Heartbreak was never alien to The Police and their music. From the very beginning, albums like Outlandos d’Amour and Reggatta de Blanc contained songs such as ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ and ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You’. It was a classic songwriting subject, and Sting was never afraid to use it for all it was worth.
But a new bitter taste of reality hit Sting around the time The Police were recording Synchronicity. He was going through a divorce from his first wife, Frances Tomelty, in 1984. The split was exacerbated by tabloid fodder that showed Sting’s relationship with his wife’s close friend, Trudie Styler.
In order to escape the hounding of the press and the familiarity of London, Sting and Styler moved down to the Caribbean. Landing in Jamaica, Sting claims that the inspiration for the track ‘King of Pain’ arrived in full as he awoke one morning and observed the sky.
“Actually, it was something I said,” Sting recalled on the In The Studio radio show. “I’d just left my first wife – a very painful break – and I went to Jamaica to try and pull myself together. I was fortunate to be able to go to Jamaica, I have to say, and stayed at this nice house and was looking at the sun one day.”
“I was with Trudie who is now my current wife and said ‘Look, there’s a little black spot on the sun today’”, Sting continues. “And there’s a pause. I said, ‘That’s my soul up there’. I was full of hyperbole. I said that! I went back in and wrote it down on a piece of stuff, and wrote some other stuff.” Sting adds that he “conjured up symbols of pain and related them to my soul. A black spot on the sun struck me as being a very painful image, and I felt that was my soul up there on the sun. It’s just projecting your state into the world of symbolism, which is what poetry’s all about, really.”
According to engineer and producer Hugh Padgham, ‘King of Pain’ took a long time to complete, particularly as Sting became dissatisfied with the original arrangement. “If you listen to it now, it’s very stripped down, bits and pieces coming in here and there,” Padgham recalled in a 2006 interview with Larry Crane. “Literally everything was recorded all the way through and I really remember that one well — sitting down with Sting coming in one day, when we were mixing and [Sting] going, ‘This is shit’ and I went, ‘I think you’re probably right.’”
Sting and Pagham laboriously restructured the track, recording new elements like keyboard lines and percussion. The end result would be the fourth single from Synchronicity, released exclusively in the US in the summer of 1983. Although not as successful as the album’s first single, ‘Every Breath You Take’, ‘King of Pain’ still rose to number three on the Billboard Hot 100, solidifying Synchronicity as an all-time blockbuster album.