Why ‘biggest band in the world’ the Police mysteriously split after their biggest album

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The Police’s guitarist Andy Summers acknowledges that the band’s breakup at the height of “Synchronicity” hysteria was “absolutely devastating,” but he calls claims of “hatred” between him and his “alpha-male” comrades “rubbish.”

With the release of their final and most popular album 40 years ago, the Police became one of the most successful rock bands to ever do so. With 10 million copies sold worldwide and three top 10 singles, including the smash hit “Every Breath You Take,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks, Synchronicity was the third-largest album of 1983. The album was also honored with three Grammy Awards, and it was later included into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress as well as the Grammy Hall of Fame. The BBC even dubbed the British rock/reggae/new wave fusion power trio Synchronicity at the height of Synchronicity-mania the “biggest band in the world.”

Andy Summers said, “We were like the Beatles. We were all over the world. We were highly recognized and, you know, it was crazy. We do have a huge number of major, hit, sort of legendary songs, and they haven’t gone away. I mean, how many times a day do you hear ‘Every Breath You Take’ [on the radio]? … It’s the most-played song on American radio.”

Perhaps the songs were always there, but after Synchronicity, the Police mysteriously disappeared without a trace. When discussing his semi-autobiographical collection of rock ‘n’ roll short stories, Fretted and Moaning, with Yahoo Entertainment, Summers shrugs. “I mean, the obvious reason is [Police frontman and bassist] Sting suddenly thought he could be his own guy and didn’t need the band anymore. We’d made five records for A&M, so I can understand that. And you know, at the time, [Sting going solo] seemed like sort of a cute idea. Of course, it was absolutely devastating. But the problem with it was that we didn’t say, ‘So, that’s the end of the Police. We’re not doing it anymore.’ We didn’t say that. Our manager, Miles Copeland, wanted to keep it kind of quiet: ‘No, no, no, don’t give it away!’

Never saying a word lasted about a year. And then it just got like, ‘I’m fed-up with lying. I’m not going to do this anymore.’ And then I certainly started saying, ‘No, the band’s broken up’ — and it all started to come out. Very upsetting.”

Sting recorded his 1985 full-length solo debut, The Dream of the Blue Turtles; drummer Stewart Copeland concentrated on his world music album/film project, The Rhythmatist; and Summers worked on a second record with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp after the Synchronicity tour ended in March 1984. At the time, this break from the Police seemed to be only temporary. Summers said, “And then [the label] tried to get us back together. But that’s another story — which is kind of pathetic, actually.”

Let’s go back to the start before we continue with that tale. The platinum-selling Outlandos d’Amour, The Police’s debut album, and its top 40 song, “Roxanne,” gave them success apparently immediately away. However, the three accomplished musicians encountered many obstacles as they attempted to establish themselves amid London’s unprofessional and crass late ’70s punk scene. Summers’ “path was a slightly strange one” in particular because, at age 35, he was already an accomplished musician and, by rock ‘n’ roll standards, a virtual elder statesman. (Summers has performed with groups including Soft Machine, the Animals, Joan Armatrading, David Essex, and Neil Sedaka; he was also thought to be a Rolling Stones replacement contender.) Five years after having “dropped out” of the British blues/psych scene, the guitarist was living in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles with his wife and daughters, going to college, and studying classical guitar when “things were getting a bit desperate” and he made the decision to try music again in his home country of England.

Summers added, “And within three years [of returning to London], I was in the Police. I met up with Sting and Stewart, and I threw everything out the window to join this absolutely unknown punk, or so-called fake ‘punk,’ band. And off we went. There was nothing, no money, no gigs, nothing. … But the rest, as you know, was history.”

Summers chuckles as he acknowledges that he and the other Police-men, “couldn’t really pull [punk] off. We were faking, and I think that the punks knew that at some level. … [We were] super-good musicians, which is what we were sort of known for. We weren’t like a sort of simple punk band. We played complex music.”

The punk movement, according to Summers, was “horrendous” and he was happy when it “lasted six months and went away.” The Police were still “hanging by a thread” and “completely poor” as punk began to fizzle out, but after a “very underpaid three-week tour” of the United States and a surprise No. 1 local hit with an import single on Boston’s WBCN, they returned to the U.K. and started to ride a new wave, so to speak. The Police then experienced their “big moment.”

Summers looked back, “We had finished that tour at CBGB, went home, and that was kind of the end of the band. But then our so-called manager Miles Copeland said, ‘Oh, we could put you on a support act with this group called the Albertos. … You can get 50 pounds a night, paid.’ So, we drove down to a place called Bath in the West Country of England to play at the university. And we thought, ‘All right, we’re good boys. We’re the support group.’ We went on at like 7:30 to be the opening act for the Albertos; the place was held about a thousand, and it was packed to the rafters with punks. And the minute we started playing, the place was a complete frenzy. They were going absolutely mad for us. We’d had two singles out and somehow they hadn’t done anything in London, but they’d penetrated around the rest of the country. We had sobbing girls, people throwing themselves at the tables — an incredible first show. The Albertos were standing on the side of the stage with white faces, like, ‘Oh my God!’ We did 21 shows with them, and every night it was the same thing: a complete and utter riot. After that, off we went.”

The Police had already established themselves as an arena act by the time they began recording the ambitious Synchronicity, their final album, in Montserrat’s AIR Studios in December 1982. By that point, they had issued four albums that had together sold 7 million units in the U.S. alone. But the band had already lost its edge. He explained, “I think towards the end of the career of the Police, it probably was starting to drag a bit. … I mean, being in a band like that, at the level, is extremely demanding. There’s not really much room for anything else whatsoever.”

The three band members of the Police recorded the basic tracks for their final album at AIR in separate rooms, but Summers insists that they were always in sync musically, despite long-standing rumors and reports to the contrary. These rumors and reports claim that the Police hated one another and even exchanged blows in the studio while working on the perhaps unfittingly titled Synchronicity.

Watch the full interview below,

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