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Not Fade Away: ‘Synchronicity,’ The Album That Broke Up The Police, Turns 30

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In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we take a look at the Police‘s 1983 classic “Synchronicity,” which turns 30 on June 1, 2013.

If  you were listening to the radio in the summer of 1983, there were two albums you couldn’t avoid: one was Michael Jackson‘s Thriller, and the other was the Police‘s swan song, Synchronicity. The latter album was packed with singles, including “King Of Pain,” “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” “Synchronicity II” and — oh yeah — the most ubiquitous song of the the year, “Every Breath You Take.” Indeed, Synchronicity and Thriller slugged it out at the top of the charts throughout the summer, with each spending time at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and not leaving much room for other albums.

Synchronicity was the Police’s fifth album, and once it took off, it seemed like nothing could stop them. Except, as it turned out, themselves. Sting‘s dominance of the band rubbed the other members — guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland — the wrong way, especially Copeland. And so the seeds of the Police’s demise were sown during the making of the record.

As producer Hugh Padgham told Sound On Sound, “By the time of Synchronicity, they were sick of each other — Sting and Stewart hated each other, and although Andy didn’t show as much venom, he could be quite grumpy — and there were both verbal and physical fights in the studio.”

In fact, Copeland recorded his drums in the studio dining room, watching his bandmates via a video monitor. Sting recorded in the studio’s control room, with only Copeland actually recording in the actual recording studio.

Part of the problem was that, while Sting was writing most of the material, Copeland was a highly acclaimed drummer who felt he wasn’t getting to put his stamp on the music. In particular, the drums on “Every Breath You Take” seemed to be a bone of contention.  Each drum or percussion element on the track was recorded separately, as opposed to Copeland sitting at his drum kit and simply playing normally. (Throughout the song’s music video, Copeland looks both angry and frustrated as he plays.)

 

The Sting/Copeland beef continued through the album’s mixing, which took place in Quebec near a ski resort. Padgham noted, “As Stewart and Sting really didn’t want to be in the same room together, Sting would go skiing in the morning and Stewart would come in and say, ‘Look, I want to add a hi-hat part’… and then Sting would come in after lunch when Stewart was out skiing and he’d go, ‘What’s that f***ing hi-hat part doing there? Get rid of it!'”

Inter-band tension aside, their tour took them to larger venues than ever; by the end of the trek, they were headlining stadiums. By then, Sting wasn’t just the band’s main creative force, he was also the undisputed star: he’d finished shooting a lead role in David Lynch’s Dune. So, he decided to go solo, switching his bass for a guitar and hiring jazz musicians for his debut, 1985’s The Dream Of The Blue Turtles.

There were aborted sessions for a follow-up to Synchronicity, and only one song came out of the whole thing: an updated version of “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” which featured a drum machine since Copeland had broken his collarbone right before the session.  There were a few one-off performances — Sting’s 1992 wedding to Trudie Styler and at their induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame — and one huge reunion tour in 2007 and 2008. As it stands, Synchronicity is this legendary group’s final statement — and a rare instance of a band actually packing it in while they were on top.

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