How the most played song in radio history was misinterpreted by the public.
Released on May 20, 1983, a month before the album Synchronicity, “Every Breath You Take” became The Police’s signature song, charting for 8 weeks in the first place in the list of best-selling singles in the United States and 4 weeks in the list of the UK's best-selling singles, it became the best-selling single of the year and the fifth best-selling single of the decade.
Unlike some songs that hits the charts then fall into oblivion, the song has endured permanent success, “Every Breath You Take” alone still generates an average of $ 2,000 a day in royalties. In 2019 BMI recognized “Every Breath You Take” as the most played song on the radio, surpassing 15 million plays, that equivalent of being played once per minute, every minute since its release!
But the song, seen by the majority of the public as romantic, hides in its brilliant arrangement, the dark tones of its lyrics.
Sting wrote the song in 1982, shortly after the divorce from his first wife and at the beginning of his relationship with the current one. This period was troubled for the composer, given the public condemnation of the relationship.
According to an interview with BBC Radio 2, "I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it's quite the opposite". The musician would later be disconcerted by the amount of people who think the music is more positive and light than it really is. He insists that the theme of the song is obsession with a lost love and the jealousy and vigilance that follows (Every breath you take, every move you make, every link you break, every step you take ... I'll be watching you). The original lyrics of the song, available only in the recording multitrack as a guide voice for the final vocal, are even more sinister.
The music video, directed by Godley & Creme and inspired by the short film “Jammin 'the Blues” by Gjon Mili's, is a work of art in it’s own, having been recognized by MTV, Rolling Stones and VH1 as one of the best videos of all time. The black and white photography, the expressions of melancholy by Copeland and Summers, and Sting’s angry look, reinforce the dark mood of the music.
But if all these characteristics hints the real meaning of Every Breath You Take, how did it became, under the public opinion, a “soft love song”?
On one hand, small details of the arrangement create an involving and intimate feeling: Opposite to a dry and high drum snare, the bass drum is light and marks the song with almost a heartbeat rhythm. Sting sings in a romantic, soft and affectionate tone, which associated with Andy Summers' incredible guitar melody, fragile, rhythmic and spaced, give us a feeling of being in love. The vocals do change when we arrive at the “since you left” verse, the voice rises in tone and starts to show a feeling of almost despair, usually associated with broken hearts. As this verse finishes, the tone is calm, soft and caring again, bringing back the feeling that everything returned to normal in the next verse.
On the other hand, maybe the public's view is not a misinterpretation of the meaning of the song, but rather a demonstration of our culture's misinterpretation of love: the general view that love is accompanied by suffering, that is possessive, etc., after all, as Sting himself put it, neither he had "realized at the time how sinister the song was".
The music video, directed by Godley & Creme, is regarded as one of the best of all times.
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