My good friend Herc of the Herc’s Hideaway blog has been doing some good things with his posts, many of which feature his own Spotify lists, so I decided to borrow his idea and try it out for myself.
Last weekend, I started thinking about a few of my favorite Police songs, one thing lead to another and I started compiling my MP3′s and creating my versions of my favorite albums. The Police were and are one of my favorite bands, and I was lucky enough to see them in February 1984 at the Aloha Stadium on their Synchronicity tour. I always go back and forth on what I feel is my favorite album by The Police, a battle that I enjoy going through because in truth, I don’t have to battle, When I do end up listening to them in different combinations, I sometimes listen to it from a different perspective while other times I discover once again while I love it in the first place.
I decided to create my own Deluxe Edition of their fourth album, 1981′s Ghost In The Machine, which received a huge boost in promotion due to the newly-created MTV. The band’s first two albums was more college radio-friendly, and the songs from those albums we now know and love (a few of which are classic rock radio staples) didn’t get much attention until the release of their third album, 1980′s Zenyatta Mondatta. Radio did take kindly to “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” and “Don’t Stand So Close TO Me” as they were the album’s two singles, but back then, radio was much more open to playing album tracks, or at least I had radio stations in Honolulu that played each song on the album as if it was Led Zeppelin’s (untitled 4th album) because I certainly remember hearing “Bombs Away”, “Man In A Suitcase”, “Voices In My Head”, “Driven To Tears”, and “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around” as if they were hits.
Before MTV, the only place I saw Police videos was on Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 10. as both “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” went as high as #10 on the Billboard Singles chart. With Ghost In The Machine the group had made a documentary film with musician Jools Holland which featured the group talking about their recording sessions in Montserrat and in between, you would see staged “performances” of the band playing a few of the songs. Instead of the band going out of their way to offer live versions, it would be lip-synched videos but this was cool, since groups who were doing videos at the time were doing the same thing.
As a kid, I thought this was the coolest looking video, as you could see the band performing the song. I’d even make a dumb dance out of the way Sting moves, because I was a dumb ass 11 year old thinking that that type of music should be danced in that fashion. Back then, ska was considered “white man reggae”, and their album Regatta de Blanc even said so, so people initially thought ska was some white man creation. It would be awhile before people realized that ska came before reggae and both were rooted from the same island. Nonetheless, for years when I would hear this song, I would always the accent of the bass and drums completely different, and wondered why the group would switch the page when they started singing “we are spirits in the material world”. It wasn’t until long after the fact that I had heard the first verse of this song on the wrong accent, and that it was the same ska rhythm from the first note. Even now, when I remember to count the rhythm from the first bass note instead of the drums, I catch myself falling back into the song’s proper rhythm.
I liked this song the first time I heard it, but did not realize until a few days ago why I may enjoy it. I love the mood and feel of the song, and when I understood the lyrics and could relate to them from personal experiences, I felt them even more. More on that in a bit.
The video was very cool, as it wasn’t just the band in the recording studio, but had them playing around in the production area, where they were playing with the soundboard to the point where they’re dancing around and on it. But the best part is when they’re outside of the recording studio, playing the song with the local people of Montserrat where drummer Stewart Copeland gets a chance to have local musicians play the steel drums while family and friends dance around. The whole section is silly and goofy, but the part that somehow meant a lot to me was the section of the video where Sting sings a simple “we oh oh/we oh oh” part. Sting is shown hamming it up to the camera with the light blaring brightly, as Copeland is dancing around and guitarist Andy Summers is hanging on to anyone willing to share a dance. But during the “we oh oh” chant, Sting is circling the camera as you see everyone dancing or simply being there to witness the creation of a film. In the background is a man behind him, sitting down by a tree, with shorts and slippers.
It’s insignificant, but what I saw was a man just relaxing, loving his surroundings, nodding his head and rocking out to the music with a huge smile on his face. It always looked cool, but as I got older, I realized that for me, that’s what the song means to me. That’s what music means to me: just hanging out with friends, chillin’ out, rocking out to yourself without a care in the world. I fele that guy by the tree represented me, not unlike the kid on the stairwell in that Sesame Street performance of Stevie Wonder doing “Superstition” (cue to the 4:09 mark).
On my bucket list: I want to be able to go to that tree or area in Montserrat, sit down and rock out to some music, and have someone click that photo for me. Freedom.
As I was listening to “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”, I had an epiphany. I realized the steel drum section reminded me a lot of a song that was a personal favorite of my dad’s, Loggins & Messina’s “Vahevala”. It’s a song that I loved enough to where I’d call it my own, and one where I realized my dad had been a fan of ska, reggae, and Caribbean music long before I felt I introduced it to him in 1982. My dad had been giving me hints and lessons all along, and I always identify this song as one where perhaps if my dad was looking for a sense of his own freedom, he would find a way to “sail away” because “you better be back on board by the break of day”. I always knew the steel drums of “Every Little Thing…” was there, but it was like “oh, it has a similar vibe”.
If I put on “Vahevala”, I am locked to the song from beginning to end, anticipating the influence of Indian classical music and John Coltrane in the saxophone duo solo, and just waiting for it to come to its inevitable conclusion. Beautiful.
“Invisible Sun” was a song that told about the hazards of war, but in Honolulu I wondered what could be an “invisible sun” for it was always there. It would be awhile before I understood the song’s true meaning. While not on the album version, I always liked the video for its extended ending, where the song continues and Sting sings “all I want is to go somewhere… far away from the cold night air…” Then, like now, the invisible sun gives us hope when the whole day’s done.
“Demolition Man” was the “angry” song, and this sounded nothing like what I knew The Police for. I was not aware they had punk rock roots or that Copeland was known as Klark Kent, but this just sounded angry, and in the process, cool. I loved the feedback in the song, and thought it was great when Sting spazzed out to the point where he ends up breaking his microphone stand. The fast-paced editing would eventually become known as an “MTV-style edit” or “MTV edit”, where it wouldn’t concentrate on one thing or scene for any given length of time, it would just have multiple shots and jump cuts that were often be random, but would make for good visuals. MTV didn’t create it, but there was a time when it seemed almost every video on MTV had a section dedicated to that type of quick edits that would lead to headaches for some people, an eyefuck for everyone else. The song and video was just perceived as sinister looking and sounding.
Of course, one can’t talk about “Demolition Man” without speaking about Grace Jones, who actually released the song first before The Police did. The song was released on her album Nightclubbing, seven months before The Police released Ghost In The Machine so there is a generation that may know the song as hers and not theirs. The song would gain a following when her performance from her One Man Show concert film was shown on MTV and USA Network’s Night Flight. Jones had always been the outlandish one but someone who people always had respect for due to her individuality and style. She proclaimed she was the demolition man, but again, as the sample goes, she was a a woman who some had mistaken as a man, and here she was in a French club. A man singing “I Need A Man” to a bunch of men. She fucked with people’s perceptions and did it incredibly well, so as the demolition man (and as you can see, multiple versions of her manly self), she was ready to do damage.
While not released as a single in the U.S., it was cool to see “One World (Not Three)” get a video. While “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and “Spirits In The Material World” may not have been obviously ska or reggae influenced for some, “One World (Not Three)” was. It was the band’s way of saying that we all lived in one world, and that we shouldn’t have to complicate things by creating a fictitious “third world” for people who may not live the way we do.
I also loved the intro to “Secret Journey” and for awhile could not figure out how that sound was created until I saw The Police In Montserrat film, where Summers would show how he came up with the sound (click to 3:42 mark). I would realize that that sound had showed up in “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” in the part of the song where you’d hear a voice saying “help me, help me”. The idea of someone going into a secret journey seemed interesting, someone who purposely traveled without anyone knowing where he was or his intent. For years, I used to think the lyric said “when you’ve made your secret journey, you will be an old man” (it’s actually “you will be a holy man”), but both are fitting and make sense.
The album would have three officially singles, with “Shambelle”, “Flexible Strategies”, and “Low Life” as their non-LP B-sides. A few were recorded during the sessions while others may have been done the year before, but they’re placed in the playlist below because they are attached to the A-sides that helped give them life. “How Stupid Mr. Bates”, “I Burn For You” and “A Kind Of Loving” were both released in 1982 on the Brimstone & Treacle soundtrack, which also contained a number of Sting originals, slowly paving the way for the solo artist he would become three years later. Together, the addition of six songs help to show what the band were about and going through in 1981, and perhaps may show possible links towards the material they would end up developing for Synchronicity. In fact, “I Burn For You” would sound perfect between “King Of Pain” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger”.
Some might think B-sides were a bit of filler or a waste of time, the kind of material that wasn’t placed on the album deliberately. However, Summers was quoted in the Message In A Box liner notes as saying “I always thought the B-sides were the place when we had the chance to loosen up. Some of our best material came up when we jammed – in soundchecks, for example, B-sides can be less conventional, more hardcore.” In fact, listen to “Flexible Strategies”. Copeland called the song nothing more than a request to create a B-side, so they went into the studio, banged this out for 10 minutes and boom, B-side. Copeland called it “a disgrace”, even though its very funky vibe could have easily been enhanced a few years later if Prince and his Madhouse project decided to make it into its own incredible jam. Many artists would love to have a disgrace as cool as this.
Enjoy the album as you know it and listen to the six additional tracks in this digital Deluxe Edition of Ghost In The Machine that, for now, does not exist in the world, material or otherwise.
(Mahalo nui to Herc of Herc’s Hideaway for the snatching of the format.)