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Music

The Story Behind The Song: How The Police created 'Walking On The Moon'

In his interview with Far Out, drummer Stewart Copeland pencilled Regatta de Blanc his favourite album by The Police. “Regatta de Blanc was more dependent on the band’s cohesion,” he exclusively told Far Out. “It was more dependent on the band who had discovered each other playing two, three sets a night across America.”

He’s not alone in that view, although it is interesting that Regatta is also the album that is least dependent on Sting’s songwriting. The other four albums are almost entirely written by Sting (he is credited on every song on their debut, for instance), but he has short on ideas for their sophomore record, which meant that he had to rely on Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers to fill out the blank. What we get then is a band playing at the height of their abilities, bending virtually every genre to their will. Sting was growing more confident as a vocalist and a bass player, tailoring reggae to give him the opportunity to do both simultaneously.

Reggae is full of air, which gave Sting the chance to sing over the throbbing bass parts. It gave him the freedom to sing and play, which he had struggled to do when the band was playing more punk oriented work on their debut. But Copeland could see the progression in Sting’s abilities. “We were stretching our material,” he continues, “And as a result of stretching our material, we had to improvise, and by virtue of improvising, we discovered all the cool stuff that each other could do. So, when we went in to record Regatta, Sting hadn’t had time to write the new album by himself, so some of it we made up on the spot. Some of them were songs of mine that got in there, and that’s my favourite album because of the atmosphere. I think Sting continued to write better and better songs but some of his best songs are on that album. It was just his quantity that was lacking rather than quality.”

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‘Walking On The Moon’ is one of the songs credited to Sting entirely alone, and it stemmed from a conversation he enjoyed with German avant-garde composer Eberhard Schoener. The two went out on a night out, and by the time Sting returned to his hotel room in Munich, he pictured the riff to the song. In an effort to cure himself of his drunken stupor, he rose as if uttering a mantra he designed for himself: “Walking round the room, walking round the room.”

Sobering himself up, he changed the word “room” to “moon”, realising that the song was his way of expressing his isolation on the road, where he had to entertain himself in a lowly hotel room, with only his bandmates for company. The finished result is the sound of someone who is constantly entertained by his environment, but unable to escape from it.

It was accompanied by a canny video shot at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Copeland took this opportunity to play his sticks off a Saturn V rocket. Copeland’s brother, Miles, served as the band’s manager, and he saw the potential of the band’s blond hair when he put them together onscreen. A triumvirate of blond, bucolic looking men was a direct contrast to the aesthete favoured by prog bands Genesis and Pink Floyd, where they were sullen, bearded and shadowed by billowing dark hair.

But for all his determination to ride the wave of success, Sting was also tortured by it, as is evident from this song. He wasn’t a natural celebrity, and ached for the day when he could return to a more controllable level of fame. Tellingly, Sting has never craved the level of stadium success as a solo artist, favouring more unconventional forms of rock to offer his sense of truth to the world at large.

‘Walking On The Moon’ is notable for its jaunty bass line. The bass, like the words, are meant to sound light and airy, and Copeland furthered the space like milieu when he used a Roland RE-201 Space Echo unit on the track. He triggered the foot pedal which caused a delay, although he would later moan that everyone used that form of drumming technique on their recordings.

Much like space, the band were pushing their sense of loneliness into the track, and by doing so, were pushing the boundaries of human capability. It might be the band’s finest work.

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