Their landmark debut album, Outlandos D’Amour, ensured The Police made a decisive commercial breakthrough and avoided the fallout from punk. However, it was their transcendent second album, Reggatta De Blanc, that turned them into one of the post-punk era’s defining bands.
Originally released on 2 October 1979, Reggatta De Blanc again sported a mysterious, pseudo-French title, which loosely translated as “white reggae”: a label journalists attempted to pin on The Police after their initial hits ‘Roxanne’ and ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ skilfully melded the stridency of punk and the joyful bounce of reggae.
However, while Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland successfully nurtured their singular sound on Outlandos D’Amour, with Reggatta De Blanc they served up something truly spectacular from their spicy melting pot of rock, pop and reggae.
“That was where it all clicked,” Sting told Musician magazine in 1983. “We had reggae influences in our vocabulary and they became synthesised into our infrastructure. As a musician, you learn your craft and emulate and copy people, and suddenly there’s a moment in your development where you grow up and finally become yourself. I think Reggatta De Blanc was that moment for us.”
Following the success of Outlandos D’Amour, A&M wanted to partner The Police with a bigger studio and a name producer, but the band resisted. Instead, they returned to the small Surrey Sound complex where they’d recorded their debut with producer/engineer Nigel Gray. Sting had been on a prolific songwriting spree prior to the Outlandos D’Amour sessions, but for Reggatta De Blanc, The Police entered the studio with only a few complete songs. Creatively, however, they were on a roll and all three band members came up with music, lyrics and song suggestions.
Stewart Copeland weighed in with the piano-based ‘Does Everyone Stare’ and the irony-soaked ‘On Any Other Day’ – in effect a litany of domestic disasters (“My wife has burned the scrambled eggs/The dog just bit my leg”) – while the whole band showed off their virtuosity on the manic rocker ‘Deathwish’ and the nimble titular track: an atmospheric, shape-shifting ensemble workout which yielded a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1980.
Most pertinently, though, Reggatta De Blanc underlined Sting’s rapidly-evolving prowess as a songwriter of significance. The singer-bassist demonstrated that he could blend infectious pop and militant reggae to near-perfection on live favourites ‘Bring On The Night’ and ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You’, but it was on the album’s twin peaks, ‘Message In A Bottle’ and ‘Walking On The Moon’, that he really hit pay dirt.
Widely recognised as a high-water mark in their career, ‘Message In A Bottle’ rewarded The Police with their first UK No.1 and remains a personal favourite of the band’s, with Andy Summers later remarking, “It’s still the best song Sting ever came up with and the best Police track.” The three musicians all put their stamp on the song, with Sting’s Robinson Crusoe-esque tale of loneliness and isolation aided and abetted by one of Summers’ most distinctive, cyclical riffs and some of Copeland’s most dynamic drumming.
Released after Reggatta De Blanc had already topped the UK Charts, ‘Walking On The Moon’ made it three in a row for The Police when it rose to No.1 in November 1979. Though initially envisaged as a rocker, the song was later given a radically sparse, reggae-pop makeover starring Sting’s prominent bassline and Copeland’s dextrous drumming, ensuring the sonics (fittingly promoted by a video filmed at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center) captured the track’s gravity-defying subject matter to a T.
With Regatta De Blanc eclipsing heavyweights such as The Clash’s London Calling and The Jam’s Setting Sons in the UK charts, The Police entered 1980 as one of rock’s fastest-rising groups. Their superstars-in-waiting status was confirmed when they embarked on their first world tour and performed to capacity crowds in far-flung territories such as Mexico, India, Egypt and Taiwan. By the time they released their multi-platinum third album, Zenyatta Mondatta, in October 1980, they’d become one of the biggest bands on the planet.
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