The Police’s ‘Synchronicity': 40 Facts You May Not Know
If albums were tarot cards, Synchronicity by the Police would be an incredibly complex deck. It started out simply enough on paper. As they had done with 1981's Ghost in the Machine, the English group returned to George Martin's AIR Studios in the Caribbean to begin crafting their fifth studio album.
But this time, the inner tension and individual idiosyncrasies of the band members would be too much. They nearly broke up at least twice during the making of Synchronicity and the album would prove to be the swan song for the group. But Hugh Padgham, who co-produced the album with the band, sees at least one positive when looking at the friction. "Side one, where the fast songs are grouped together, has an incredible energy," he told Classic Pop in 2020. "Which I think was born out of anger."
Drummer Stewart Copeland also saw plenty of positives and insisted that they kept their eyes on the prize, even as they were making their own complications. “We were in paradise, creating our own hell," he admitted in the same conversation. "But in the bitter despond of that trench warfare, we could all hear that this music was fucking great.”
They were all rewarded for sticking it out. Synchronicity became the band's first No. 1 album in America and sold more than eight million copies in that territory alone. Four Top 40 singles and a massive world tour helped to ensure that every single human on the globe would hear at least one song from the album. To this day, "Every Breath You Take," the band's biggest song and first and only No. 1 single, continues to break records. Here are 40 facts you may not know about the making of Synchronicity.
1. They Completed Synchronicity in Just Eight Weeks
Although it was an extremely intense period that would drive the three members to the point of nearly breaking up, they worked efficiently, spending six weeks recording the album and an additional two weeks mixing it. Sting chalked it up to being well-prepared, with a regiment that included always having at least 20 songs written and recorded in demo form prior to entering the studio.
2. But They Got Nothing Done for the First Two Weeks
Producer Hugh Padgham recalled in an interview for the book Playing Back The 80s: A Decade of Unstoppable Hits that things were dire. “When we went out to Montserrat to record this album, we were there for two weeks before we had anything on the tape that we could call a song,” he said. “It was that bad.” Miles Copeland, the band's manager, flew over to mediate and there was a meeting about potentially calling it quits right then. Thankfully, a decision was made to carry forward.
3. Even Before Synchronicity, Sting Was Thinking of Making a Change
In the year leading up to Synchronicity’s release, Sting mused about his own future, pondering how further ventures into acting might help his career. "To subvert my 'image' would probably help my longevity,” the vocalist told Rolling Stone in 1982. “I don't want to become Barry Manilow or even Rod Stewart. I want to be behind my handiwork, not in front of it."
Watch the Trailer for 1982's 'Brimstone and Treacle' with Sting
4. The Bookshelf Provided Inspiration
Psychiatrist Carl Jung’s book, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle was a key influence on Sting (and eventually, guitarist Andy Summers, who also grew to love Jung’s writings), acknowledged in part by the album’s title. The frontman had also been a fan of Hungarian author Arthur Koestler. The writer’s works had inspired the album title for Ghost in the Machine -- and Koestler's book The Roots of Coincidence had themes that found their way into the songs on Synchronicity. “I think those people came along at a time when I needed them. I needed therapy badly. I had Jungian therapy and it was very creative and it related to my work,” Sting later told Q magazine. “I got to Jung through Koestler. The first thing I read by Koestler was a book about laughter which wasn't a lot of laughs.”
5. That's a Roadie on 'Synchronicity II'
Tam Fairgrieve juggled a lot of duties as Summers’ roadie, so it’s understandable that he eventually needed a nap. But what he didn’t count on was the mischief it would inspire. The members began yelling out his name and turning up the music, but still, he didn’t wake up. “As a last resort [we] shove a microphone under his face and run it through the speakers, cranking it up and adding reverb, bass, treble, and phasing effects until we are beside ourselves with [laughter] and the very wall of the room is quaking,” Summers wrote in his memoir, One Train Later. Finally, Fairgrieve woke up and asked “what the fuck is going on.” The band exploded with laughter -- and end up using the recordings of his snoring to represent the Loch Ness monster on “Synchronicity II.”
Listen to 'Synchronicity II'
6. There's a James Bond Connection
Sting wrote some of the initial songs for the album while sitting at a desk that had been owned by Bond author Ian Fleming. He had gone to Fleming’s famous Goldeneye estate in the Caribbean as an escape during a period of particular turmoil. With his marriage falling apart, he penned “King of Pain,” “Every Breath You Take” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger” during at the estate, an experience he called “a healing process.”
7. Rumors of the Band’s Breakup Were Already Swirling
In late 1983 as Sting was in the midst of filming his parts for the movie Dune, the subject of a possible Police break-up again came to the surface. “Sting is much too hooked on singing to give it up,” an A&M Records representative told Esquire. The magazine cited additional conversations with “business people” in the band’s circle, who added, “the group is too big to break up before they have milked it for all it’s worth,”
8. Turmoil Within the Band
Though Summers often spoke about the tensions of adding additional players to the core trio on 1981's Ghost in the Machine, it was much worse than that, according to Padgham. The producer revealed in a 2004 interview that Sting and Copeland “hated each other,” while Summers was to a lesser extent, “grumpy.” Padgham claimed there were both verbal and physical fights. At times, he tried to intervene, saying, "'Come on, do you have to kick the shit out of one another?'” and their response came swiftly, "'Get out of it! What do you know? You don't know anything about us!'"
9. George Martin Was Asked to Advise
Tensions between the three came to a head and, as Summers remembered, it seemed they might break up before the album was completed. Learning that AIR Studio owner George Martin was actually on the island, a decision was made for the guitarist to pay the famed producer visit. He detailed the band's issues to Martin and asked if he could help. "Hmmmm," Martin said (via Summers’ memoir), “‘I'm sorry to hear that you are having a bad time of it, but why don't you just try and sort it out yourselves. I'm sure you can do it.’ And he gives me some sage advice about carrying on and pulling through this tough stretch: ‘It's typical group stuff-seen it all before.’” Sure enough, cooler heads would prevail in the long run.
10. It Wasn't ALL Bad
Though the group’s legend is that they were at odds all of the time, Copeland maintained that wasn’t the whole story. “The truth is, we fought very little. There was a lot of tension in our last two albums, but we weren’t fighting,” he explained to Classic Pop. “Over dinner, we’d still shoot the shit and hang out. But in the studio, we were icily formal, mournful over the loss of our band’s camaraderie. It wasn’t open warfare, it was tension.” Still, that doesn’t mean it was comfortable clothing. “Being in the Police was like wearing a Prada suit made out of barbed wire,” he said in that same conversation.
11. 'King of Pain''s Distinctive Sound Started on a Synthesizer
A xylophone pulses like a steady heartbeat through the early part of “King of Pain,” eventually shifting to a more percussive beat as the song kicks in, but it started out differently in the demo stage. “I used a xylophone,” Copeland told Songfacts. “Those chords Sting [originally] had on a little Casio, which has a kind of clinky sound. We thought, ‘Let's make it a little more organic and play it on the xylophone.’”
Listen to 'King of Pain'
12. Synchronicity Gave the Band Their First and Only No. 1 Album
Michael Jackson's Thriller was a significant opponent for Synchronicity. The King of Pop's album spent 19 consecutive weeks at No. 1 before Synchronicity finally knocked it from the top spot of the Billboard album charts for the week ending July 24, 1983. They would maintain that chart position for a total of 17 weeks -- interrupted only once by Thriller, which held steady near the top and took back the crown for one week (Sept. 10, 1983) during that span. Still, it was Quiet Riot’s Metal Health which officially ended Synchronicity’s run, taking over the lead berth with the week ending Nov. 26, 1983.
13. The Album Kept Selling and Selling
By March of 1984, Synchronicity had moved more than five million copies in the United States alone, with several of the singles also becoming million-sellers. Rolling Stone noted that the LP was still selling 36 thousand copies a week. “We were allowed to grow as a group and grow in stature in a very natural way,” Sting told the magazine. “So by the time we released this album, we were ready to sell 5 million albums. I would imagine the next LP would be exponentially bigger than that. It’s a case of statistical certainty. But I also think this is our best album, which I hope is the main reason.”
14. 'Mother' Was Inspired by Andy Summers’ Mom...
As the fame of the Police continued to explode, it presented challenges for Summers. “We all have our family situations, and I had a pretty intense mother who was very focused on me,” he explained to Songfacts. “I was sort of ‘the golden child,’ and there I was, sort of fulfilling all of her dreams by being this pop star in the Police. I got a certain amount of pressure from her.”
Listen to 'Mother'
15. ...And Captain Beefheart
Though the tone of “Mother” seemed harsh, Summers noted that it was written to be ironic, funny and crazy. He credited his own love of Captain Beefheart as an influence of the tone of the song, which “freaked” their record company out -- and got a lot of attention. “We had all the press in the world watching us and talking about it,” he explained. “The reviews came in, and that song got written about so much because it was so off-the-wall and so ballsy to do that, because the band was having so much commercial success. Weirdly enough, it was so bizarre and weird compared to everything else, that people really liked it.”
16. There Are Old-School Police References in 'O My God'
Longtime fans of Sting’s songwriting will know that he’s often put some lyrical callbacks into his songs over the years. Hardcore followers will find a link to the group’s pre-Police outfit, Strontium 90, as “O My God” takes its first verse and the chorus from “3 O’Clock Shot,” then an unreleased song from that early era. But Sting wasn’t done -- he added an additional Easter egg, quoting “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” near the end of the song.
Listen to 'O My God'
17. Synchronicity Got Back to the Power of Three
The members of the Police have long experimented both individually and collectively with a variety of instrumentation. But Ghost in the Machine made Summers chafe, with keyboards and horns added into the mix. “I feel adamant about not turning our guitar trio into some overproduced, over-layered band with keyboards,” he wrote in his memoir, One Train Later. Worse, though he noted that keyboardist Jean Roussel was a “good player,” he became an “intruder” who signed his own “death warrant” by smothering “everything we play with dense keyboard parts so that we end up sounding like Yes on a bad day.” Synchronicity brought things back to where they needed to be, as Sting shared with Rolling Stone. “I think we’d become so refined as a group of musicians that we realized that the three instruments just playing solo and ensemble was perhaps the best way of doing it – and it just seemed to happen,” he explained. "The songs worked with three instruments. There were lots of overdubs, but the overall feel was Spartan.”
18. It Could Have All Ended Long Before Synchronicity
Because the band members were still learning individually, Copeland thinks they got “two more albums out of Sting than we deserved.” He understood also the “homicidal rage” the frontman could draw out of him when he tried to coach the drummer on what to play. "[But] he wasn’t wrong. He sort of does actually know how to arrange a song and arrange the band and his ideas are pretty good,” he said later to Den of Geek. “That doesn’t mean I listened because I was a young prick myself and I had my own ideas, which would prevail. But he’s really good at that stuff.” There was a chemistry and tension that worked, yet could never be recreated today, because the three members are all too “independently minded.”
19. Speaking of Yes
“Every Breath You Take” sounded like it could be a Yes song when Sting first played his demo for the group. It came complete with a “huge rolling synthesizer part,” as Summers remembered, while Copeland’s memory is that there was a Hammond organ on the demo prior to Andy learning the same part on guitar. But they recognized that there was a really good song there and worked hard to figure it out -- with Copeland and Sting arguing extensively about how the bass and drums would be positioned to best serve the vocal. The hard work paid off as the tune became the band’s first and only No. 1 in America, occupying the top spot for eight weeks. Sting would later tell Rolling Stone that the song had been written during a period of “awful personal anguish.”
20. Andy Summers Played the Guitar Part for 'Every Breath You Take' One Time
Once the long debate about the structure of “Every Breath You Take” had ended, it was time for Summers to put down his guitar part -- but what should it sound like? He was influenced in part by the music of Bela Bartok. He had been listening to the composer’s work in anticipation of a future collaboration with Robert Fripp. “I play a sequence of intervals that outline the chords and add a nifty little extension to each one that makes it sound like the Police, root, fifth, second, third, up and down through each chord,” he wrote in One Train Later. “It is clean, succinct, immediately identifiable; it has just enough of the signature sound of el Policia.” Playing it through just once, he heard silence, followed by cheers from everyone in the control room.
Watch the Video for 'Every Breath You Take'
21. But Summers Was More Than Just a Guitar Player
It was Summers who showed Copeland that the guitar was more than just a “noodling” instrument, expanding its “vocabulary” to be something else. “[With] tracks like "Walking On the Moon" and "Tea in the Sahara,” you can't hear somebody playing the guitar,” Copeland explained to Songfacts. “But there's this orchestral envelope around the whole track that is something that Andy created.”
22. Many People Misunderstood What 'Every Breath You Take' Was About
The reaction to “Every Breath You Take” was surprising to Sting in ways that he didn’t expect -- though he made peace with it. “I consider it a fairly nasty song; it’s a song about surveillance and ownership and jealousy,” he explained to Rolling Stone. A lot of people thought it was a very sweet love song. But what I’m saying is that songs can work on as many levels as possible – and should. That’s the magic of music.”
23. Copeland Thinks 'Every Breath You Take' Could Have Been Better
During a 2020 interview, the drummer called the track “Sting’s best song with the worst arrangement." Though it was ultimately rescued by “Andy’s brilliant guitar part,” he told Classic Pop that Sting could have had “any other group do this song and it would have been better than our version.” He chalks it up to an “utter lack of groove” and terms it as “a totally wasted opportunity for our band. Even though we made gazillions off of it, and it’s the biggest hit we ever had.”
24. But Everyone Knew It Would Be a Hit
Producer Padgham remembered hearing the demo for “Every Breath You Take” in late 1982. “It was me, [manager] Miles [Copeland], Sting, Stewart, Andy,” he shared with Classic Pop. “I can’t remember who else [was there, but] we all went, ‘Wow, this is amazing!’ Miles looked at me and said, ’There’s a goddamn hit if ever I heard one! Don’t fuck it up!’" Padgham saw little chance of that. “I really think if my pet dog had produced ‘Every Breath You Take,’ it would have been a hit.”
25. 'Murder by Numbers' Happened in a Single Take
“Murder by Numbers" has become a fan favorite over the years -- and as Copeland recalled during an interview with UCR, it came to life in a matter of minutes. The trio had been enjoying dinner as Summers absent-mindedly played some jazz chords on his guitar at the table. Sting perked up and said he might have lyrics for what Summers was playing. Before Copeland knew it, they were back in the studio. “My drums were 20 feet away, because we recorded the drums in the dining room of the facility, because it had a good resonant sound,” he recalled. “By the time they get down there, Hugh Padgham hits record, because I’m already playing [imitates rhythm pattern]. The tape rolls and they start playing and that recording is the record. Not even a run-through, not even a ‘Let’s try this,’ that’s it. The first time we ever played it, that’s the recording.”
Listen to 'Murder by Numbers'
26. The Three Were All in Separate Rooms
Working at Beatles producer George Martin’s luxurious AIR Studios in the Caribbean gave the band plenty of options when it came to how they were setting up to record -- which Padgham said helped for “social reasons,” when it came to the discord within the group. With Copeland situated near the dining room, the other two members were downstairs with Sting recording his bass in the control room while Summers was in the studio’s live room.
27. Stewart Copeland Recorded His Parts a Half Hour After Hearing Each Song
Though the members of the Police would work closely together in the early stages of their career, Copeland says that method of collaboration disappeared by the time they got to the band’s last three albums, including Synchronicity. "[Sting] would pull out one of those songs [like] 'Tea in the Sahara' and we’d get right on it,” he told UCR. “[We’d] figure it out and do two or three takes. Usually, the second take was the one.” He noted that the other members were anxious to add their contributions and get out of the studio. "‘It’s fine, it’s fine! Nobody will ever notice that little fuck-up there!’" Copeland recalled being told. "And by the way, once I’ve done that, they redo all of the bass, redo the vocals, redo everything. But I’m stuck with that original drum pass with all of its imperfections.”
28. There Are a Lot of Different Versions of the Album Cover
The album cover features a series of precisely positioned photographs, with a swath of red, yellow or blue overlaid. But there are a number of different variations depending on the album pressing. Collector Jay Matsueda spent close to an hour detailing the differences -- by his count, there are 40 different variants. An earlier tally by Goldmine puts the number even higher -- noting that there are “93 versions, none more valuable than the other.” Adding additional documentation, Matsueda himself shared a VHS recording of the fan documentary, Get Me the Police, which is one of the earliest video overviews of the Police catalog rarities -- including the Synchronicity album cover.
See the Many 'Synchronicity' Cover Variations
29. Sting Had His Own Ideas for the Album's Artwork
Part of the random nature of the album cover’s design came from Sting directly. He suggested that each band member would make up his own photo for the album sleeve without the others knowing what they were planning. Sting chose the American Museum of Natural History in New York as the setting for his part of the cover, which finds the singer surrounded by a variety of skeletons, including ancient dinosaurs.
30. An Oboe Brought 'Tea in the Sahara' to Life
Just because they decided to strip things back to the core trio on Synchronicity doesn’t mean they stopped experimenting. Sting got an oboe -- which he taught himself to play in a short period of time, something which Copeland was incredulous about. “I loved [Sting's] fucking oboe solo,” the drummer laughed while talking to UCR. “I swear to God, the guy gets an oboe, which is a very, very talented challenging instrument, mostly sounds horrible -- but he kind of got the hang of it, as he does. He pulls it out in that song there and starts honking on that thing.”
Listen to 'Tea in the Sahara'
31. The Track Listing Almost Came Down to a Coin Toss
While mixing the album, a struggle developed when it came to figuring out what songs would make the final cut. A coin toss was suggested to decide the fate -- and Copeland and Summers were worried that their songs might get excised. It was finally the guitarist who came up with a winning formula, suggesting that they place the softer material on one side and the more uptempo songs on the other -- an idea that Sting endorsed, which helped them complete Synchronicity at last.
32. Sting Wanted the Band to Sound Original Again
Going into the sessions for their fifth album, Sting felt like the Police were at a crossroads. “There were a lot of clone groups who sounded a bit like us,” he told Rolling Stone. “That’s flattering in a way, but I thought we should try to sound a little different, so we pared away the things people have come to expect in our music.” Reggae tones were one element Sting noted as “more buried” on Synchronicity. Generally, he called the album which emerged “a more refined record than we’ve previously made.”
33. Synchronicity Was Nominated for Five Grammy Awards
In a year where they were up against Michael Jackson at the 1984 Grammys, the Police fared pretty well, winning three out of the five trophies that they were nominated for. Synchronicity won Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, while “Every Breath You Take” snagged an additional two awards for Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
Watch the 1984 Grammy Awards
34. Not Everyone Loved Synchronicity
Critic Adam Sweeting wasn’t completely on board with Synchronicity. He wrote in his June 1983 review for Melody Maker, “However impressive bits of Synchronicity sound, I could never fall in love with a group which plans its moves so carefully and which would never do anything just for the hell of it."
35. Be Kind, Rewind
A pair of performances from the 1983 Synchronicity tour, captured Nov. 2 and 3 in Atlanta, were filmed and recorded for a concert video, allowing fans to enjoy the group's powerful live show over and over again. Godley & Creme, the duo who also handled all of the music videos from Synchonicity, helmed the performances’ filming. Synchronicity Concert was originally issued on VHS in 1984, with a DVD edition arriving in 2005.
Watch the Police's 'Synchronicity Concert'
36. Sting Made a Lot of Money off of Just One Song
Thanks to illegally sampling “Every Breath You Take,” the royalties for Puff Daddy’s 1997 Grammy Award-winning “I’ll Be Missing You” go straight to Sting. The songwriter receives 100% of the royalties for the song, earning an estimated $2000 dollars per day with a yearly tally that rises close to two million dollars. Diddy later tweeted “Love to my brother, @OfficialSting,” noting that the figure was actually $5000 per day, but he backtracked on that reported increase and said he was just joking.
Watch Sting Perform 'I'll Be Missing You' at the 1997 MTV Awards
37. 'Every Breath You Take' Is the Most-Played Song on the Radio
All of the strife to complete “Every Breath You Take” ended up being worth it and then some. As of May 2020, the song has been played more than 15 million times on the radio, passing the previous record holder, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers.
38. The Connection Between 'Synchronicity I' and 'Synchronicity II' Is Sting’s Closely Guarded Secret
“I've had Sting up against the wall on this issue before, and he point blank refuses to explain the connection. None of us in the band can even remember which one is which,” Copeland joked during an interview with Revolver. He pointed to a sequencer part at the beginning of “Synchronicity I” as the only way he can keep the two versions straight. In that same interview, Sting (jokingly) refused to comment and reveal the actual connection between the two songs.
Listen to 'Synchronicity I'
39. The Band Played Their Then-Final Concert Less Than a Year After Synchronicity's Release
Even though the members had seen the moment coming, they found it hard to grasp that their days of playing live as the Police were finished. “I think we were confused, because it really was like the Beatles at that point,” Summers told MOJO years later regarding their final classic era concert, which happened in Melbourne, Australia on March 4, 1984. “That summer we'd been Number 1 in America for four months, we played Shea Stadium, and Sting started saying, ‘This is the time to get off, at the top.’ It was an incredibly ballsy move. Though I think there was a lot more fuel left inside us, there wasn't huge resistance from Stewart and I.” The Police eventually regrouped for a successful reunion tour in 2007.
40. The Opening Acts for the Synchronicity Tour Were Awesome
The Police played 105 concerts in 1983 and 1984 in the United States and overseas. Ministry and Stevie Ray Vaughan opened two shows each, while James Brown and Peter Tosh were on the bill for the group's Toronto concert. Talking Heads, Oingo Boingo and Madness were among the many other openers. R.E.M. also opened a string of five shows. "We get to see the Police for free," the band's Peter Buck and Mike Mills enthused during an interview with MTV at the time.