The Police were always a volatile enterprise. Manned by the warring personalities of Sting and Stewart Copeland, the two were brothers, adversaries, partners, and enemies all wrapped into one. Guitarist Andy Summers, a decade older than the other two, did his best to act as a peacekeeper, but as the band’s profile grew, the arguments between Sting and Copeland became bigger in scale.
By the time the band began recording what was to be their biggest album, Synchronicity, Sting and Copeland could barely be in the same room. Discussions regarding arrangements, track sequencing, instrument sounds, and lyric choice would quickly devolve into verbal attacks and even violent ones. Unafraid to get physical, there were times when Sting and Copeland were literally wrestling for control over the band.
It all came to a head during the recording of ‘Every Breath You Take’, the album’s first single. Copeland disliked the arrangement that Sting had come up with for the song, later telling Revolver in 2000: “In my humble opinion, this is Sting’s best song with the worst arrangement. I think Sting could have had any other group do this song and it would have been better than our version—except for Andy’s brilliant guitar part. Basically, there’s an utter lack of groove. It’s a totally wasted opportunity for our band. Even though we made gazillions off of it, and it’s the biggest hit we ever had.”
The arrangement concocted by Sting was meant to give space and uneasiness to the track, but it unintentionally brought out a sort of hidden beauty within the sinister song. It’s no secret that ‘Every Breath You Take’ is commonly misinterpreted as a love song, and Copeland likely has a point that the song’s message is lost with the arrangement that made it their most popular song.
It’s uncertain whether Copeland articulated this point of view to Sting during the song’s recording or whether he simply antagonised Sting to the point of provoking him. This was another facet of their relationship: Copeland was a highly energetic and restless spirit who didn’t take well to direction. Sting was a former school teacher who valued discipline and order. Put simply, Sting had a lot of buttons, and Copeland had a lot of fingers.
“Sting wanted Stewart to just play a very straight rhythm with no fills or anything,” producer Hugh Padgham remembered, “And that was the complete antithesis of what Stewart was about. Stewart would say, ‘I want to fucking put my drum part on it!’ and Sting would say, ‘I don’t want you to put your fucking drum part on it! I want you to put what I want you to put on it!’ and it would go on like that. It was really difficult. I remember calling my manager, Dennis [Muirhead], and telling him ‘I can’t handle this,’ and I also remember quite clearly working full-on for 10 days in Montserrat and having nothing on tape that was playable.”
“They were sick of each other — Sting and Stewart hated each other, and although Andy didn’t show as much venom, he could be quite grumpy — and there were both verbal and physical fights in the studio. Often, when these would take place, I’d try to be Mr Producer and get in the way, saying, ‘Come on, do you have to kick the shit out of one another?'”.
The tensions continued to spill over into the band’s already tenuous relationship, and by the mid-1980s, the group was effectively over. A brief reunion on U2’s ‘A Conspiracy of Hope’ tour and a failed attempt to re-record ‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me’ in 1986 was all it took to push The Police over the edge. Other than a massive reunion tour in 2007, there are some fences that won’t ever truly be mended, and The Police are likely a past-tense entity for now until the end of time.