Sumner's Tales: Sting talks...
"Both our singles are reggae influenced, but that was by the way. They were our best songs at the time, They're not reggae all the way through. Both of them go into straight rock and roll. You can't expect us to play old Led Zeppelin riffs now."
New Musical Express, '78
"We went into Surrey Sound Studios and it was working pretty well. We recorded a few tracks, one of which I wrote more or less as a throwaway. That was 'Roxanne', I didn't think much more about it until we played the album to Miles Copeland who is, of course, Stewart's brother and a bit of an entrepreneur, though he'd never been particularly interested in The Police. In fact, he'd kept away from it to say the least. He did come along to the sessions while we were putting the first album together but more or less just to offer brotherly advice to Stewart. He heard the album and quite liked it. When we got to Roxanne, we were a bit embarrassed because the song was a bit of an anachronism, because compared with our usual material it was slow, quiet and melodic. Far from saying he thought it was a piece of shit, he said it was amazing. I thought, 'He likes this song This is fantastic!"'
A Visual Documentary, '78
On the BBC radio 'ban' in 1978...
"I felt very strongly about 'Roxanne' because that was a serious song about a real relationship. There was no talk about fucking in it, it wasn't a smutty song in any sense of the word. It was real song with a real, felt, lyric and they wouldn't play it, on the grounds that it was about a prostitute. But write a silly song about fucking, that hasn't got the word 'fucking' in it and you've got a hit. It gets a bit depressing."
A Visual Documentary, '78
On how he got the inspiration for the song from a walk down a red light district in Paris...
"It was the first time I'd seen prostitution on the streets and those birds were actually beautiful. I had a tune going around in my head and I imagined being in love with one of those girls. I mean, they do have fellas. How would I feel It's a beautiful name and there's a rich mythology behind it. 'Roxanne' was Alexander the Great's wife and Cyrano De Bergerac's girlfriend. It has an emotive quality about it."
L'Historia Bandido, '81
"We played it to Miles with trepidation, feeling that he would hate it because it was totally the wrong thing. And he flipped out. He thought it was great, a classic song, and the next day he took it to A&M and came into the studio that night and told us they were going to release it as a single. I was just over the moon because I actually did like it and it was a total off-shoot from what we'd been doing and it was immediately recognised by a record company as being commercial. That was the turning point for The Police - that and Andy joining, which enabled us to do more sophisticated material."
Melody Maker, 9/79
"I didn't have a dime and I was deeply in debt. I spent my last 100 pounds on the Police to make this record. When I heard it, I said: 'My God, this is it!' The song was 'Roxanne'. I heard that song and a light bulb went off in my head - reggae, punk and pop all mixed into one. What a great idea! If I had to zero in on a moment that changed my life - and theirs - it was that moment in the studio when I first heard 'Roxanne'. That started the ball rolling."
Miles Copeland: The Los Angeles Times, /88
"People always tell me that 'Roxanne' is a reggae song; it's actually a tango, it's not a fucking reggae song. But going from that lope into full rock'n'roll really appealed to me. Still does."
"I find it difficult to do a concert without singing 'Roxanne'. People just identify me with it and I think they'd demand their money back if I didn't play it. I love that song. It always stretches me. It stretches me even more now that I'm getting older."
"Sting played it for me in my living room early on. He was very shy at first bringing in his songs. But it was brilliant, and later on we all worked it out in a damp basement in North London. I remember Stewart telling Sting where to place the bass notes, which was a bit tricky. Half the times we played it in concert, we came in out of sync. I actually fingerpick, or pluck, the chords, rather then using a pick. When we recorded the first album, Miles Copeland came down to hear us and we were kind of embarrassed to play it for him, because Miles had blinders on and was into fast and furious punk. But much to his credit, he said, 'This is great, a knockout!' I was really surprised. And he took it to A&M and got a contract for one single. I don't think it ever broke the Top 40 in America, but eventually it became the Police signature tune."
Andy Summers: Guitar World, 1/94
"Well, the most exciting part of your career is the beginning, the first time you hear one of your songs on the radio, the first time you get to number one. I remember listening to Radio 1 one day, while I was painting the kitchen in our little flat. They were playing Kate Bush and Gerry Rafferty, and then 'Roxanne' came on. I almost fell off the ladder. Nothing's ever been like that. I mean, I never thought I'd own a house, but I remember asking our manager how many records we'd sold, and he said about 100,000. I went and bought one of those little calculators, which had just come out. I said, 'How much do we make per record And he told me, so I did this sum and said, 'F***ing hell, we can buy a house.' That was great, the revelation that this adventure we were on was going to turn into money in the bank."
Independent on Sunday, 02/02
"When we did our first big English tour, when 'Roxanne' was number 16 in the charts. I was sitting in my hotel bedroom in Stoke, and they were painting out in the corridor. 'RO-OX-ANNE... 'Ere, Bill passus that yellow paint will you ...YOU DON'T HAVE TO SELL YOUR... 'I thought, Blimey, I've done it! I loved that. It's fantastic to write a song that anyone can whistle. You can't whistle 'Death Disco'."
"When 'Roxanne' first came out in England it only sold 10,000 copies, the same as Fall Out. When it was a hit the public didn't have a clue that it was a re-release. We got back from America thinking they'd forgotten us and we were heroes. It was lovely."
L'Historia Bandido, 1981
On asked to name one song that summed up the essence of the Police...
"'Roxanne', definitely. It stuck out like a sore thumb on the radio when it came out because there was nothing else like it around. Why Because it's simple. The instrumentation is incredibly basic and yet it's melodically and harmonically sophisticated while appearing to be utterly A-B-C. And that's the essence of the Police. Not that we're fantastic virtuosos or sex symbols or brilliant singers. At our best we're a group that says something quite sophisticated in a very simple way. And funnily enough, our most creative material is often our big hits, like 'Roxanne', 'Magic' and 'Don't Stand So Close To Me'. That's because our commerciality is accidental, not planned."
"Our first album was recorded on second-hand multitrack tape which originally had an album by Caravan on it. I'm not sure they know this, and there may be a lawsuit if they find out. But at that time, we couldn't afford our own tape. We were working in a home-made studio in Leatherhead, belonging to Nigel Gray, a doctor whose hobby was recording. There were egg boxes on the walls, a sure sign of the home enthusiast. The room was tiny and the noise you hear at the start was me falling backwards and accidentally sitting on the piano and then laughing. We did our second album there too, and I think the pair of them only cost £5,000. 'Roxanne' is based on a two chord movement - a G minor to a D minor with a B flat in the bass - and once I'd got that and the descending bass line, the song was there. You could sing it as a bossa nova, and in fact that's how I first presented it to the band, but we deconstructed it. I was playing this very sparse bass line, just two notes per bar, and Stewart said, "Why don't you come in on the off beat" which made it a tango. I was into Bob Marley at the time, singing with that kind of lilt. The melody has a lot of whoops and swoops, and then goes into this rock'n'roll chorus. It sounded really odd, but in a nice way. Everyone who heard it said they had heard the constituent parts before but never the hybrid."
The Independent, 9/93
"I still sing 'Roxanne'. But I'm not necessarily thinking about it. I'm not faking it but the words and melody dictate a mood."
On meeting Puff Daddy at the MTV Awards...
"He struck me as a pretty sharp kid. It was hard to believe he's only in his early twenties - is, in fact, the same age as my eldest son Joe. He's very much in control of every aspect of his career. Actually, his intention was that I should dance on stage but I said no, we white people don't do that. And he was cool about it. I think that what he's done with 'Roxanne' is very impressive. Again, it's like a total reinvention."
The Times, 12/97
"When people sing it to me I get... I feel good. It's in that guy's head, I like that. Then you know you've made it. It's exciting, you've entered someone else's consciousness, and it's a thrill."
"It's about my disappointment with Rod Stewart, who became a big joke when he used to be a big hero."
"This is for you, Jimmy Carter... and Rod Stewart."
On Stage in Kansas, 3/79
"I used to be a great fan of his (Rod Stewart) but something happened to him. I hope I don't end up like that."
Record Mirror, 12/79
Written when Sting was bewitched by the sight of some Parisienne prostitutes when The Police played an early show in the city, 'Roxanne' is one of the best known Police songs. Intriguing enough to convince Miles Copeland to get the band a recording deal, the song has had many releases over the years. The original release was the red telephone sleeve and of course, the track featured on the debut album 'Outlandos d'Amour'. The song has, by demand, been an ever present in probably every show The Police and Sting have played. Sting continues to breath new life into the song though, by, for example, either playing it acoustically, using trombones and sax as on the 'Mercury Falling' tour, or using trumpet and a funked up bass line as on the 'Brand New Day' tour. An absolute classic - always has been, always will be.
'Peanuts', claimed by Sting to be a song about Rod Stewart, appeared on the B-side of 1978's 'Roxanne' single and was also included on the 'Outlandos d'Amour' album. The track was a regular inclusion in the set list during the earlier years. It's a typical fast and furious Police track - great stuff.
Review from Melody Maker
"Talk about a change of style! Amazing, really. It's wiry, mainstream rock with plenty of open spaces and one of those high-piched deliveries. Could even be a minor hit if A&M do the groundwork."
Review from New Musical Express
"'Roxanne' is dumb macho-with-heart-of-gold romanticism, the kind of offensive 'white reggae' played by people who've obviously only ever heard a couple of reggae records, is more than a year old and has been inexplicably re-released on 122, probably to tie in with some 'American success' - itself probably down more to misplaced Yankee images of Jack Warner than anything else."
Review from Record Mirror
"This must be the big breaker for the Police. I've played it five times already and still want more. A beautiful entry with a touch of the tangos. The lead singer has the perfect equilibrium of squeaks and rasps in his voice to carry it, wish someone would write a song about me... what the hell, go out and but it immediately."
Review from Trouser Press
"Some ominous reggae-oid syncopation in the verses resolves into hard, bright rock and roll in the chorus, topped with an oddly appealing high whine of a vocal about convincing a girl not to be a streetwalker. The flip is a sardonically rollicking rocker about the "price of fame", full sounding but with spaces in the right places. The band includes ex-Curved Air drummer Stuart Coplenad and ex-"child prodigy" Andy Summers (nee Somers), whose agile axe has graced records and roadshows of acts like the Animals and Kevin Ayers (and whose name was bruited about as under consideration for the job Mick Taylor left in the Stones). But forget all that (now that I've opened my big mouth) and remember only that this pair, along with the mysterious bassist Sting (he of the cloudy past), who writes and sings the songs, prove that 1) trios can still be a viable rockform and 2) thanks to new wave, musicians who've been through the session mill can return to energetic rock they always wanted to play but couldn't sell, enriching it with their experience."