The Police were extraordinary musicians. Put atop one another, Sting’s bustling bass, Andy Summers’ jangly licks, and Stewart Copeland’s wallop re-introduced the world to the joys of reggae, siding with punk progenitors The Clash as the reinventors of the genre. With only their second album, the band released a masterpiece, all three joining together in a thriving synergy. The latter albums Ghost In The Machine and Synchronicity placed Sting as the band’s de facto leader, yet Regatta De Blanc was the album that proved least dependent on his material. Instead, it collected the trio’s forces into a sound they lovingly poked fun at with pidgin French. The cover art was simple, dark, Germanic stripes of blue which showcased the three brooding, blond beguiling members.
Summers had yet to find a songwriting voice, yet he could still write the most seductive of hooks, as befitting the fiery title track, a lethargic showcase of psychedelic bass patterns and scat vocals. Copeland, the band’s second songwriter, had a more comic pedigree to his more earnest frontman. “Does Everybody Stare” (a song Copeland wrote in his college days) and “Contact” cultivating the comical connections that “Walking On The Moon” lovingly avoided. The plodding bass melded over Summers’s waspy leads making for the band’s spaciest single. Such is the cohesiveness of the album; it’s hard to believe how quickly the band assembled it in the studio. That they ran out of material only showed their meticulous resourcefulness, recording a superior “No Time This Time” (previously a B-side). Adamant that they wanted little interference, the band paid for the recording costs with the profits they made from their debut. With his jazz proclivities, Copeland (the band’s founding member) considers it the band’s apex. “We just went into the studio,” Copeland told Sounds magazine “and said, ‘Right, who’s got the first song?’ We hadn’t even rehearsed them before we went in.”
Such was the caliber of their musicianship that no one could still consider them a “punk” band. Sting, a former journalist, and schoolteacher acquiesced to a request from drummer Copeland to jam with him in 1977. “I was inspired by the amazing energy of the whole thing” Sting recalled, “and I thought, ‘Well, I’m new to London and I’m totally unknown, so I’ll give it a go.’ We did a 15-minute lightning set and I squealed and screamed.” With Henri Padavoni, they released one fast-paced single, but Summers, a session guitarist with Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason as a patron, knew he could do better. “I’d always wanted to play in a three-piece band. I felt that the three of us together would be very strong. They just needed another guitarist and I thought I was the one.”
He was right. The three fighting one another (literally as well as musically) brought a latent violence tellingly heard on The Police’s most beloved single, “Message In A Bottle.” Opening with a caustic hook, “Message…” builds from slow forlorn ballad to fast stadium anthem, one which the band played together at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2003. “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” proved the record’s most potent moment, hairy vocals bustling over loud, elephantine bass parts. It was covered by reggae singer Sheila Hylton in 1981 and became a UK Top 40 hit. “Bring On The Night” tastefully borrowed from T.S.Elliot. With its inward ennui, it entered the French charts in the Top Five. Elsewhere, “Death Wish”spiraled with monstrous drums and fiery Hendrix stapled licks. The band would mature over their next three albums as producers and writers, but they never sounded so good as a rock trio again.
Photo Credit: The Police (guitarist Andy Summers, bassist and singer Sting, and drummer Stewart Copeland), pose for a portrait, United Kingdom, circa 1979. (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images)