ROLLING STONEMay 01, 1979
The following article by Mick Brown appeared in a May 1979 issue of Rolling Stone magazine...
Police - The case of the bleached blonds...
"Street credibility...," mutters Stewart Copeland, the American drummer in Britain's Police, as he wearily runs a hand through his peroxide blond hair. "Street credibility is full of shit. It's something journalists invented to pass the time of day. Anybody who claims to have street credibility is lying through his teeth." Guitarist Andy Summers and bass player Sting nod their peroxide-blond heads in agreement.
"Street credibility" has been a thorn in the side of the three-man group - as have the journalists Copeland claims invented the term. The band, which came up with a hit single 'Roxanne', its first time in America, has not fared so well in Britain, where the group has been the object of some less-than-friendly coverage in the music press.
One of the first bands to emerge from the English punk circuit and one of the first to eschew music-business convention by releasing a record on its own label, the Police nonetheless were chastised by the music media for being ageing opportunists (original members Copeland and Sting are in their late twenties). Their peroxide-blond hairdos were among the points of contention: the Police dyed their hair not as a symbol of revolt, as was the case with most punk bands circa 1977, but to play the part of a punk group in a chewing gum commercial. And on such trifles are reputations, and street credibility, won and lost.
But now, the Police's luck (and their press) is turning around. Their debut album 'Outlandos d'Amour', has been lauded by both American and English critics, as has 'Roxanne'. That song might have done as well in Britain as in America were it not for its lyrics, extolling a French call girl, which prevented radio exposure.
"That song has been the turn-around for us," says Copeland, sitting in the London offices of A&M Records before embarking on the group's second American tour. 'Roxanne' is so obviously not punk and has nothing to do with what anybody else is doing."
The punk tag was a misnomer in the first place, Copeland insists, since it owed more to where the band played than what it played.
The son of a CIA official, Copeland formed the Police in 1977 after he tired of "the college circuit and big-budget recording scene" he had experienced as a member of the English band Curved Air. Recruiting Sting, whose previous musical experience had been confined to jazz and cabaret bands, and guitarist Henri Padovani, the Police began working the burgeoning punk-rock circuit.
"That whole period shook up everybody in the rock and roll industry," says Copeland. "Before that we would have had to have been Black Sabbath to get within sniffing distance of a record deal."
Copeland formed his own record label, Illegal, with $1,000 borrowed from a friend, and the Police recorded and manufactured their first single themselves. The revenue from that and performances in Europe - as well as the chewing gum commercial - subsidised the recording of an album. Padovani meanwhile had been replaced by Andy Summers, a veteran of such established British bands as Soft Machine and the New Animals. The first sessions for the album produced 'Roxanne', which was picked up for release as a single by A&M and led to the band's current deal.
The same spirit of independence has characterised the group's approach to live performances. The Police even did an American tour of small East Coast clubs last year without any financial support from their record company. They were able to break even by travelling light. "Just the three of us, our tour manager, drums as hand luggage and that's it", says Copeland.
Playing small clubs rather than showcase concert halls has, he says, "put a lot of calluses on our talent. We're as hard as nails now. We can go in front of any audience now and turn them over." The result is a hybrid of brash energy and an intelligent and considered application of technique, given a distinctive twist by the jazz-inflected falsetto of vocalist Sting.
"My singing comes from a very catholic background", Sting says. "There's lots of influences in there from Ella Fitzgerald and Cleo Laine. But then, I've never listened to rock singers, never copied Robert Plant or anyone like that."
The sparse choppy rhythms of reggae are also evident in many of the band's songs, 'Roxanne' among them. "I like the rhythm section in reggae", Copeland says. "But you'd never actually find the licks that people have called reggae on our records on any records out in Jamaica. It's our own concoction; call it 'honky reggae' if you like."
Andy Summers believes the Police's variegated musical approach will put them in good stead with American audiences who have been alienated or bemused by the excesses of British punk. "It seems to me that maybe some of the earlier punk bands were too radical a departure from anything Americans had been listening to. Our music falls a bit easier on their ears. We're something of a cross-over between hard-core punk and the more standard rock'n'roll: not as radical as the Sex Pistols, but definitely not Boston or Foreigner either.
"We have a New Wave tag, but to me New Wave is as much a matter of attitude as anything else. We're definitely concerned with trying not to be a dinosaur. We're against inflation of the musical kind.
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