlying subtext "it was beautiful and creepy. So I wanted to write a song (Losing My Religion) that was better."  The simplicity of the lyrics is also reflected in the uncomplicated melody, and apparently a synth-driven instrumental was dropped for not fitting in with the song's overall tone.

The song received a new lease of life when Puff Daddy used it as the basis for his tribute to the Notorious B.I.G entitled "I'll Be Missing You". Sting performed the song with Puff Daddy at the Grammy Awards and it also topped the poll for the Most Performed Work in the 1997 Ivor Novello Awards. Sting was also credited on the record, however Andy Summers, who provided the distinctive guitar riff, received money from the sample being used but didn't receive a writing credit.

it's one of the most sinister popular songs I can remember

Richard Allinson

  Listen to Richard Allinson on the song

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Songwriting tips

Sting may have written the words to this but the guitar riff is down to Andy Summers.

Find out more about collaboration in the Songwriting Guides.
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