Sumner's Tales: Sting talks...
"A lot of my compositions come from guitar parts. 'Message In a Bottle', that was a guitar riff. The way I write, I don't have a melody first and then fit words to it. Actually, what happens is that I write them both together. There's this magical moment where you have this series of chords, this progression, and suddenly the words and the music actually come together at the same time. There's no sort of welding one onto the other. There is no other melody for the chorus to 'Message In a Bottle'. It just happened at the same time, so in a sense, I see the two as equal."
"'Message In A Bottle' was a dead cert hit from the first attempt at a backing track."
Stewart Copeland: L'Historia Bandidio, 1981
"The riff was my composition, one that I had knocking around for a long time before I came up with a song for it. Obviously, it's Andy playing it on the track. He was from a previous generation of musicians - he'd worked with the Animals and Zoot Money. So he was very professional with this great reservoir of technique and experience. In this track, there's a break before the last verse, and Andy came up with this lovely arpeggiated shiver. He'd do that - the song would be quite raw and he'd just add these lovely colours. I'm very proud of this song. I like the image of the message in a bottle. The lyrical idea develops in the third verse and clinches the whole thing...well, sort of. And again it had a real rock'n'roll chorus. It was also our first real bona fide in-at-Number-One. There was no stopping us after this. I was still living in the same flat, a with the promise of success and lots of money; though I hadn't seen any yet. This was the most exciting time in that band: every day there was a new experience. You can never repeat those initial excitements - like the first time your record is played on the radio and a song you wrote in the living room is out there on the airwaves."
The Independent, 9/93
"One of our best moments in the studio and always great on stage. We played it at Sting's wedding, a decade after the group disbanded, and it ws still buring."
Stewart Copeland: 'Message In A Box' Liner Notes, 93
"As a narrative, it had a beginning, middle and an end. The story actually developed. It wasn't just 'I'm lonely, isn't it terrible!' - which is what a lot of my other songs were about. If I'm lonely, but I realise everybody else is too. I feel better. I think the Germans call that Schadenfreude - enjoying the misery of others."
"I've always said it was Stewart's finest drum track, plus great guitar riffs, lyrics, the song - it was one track where everything came together. We had also just learned the trick of playing a song two or three times in a row to let the energy build, then we'd come straight in for another take with the tape still rolling."
Andy Summers: Revolver, 4/00
"We are interested in making people think, if you want to get into our lyrics, they have been slammed sometimes, but I think the lyrics to 'Message In A Bottle' are subtle enough and well crafted enough to hit people on a different level from just something you just sing along with. I think it's a quite cleverly put together metaphor, it develops and it has an artistic shape to it. I'm very proud of that song. I've never thought of it being subversive..."
New Musical Express, 4/80
"Another of our favourite techniques, like on 'Message In A Bottle', is to record the song four or five times in a row without any kind of form. Just verse, chorus, middle eight - playing the different segments of the song in random order for twenty minutes and kind of build up a momentum. That way You don't think 'This is the take.' You can try a few things and when you've got twenty minutes down, get out the scissors and chop it all down. It's cheating, but then we're making records. On stage we can't do that and that's when we have to show we can actually play."
Stewart Copeland: Musician's Only, 10/80
On the video for 'Message In A Bottle'...
"There are few considerations. We perform the songs, mime to them badly - generally we just dance to them in a particular environment. We made 'Message In A Bottle' in a dressing room in the Lyceum in London - what we got was an image of three guys enjoying themselves... and acting like idiots."
Hot Press, 8/80
"'Message In A Bottle' is a good song. That can move me. I like the idea that while it's about loneliness and alienation it's also about finding solace and other people going through the same thing. The guy's on a desert island and throws a bottle out to sea saying he's alone and all these millions of bottles come back saying, So what So am I! I like the fact that the whole deal is clinched by the third verse. It makes a journey."
"Sting had that riff for a while, but there was another tune with it originally. He'd been fiddling about with it during our first American tour. Finally, he rearranged the riff slightly and came up with the song."
Andy Summers: L'Historia Bandidio, 1981
"It was always my favourite song to play live, the best track we recorded and probably the fans favourite before 'Every Breath You Take'. It had all the trademarks. There was something joyous about it."
Andy Summers: 'Message In A Box' Liner Notes, 93
"For me, it's still the best song Sting ever came up with and the best Police track. First, it's such a joy to play and I think we caught that feeling on the track. When we were ready to record, we got enough tape so we could play the song over and over. We rolled right from the end of one take straight into the next, without pausing, like horses going around a track."
Andy Summers: Guitar Player, 1/94
"My favourite thing about 'Message In A Bottle', apart from all the money we made off it, was hearing cover bands trying to play my drum parts. I'd overdubbed about six different parts, and to watch some band in a Holiday Inn struggling to play all those overdubs still gives me great joy. Now that is really Schadenfreude."
Stewart Copeland: Revolver, 4/00
"I wrote that after Frances and I were thrown out of the house we were renting in London. I hated the idea of somebody fucking my life up like that. Stewart wrote the music."
'Message In A Box' Liner Notes, 1993
"Another college riff. I originally had some lyrics for this but by now Sting was understandably beginning to insist on singing his own."
Stewart Copeland: 'Message In A Box' Liner Notes, 1993
'Message in a Bottle' was the first single from the 'Reggatta de Blanc' album and the quintessential Police song. Great guitar solo, great vocals, singalong chorus - it's got the lot. Reportedly first played live at the Hatfield Polytechnic show which was recorded for the BBC's 'Rock Goes to College" programme. A regular in both The Police and Sting's live shows since that day in Hatfield, Sting has in recent times taken to performing the song acoustically. Probably the most collectible item is the US badge shaped picture disc.
Using a Stewart riff and a Sting lyric, 'Landlord' is a passionate song from a time when Stewart was living in a squat, and Sting and his family were at the mercy of landlords and had been thrown out of a house they rented in London. The song was a regular in the set list around 1979 and 1980. It can be found on the B-side of the 'Message In A Bottle' single, and a live version of the track also appears on the 'Message In A Box' compilation.
Review from Billboard
"Already No.1 in the UK, this reggae-tinged rock song has more of a rock feel than their previous hits, 'Roxanne' and 'Can't Stand Losing You'. The hook is irresistible and Sting's vocal adds punch."
Review from Sounds
"Apocalypso stuff from a band who are beginning to sound disconcertingly like themselves. Typecastaways? A multiphased record with a dipping and very hooky lead riff under lying throughout. The phoney West Indian vocals and backbeat end up working well; clean and flat across the complex structure of the song. As mild as paint stripper and the neighbours will probably complain."
Review from New Musical Express
You want pop? You won't get better pop than this. Its manners are so impeccable you could take it anywhere. Of course, in about two month's time you'll have had more than you can take, which only goes to confirm its eminence in the field. Police singles are the rock counterpart to Chic, the most distinctive, charismatic sound around. And like Chic, the beauty of it is simplicity, and the strong identity of the vocals. 'Message In A Bottle' repeats the plaintive, lonely lilt of 'Can't Stand Losing You' that so well suits Sting's voice, and dovetails rock and reggae rhythms togher so tightly the seams barely show. Actually The Selecter pull that last stroke off better but we won't quibble. The Police make it all sound so effortless; like they could knock these things out by the hour. It's sophisticated without trying to be clever, suave without trying to be flash, too early yet to have sunk into formula, and one above their last. As the judge said to the thief, this one will cell and cell.
Review from Record Mirror
Smoother than usual, obviously softened up for the American market. Still a reasonable release, all the same.