EML’s Favorite Songs – THE POLICE: “Every Breath You Take”

The_police_-_every_breath_you_take

My favorite song of the 1980s, and one of my top 10 favorite songs of all time, is “Every Breath You Take” by English rock band The Police. It was the lead single from their hugely popular and critically acclaimed masterpiece and fifth and final album Synchronicity. The song was a massive hit, spending 8 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, 4 weeks at #1 on the UK singles charts, and also reaching #1 in Canada, Ireland, Israel and South Africa. It was the best-selling single and #1 song of 1983, and the fifth best-selling single of the 1980’s in the U.S. Rolling Stone named it the 84th best song on its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and it won Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group. In addition, Sting received the 1983 Ivor Norvello award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

It’s interesting to learn the back stories behind many of our favorite songs, and the one for “Every Breath You Take” was fraught with tension, both in terms of it’s creation and during its recording sessions. Sting wrote the song in 1982 after his split from his first wife Frances Tomelty and early in his relationship with Trudie Styler, with whom he began having an affair while still married to Frances. He and Frances had been next-door neighbors to Trudie, who also happened to be Frances’ best friend! The affair was widely condemned, and Sting retreated to the Caribbean to escape the tabloids.

He wrote the song while staying at Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye estate in Jamaica (Wikipedia), and the lyrics are essentially from Frances’ perspective; they’re the words of a possessive and jealous lover who’s watching “every breath you take; every move you make” of their partner. In a 1993 interview for The Independent, Sting recalled: “I woke up in the middle of the night with that line in my head, sat down at the piano and had written it in half an hour. The tune itself is generic, an aggregate of hundreds of others, but the words are interesting. It sounds like a comforting love song. I didn’t realise at the time how sinister it is. I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control.” Ironically, many interpreted “Every Breath You Take” as a love song, which amused Sting to no end.

The recording process for the song was also fraught with difficulties, as personal tensions that had been simmering between the band members, especially Sting and drummer Stewart Copeland, came to a head. In a 2004 article written by Richard Buskin for Sound on Sound webzine, Synchronicity music producer Hugh Padgham claimed that by the time of the recording sessions, Sting and Copeland hated each other, and verbal and physical fights between them were a frequent occurrence. The tensions almost led to the recording sessions being cancelled, but fortunately for us, band manager Miles Copeland (Stewart’s brother) intervened and calmed tempers enough for them all to continue. You can read that fascinating Sound On Sound article here.

One of the amazing aspects of the song is how minimalist the instruments really are for such a magnificent track. Sting wanted fairly simple, straightforward instrumentals for the track that would basically consist of his bass, Andy Summers’ guitar parts and Copeland’s drums keeping a very straight rhythm with no fills. Tensions arose when Copeland wanted his drums to have a greater impact. Padgham recalled, “Stewart would say, ‘I want to fucking put my drum part on it!’ and Sting would say, ‘I don’t want you to put your fucking drum part on it! I want you to put what I want you to put on it!‘” Thankfully, Padgham convinced Sting to let Copeland add more drum parts, along with keyboard synthesizers and the single-note piano keys that give the song it’s signature hypnotic melody. Sting overdubbed his bass, as he often did, plus he added sounds from his Dutch upright electric double bass (which he nicknamed Brian) to achieve a fuller sound.

For his part, Stewart Copeland was never satisfied with the final product, and later commented: “In my humble opinion, this is Sting’s best song with the worst arrangement. I think Sting could have had any other group do this song and it would have been better than our version—except for Andy’s brilliant guitar part. Basically, there’s an utter lack of groove. It’s a totally wasted opportunity for our band, even though we made gazillions off of it, and it’s the biggest hit we ever had.”

Well, I strongly disagree, and so apparently did millions of others who loved the song enough make it a massive worldwide hit. I think it’s brilliant, and as close to perfect as a song could possibly be. I had it on repeat while I wrote this piece, and found it utterly captivating every single time. From the moment I hear that opening drum blast, the song thrills me as much today as it did in 1983.

Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you
Every single day, every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you

Oh can’t you see, you belong to me
How my poor heart aches with every step you take

Every move you make and every vow you break
Every smile you fake, every claim you stake, I’ll be watching you

Since you’ve gone I’ve been lost without a trace
I dream at night I can only see your face
I look around, but it’s you I can’t replace
I feel so cold and I long for your embrace
I keep crying baby, baby, please

Oh can’t you see, you belong to me
How my poor heart aches with every step you take

Every move you make and every vow you break
Every smile you fake, every claim you stake, I’ll be watching you
Every move you make, every step you take, I’ll be watching you

The music video, filmed in black and white and directed by British rock band Godley & Creme, won the Best Cinematography award at the 1983 MTV Video Music Awards.

“Magic” Songs

While driving to an appointment this morning, I heard the Cars song “Magic” on the radio, and started thinking of all the hit songs either titled Magic or having the word in their title. So, without further ado, here are the memorable hit songs from 1960 to the present with ‘magic’ in their title.

1.  MAGIC – Pilot (1975)
The first hit song simply titled “Magic,” this fun, upbeat pop-rock tune by one-hit wonder Scottish band Pilot was produced by Alan Parsons of the Alan Parsons Project (who themselves had a string of hits from 1976-84). It was a big hit, reaching #5 and spending 12 weeks on the Billboard Top 40.

2. MAGIC – Olivia Newton-John (1980)
The biggest “magic” hit of them all, Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic” spent 4 weeks at #1 and 16 weeks on the Billboard Top 40. This really terrific song was featured in the really terrible musical Xanadu which, in addition to Newton-John, also starred Gene Kelly. The song was written by John Farrar who, along with Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra, also wrote the lyrics and music for the film soundtrack. Though the film was a flop, the soundtrack album was hugely successful, spawning several other hits for Newton-John and ELO (whose career was nearly wrecked by their involvement with the film).

3. MAGIC – The Cars (1984)
The second single from their phenomenal album Heartbeat City, The Cars’ “Magic” is an awesome pop-rock song – but then I’m biased, as I pretty much love all their songs. It was a modest hit, spending 11 weeks on the Billboard Top 40 and peaking at #12.

4. MAGIC – Robin Thicke (2008)
This “Magic” by American R&B singer Robin Thicke is from his third studio album Something Else. The song was written by him along with his then wife Paula Patton and James Gass.  It reached #2 on both the Billboard Adult R&B and Dance Club Charts, and #6 on the R&B/Hip Hop Chart, but only #59 on the Hot 100.

5. MAGIC – Coldplay (2014)
Another great “magic” song, this one by Coldplay was the first single from their rather experimental album Ghost Stories. It was a departure from their usual music style, and received critical acclaim, though some complained that it sounded too much like the Muse song “Madness,” with its similar chord progression and climactic flourish. The song peaked at #14 on the Billboard Top 40 and #1 on the Adult Alternative Chart. There’s no denying that the song’s video is absolutely brilliant. Chris Martin plays both the good and bad guys, and Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi plays the beautiful magician.

6. THIS MAGIC MOMENT – Drifters (1960); Jay & the Americans (1969)
This song was composed by lyricist Doc Pomus and pianist Mort Shuman, and was a modest hit first for Ben E. King and the Drifters, who took it to #16 in 1960. Jay & the Americans recorded another version of the song in 1968, and it reached #6 in March 1969, and spent 10 weeks in the Top 40.

7. PUFF, THE MAGIC DRAGON – Peter, Paul & Mary (1963)
This sweet, poignant song was written by Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow of the folk band Peter, Paul & Mary, and was based on an earlier poem by Lipton. The song was a big hit, peaking at #2 and spending 11 weeks in the Billboard Top 40.

8. DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? – The Lovin’ Spoonful (1965)
The Lovin’ Spoonful were one of the most successful American pop-rock bands of the mid 60s and their catchy, upbeat song “Do You Believe in Magic? was their first chart hit, peaking at #9 and spending eight weeks in the Billboard Top 40.

9. MAGIC CARPET RIDE – Steppenwolf (1968)
From the legendary hard rock band Steppenwolf, this amazing song was so representative of the psychedelic influence in a lot of rock songs during the period from 1966-69. It was a huge hit, reaching #3 and spending 13 weeks in the Billboard Top 40.

10. MAGIC BUS – The Who (1968)
This great classic from The Who was written by Pete Townshend in 1965 while they were recording My Generation, but the song was not recorded by the band until 1968. Although they were one of the biggest bands in the world from the late 60s through the early 80s, selling millions of albums and selling out hundreds of concerts, they had relatively few big “hits” on the Billboard Hot 100 (which was also true for many other rock bands). “Magic Bus” peaked at #25 and spent only six weeks in the Top 40.

11. BLACK MAGIC WOMAN – Santana (1970)
Undoubtedly one of the best of the “magic” songs, “Black Magic Woman” is a rock classic from the legendary guitarist Carlos Santana and his band. The guitar riffs in this song are incredible. It was hugely popular, peaking at #4 and spending 12 weeks in the Top 40.

12. MAGIC MAN – Heart (1976)
The second single from Heart’s brilliant debut album Dreamboat Annie, “Magic Man” was their first Top 10 hit, peaking at #9. Ann Wilson said it was about her then boyfriend Michael Fisher, who was the band manager and several years older than her. The song’s unique sound was produced by the use of a Minimoog synthesizer.

13. COULD IT BE MAGIC – Barry Manilow (1975); Donna Summer (1976)
“Could It Be Magic” was  written by lyricist Adrienne Anderson and pianist Barry Manilow. The melody was based on Frederic Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor. Initially released in 1971, it was later re-recorded, and released as a single in 1975. It was Manilow’s third charting single, peaking at #6 and spending 13 weeks on the Billboard Top 40. Disco diva Donna Summer recorded another version of the song for her album A Love Trilogy, which peaked at #3 on the Billboard Dance Chart, but only at #52 on the Hot 100.

14. STRANGE MAGIC – Electric Light Orchestra (1976)
British symphonic rock band Electric Light Orchestra was immensely popular and successful, with twenty Top 40 singles during the years 1975-86.  From their fifth studio album Face the Music, the beautiful track “Strange Magic” was their third charting single, peaking at #14 and spending nine weeks in the Top 40.

15. YOU MADE ME BELIEVE IN MAGIC – Bay City Rollers (1977)
This song was the fifth charting single from the Scottish pop band Bay City Rollers, and the only song of theirs that I could ever tolerate. It peaked at #10 and spent 12 weeks in the Billboard Top 40.

16. IF IT’S MAGIC – Stevie Wonder (1977)
One of Stevie Wonder’s most beautiful songs, “If It’s Magic” is from his magnificent opus album Songs In The Key Of Life. This song never charted, but I included it on this list because it’s such a wonderful track.

17. EVERY LITTLE THING SHE DOES IS MAGIC – The Police (1981)
One of the best of many awesome songs from The Police, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” is from their fantastic fourth album Ghost in the Machine. This song was unique in that it includes the piano as an instrument, uncommon for most Police songs. It was a big hit, peaking at #3 and spending 15 weeks in the Top 40.

18. YOU CAN DO MAGIC – America (1982)
This really lovely pop-rock song by America was released ten years after their massively successful debut single “A Horse With No Name,” an indication of their staying power. “You Can Do Magic” was their seventh Top 10 single, peaking at #8 and spending 15 weeks in the Top 40.

19. MAGIC STICK – Lil’ Kim & 50 Cent (2003)
“Magic Stick,” by hip hop artist Lil’ Kim, is from her third studio album La Bella Mafia. The song features fellow American rapper 50 Cent and was produced by Carlos “Fantom of the Beat” Evans. Despite not having a physical release or music video, the song was a huge hit, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

20. 24K MAGIC – Bruno Mars (2016)
The most recent “magic” song on this list – and currently at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of the date of this post – the wonderfully funky and upbeat “24K Magic” looks to be another smash hit for R&B singer Bruno Mars.

Let me know what you think of these songs, or if I left out any other “magic” hit songs.