04.01.1979 - The NewPaper
Rod Stewart married George Hamilton's ex-wife today, Linda Ronstadt and Governor Jerry Brown arrived in New York apparently bound for vacation in Africa. And the Police sang 'Peanuts' in Boston.
'Peanuts' is a song to a corrupt rock star, a "fallen hero". The lyrics scream "Don't want to hear about the drugs you're takin' / Don't want to hear about love your makin'" and generally tell the decadent old codger to stop prancing around and get off to Hollywood Squares or wherever old rock stars go. I didn't expect Sting, the Police's lead vocalist/bassist/songwriter to give me a straight answer about the song.
"Is 'Peanuts' directed to a particular person?" I mumbled, wedged between Sting and drummer Stewart Copeland in the Paradise's historic dressing room.
Sting paused for a moment and looked don at my tape recorders, which he was holding, then looked up at me again. "Rod Stewart. I used to be such a big fan of his. Great singer. But then... something happened to him. I guess around the time he started with Britt Ekland." The singer wasn't being gossipy or assertive. He seemed really saddened by Rod's corruption and added, "I hope I don't end up like that."
That's no idle conceit. Sting is on his way to becoming a very big star indeed. The Police has emerged out of the punk movement but are not limited by ideology or ability, to bashing out three chords and screaming.
Rather, the Police are talented, experienced musicians interested in restoring to rock the urgent driving energy almost lost in the '70s. But they are also capable of contributing humourless lyrics, off-beat rhythms and melody to the assault. Their first US single, 'Roxanne', is already breaking big on A&M radio. The first album 'Outlandos d'Amour' has been nudged into the top 30 by almost constant FM play and this six-week blitz of the United States.
The Paradise is packed to the rafters and screaming before the Police have played their first note. Sting leaps up and down, as enthusiastic as the crowd. "We've been on the road for six weeks and honest to God, this is the gig we've been looking forward to the most," he yells. The crowd roars and Sting's add. "Saved the best for last!"
"Boston is the first place it happened for us," Sting explains afterward, "the local radio picked up 'Roxanne' as an import cut and began playing it. We came over here and sold out four shows at the Rat."
Andy Summers, guitarist and poet said "We wanted to make it in the States and decided to pay our own way over, Everyone advised us not to do it. A&M said 'No, no, you'll lose money!' But we came over and we played the Rat, we played CBGB's and the American company came down to see us and signed us up right there."
Equally important, perhaps, was that the brief American bow led to 'Roxanne' being included on the New York punk anthology, 'No Wave'. It was from that disc that radio stations all across the country picked up the song, forcing A&M to rush release the album domestically.
"Our hotel is in the Combat Zone," Sting tells the audience. "The Combat Zone sort of reminds us of this song." The audience screams out "Roxanne!" and the group obediently kicks in. Sting and Andy, each leading his own side of the audience, engage the crowd in a contest to see which half can sing "Roxanne-ah!" louder. If the group's rock and roll credentials weren't so impeccable it would be a dangerously show-bizzy moment. As it is the people love it. 'Roxanne' is special to everybody.
"The single is very big in Texas right now," Summers explains, "and when we got there they had these awful chauvinistic 'Roxanne' contests going on. Have you heard about that? I admitted I hadn't and Andy explained, "Well, 'Roxanne' is the number three song there so this station had people send photos of girls named Roxanne. Then, before we went on, they marched the finalists out and had the audience rate them." the guitarist shudders at the memory. "Of course this really beautiful chick won..."
Drummer Stewart Copeland is credited with forming the Police but denies paternity. "It takes two to tango," Stewart smiles. We had a different guitarist for a while but it didn't work out. So in August 1977, Andy joined. That's where we are now."
Sting's songwriting, too, turned up by luck. "I didn't have any idea about his songs," Copeland remembers. "I went down to one of his gigs and saw an incredible stage performer playing with a jazz band. And in spite of playing jazz which bores me stiff, with musicians who bored me stiff, the one person - the stage performer - blew my mind. I called him up for that and for his singing.
"At first e did all my material. Sting had never played in a rock group before and didn't have any rock songs. I already had all my songs together. Then in the first year of the Police I was managing the group and wasn't doing much writing. Gradually Sting began to get into the idea of what was happening with rock and roll and started writing rock and roll songs. They were so good that one by one we began putting them into the set. The album was all Sting's stuff because of all of mine had been used up on early recordings and so on. The next album's got a lot more material by Andy and myself."
But if Sting's writing dominated the first album, Andy's lone contribution had had more than its share of notoriety. The rock and roll rams to a stop half way through side two so that the guitarist can recite 'Sally', a love poem to a life sized rubber doll.
"I actually wrote that five years ago," the guitarist explains, "When we were recording the first album I was looking through a book of old lyrics and I found that one. I had forgotten about it. I went into the studio and recorded it on my own and added on that crazy piano." The group then took Sting's 'Be My Girl' and spliced it onto the recitation to give the sketch some touch of rock and roll.
"Andy came in and announced he was going to do a poem," Sting echoes, "and we said sure." I wonder if including a comedy bit on the record wasn't frowned on by the company? "Because it's risqué?" Sting asks, puzzled. No, I reply, because it's so weird."
Sting smiles and explains the real reason the group could record that bizarro track and the instrumental 'Masoko Tanga' which he dismisses as "a self indulgence really." It seems that Stewart had paid for the group to privately record a single called 'Fall Out'. The Police then took the disc, pressed on their own 'Illegal' label, to various record stores. The single sold 10,000 copies. With the money the trio hired a studio with the intention of recording an 'Illegal' album.
"We were about half way through," Sting explains, "When our manager heard us record 'Roxanne' and said, 'That one's a classic!' We were surprised. We didn't think it special but he said, 'let me take the tape.' He took it to A&M and came back the next day with a deal.
"But we made the whole album ourselves. Paid for it ourselves. It cost us £3,000, ,000. So we could do things like 'Sally' and 'Masoko Tanga' that a proper record company probably wouldn't have allowed."
"We're really against that whole multi-million dollar recording," Andy adds, it's just not us. The second album is being recorded exactly the same way in the same little studio in Surrey."
The group is obviously proud of their self-reliance. They made their own album, put together their own debut tour, and most amazingly, have had such success that A&M will now let them keep on doing as they please.
"the company didn't have to put up any money," Sting explains, "so we have no debt to work off. We actually do get all the royalties."
That is more amazing than the reader may understand. Usually record companies advance an act so much money (studio time alone often runs 0,000) that between recording and tour support, bands never see any profit. David Knopfler of Dire Straits said recently that the group, despite its huge success, will see no money until the second album and "real money" only if their third does well. That the Police recorded their whole album for only £3,000 of their own cash seems incredible when I consider Knopfler joking, "number three album in the country and I can't afford a new pair of trousers."
Sting is 26 now and I have a clue he did not devote himself to music these last 11 years.
"I have a B.A. in education from Warwick University," he concedes, "I was a teacher at St, Catherine's Convent School. I taught English, Music and Soccer to nine and ten year olds. I was the only man on the faculty. In fact, I was the only teacher not in a habit."
I'm fascinated. "Are you still Catholic?" I wonder.
"I am," Sting answers. "I can say, 'Oh, I'm not Catholic anymore' and I can see some of the hypocrisies in the Church but infact for me to deny being a Catholic is like a black man saying he's no longer black. I was taught be Jesuits. You can never really stop being a Catholic."
Sting cops to being an altar boy and I ask him what his worst moment there was. "Ringing the bells too early, before the consecration." We are laughing now and trading altar boy stories. "No, no! Worse was kicking the bells across the altar!"
Andy has a few secrets regarding his musical association with Kevin Coyne and Kevin Ayers, just before joining the Police, but it takes all my Clark Kent training to dig up the time this new star did in the Animals, Soft Machine and with Neil Sedaka. He was also considered as a replacement when Mick Taylor left the Stones. When I confront Andy with Sedaka his eyes widen in mock horror and he says, "No comment."
In fact, Andy even has a different origin story for the group. While A&M publishes the same version as Stewart relates, Andy mentions at one point that the Police were assembled at one point by Gong's bass player for that group's Paris reunion concert.
The discrepancy that's bothering me most at this point is Stewart's accent. Why is the founder of this British group talking like a Beach Boy? "You're American?" I ask intelligently.
"It says so on my passport," Stewart answers, "It says I come from Virginia. I left America when I was one year old. In fact I've only in America a total of three years. I've lived in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and England. I was in London at the end of 1976 and that's when Sting and I got together and formed the group." Stewart's father was in the diplomatic corps.
The only real snag that the Police have hit so far was that BBC radio wouldn't play 'Roxanne' because it dealt , however marginally with prostitution. That wound, however, was healed when 'Can't Stand Losing You' became an English hit.
1979 has been designated by the Police as "The year for America." They will do three more American tours this year, with the rest of the world covered during the breaks. The pressure is off to complete the second album, as the first is selling so well.
Boston was to have been the end of the tour, but the band decided to make s top at CBGB's for two shows, despite having sold out New York's bigger Bottom Line the week before, as sort of a thank you gesture. Then a make-up date in Philadelphia before heading back home and into a British and European tour. I asked Andy how the group was returning to England from this sold out conquest of the States. The guitarist seemed surprised that I'd ask, "Why," Andy answered, "Freddie Laker of course."