DUST IT OFF: The Police’s “Synchronicity”…30 Years Later

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By the time The Police had released their fifth album, they were already known for their semi-exotic or confusing album titles: Outlandos d’Amour, Regatta De Blanc, and Zenyatta Mondatta. Okay, maybe the first two were not confusing if you knew French, but as a kid I asked what was Zenyatta Mondatta, and what kind of song title is “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”? I had first became aware of The Police when they played in Honolulu in the late 1970’s when they played at the University of Hawai’i. They were the new wave of bands from England, and their concert was highlighted on a show that aired on KGMB-9 called The Hawaiian Moving Company. Eventually, I would hear songs like “Roxanne” and “Message In A Bottle”, but not as heavy as we do these days because The Police were still considered a college band. However, that would change with the release of Zenyatta Mondatta when songs like “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” was released, and that would become the first Police record bought for me. Around that time, I would see the video for “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” on Casey Kasem’s syndicated TV show, America’s Top 10, and that was most likely the first time (or one of the first times) I had seen the band. Local radio stations in Honolulu started to put other songs into rotation such as “Driven To Tears”, “Canary In A Coalmine”, “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around”, and “Man In A Suitcase”, so it felt like a big deal. More music from a specific artist meant, at least to me, that they were on the rise in terms of status. Zenyataa Mondatta would become my first Police album, on cassette no less, and it was great, I played it all the time at home.

I don’t think I was aware that The Police had a new album in late 1981 until the following year, when MTV made itself known on our cable system. Ghost In The Machine was released on October 2, 1981, but the band’s presence on MTV was always there. The videos for “Spirit In The Material World”, “Invisible Sun”, “Demolition Man”, and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” were on rotation with all of the MTV heavies, and it was through that rotation that lead to me getting that album from my parents, this one on vinyl. I always wondered about what exactly the ghost was in whatever machine they were talking about. In 1981/1982, the cover graphics resembled a calculator, but could a calculator be a machine that has a ghost? Or were they speaking of a much bigger machine? Little did we know.

Due to heavy exposure on MTV, one was never far away from a Police song. What most people didn’t know was that by the end of 1982, the group were back in the studio to record a new album, and no one could have ever expected what would happen next.

As an avid fan of Rolling Stone, I became aware of the new album through the news blurbs that were in the magazine. I remember that it helped to create a buzz that this would be a unique album, one that Police fans had never heard before, but that’s usually how the publicity machine begins: stir people up and start up a frenzy of sorts. The first time I became aware of the album to come was a short film A&M Records put together promoting it. I remember watching this, liking the scroll of the title, and everything being in black & white. It was essentially an album sampler. There were various objects in a room, as the camera panned around the room before it approached the images that would become the background for the new album, except it didn’t stop there. Various photos and alternate shots of each member of the band were shown, and it panned from right to left, showing Sting. It then moved on to drummer Stewart Copeland, his images going from left to right. Next was guitarist Andy Summers, scrolling from right to left, as his photos moved around. At the 2:38 mark, there was a glimpse of the band’s first proper video made for the album, with a song called “Every Breathe You Take”. At the 3:28 mark, we have a look at the book that was an influence behind the new album before we see a Chinese woman who is a part of Summers’ photos, shot from the back. This film builds up to this point that happens at the 3:40 mark: the introduction of the three slashes of paint: red, blue, and yellow. When that moment happened as the song in the background blasted with its vocal chant, I got excited and anticipated this great thing to come.

I remember walking into Tower Records that used to be on Ke’eaumoku Street, either on Friday or on the weekend. I was about to wrap up my year in the 7th grade, so school was still important and I didn’t have the luxury of being able to hang around Tower whenever I wanted. Synchronicity was the album I wanted to have, so I went directly to section P and saw the album cover. But wait, I also saw different versions of the cover. Hell, I saw a heap of Synchronicity covers that were different from one another. I would later discover that the band and A&M made 36 different variations of the cover, where the arrangement of photos of each member of the band were either moved around or different. Maybe one of the color strips were rearranged as well.

However, I went directly to what I called the black and yellow cover, as it didn’t have the soon-to-be well known colors. It was a darker variation, and I wondered why that cover was different from the one with colors. I put it down, and went into the cassette section, where my dad was. He asked me what I wanted, and I decided to not pick up one of the 36 different covers, but went for the cassette. I also picked up the latest issue of the Tower magazine, Pulse, and was able to see that “Every Breath You Take” was one of the top selling singles of the moment. Synchronicity was on sale, most likely around $5.99 or so, so I gave it to my dad and it was purchased for me. When I ripped open the cellophane, I had noticed something different. In the cassettes that were bought for me, the artist name and song titles were printed on the tape shell. This, however, looked like someone had bought a Sharpie pen and written on it. I remember him asking “did someone scribble on that?” I didn’t know, but it looked cool. I was able to pop the tape in as he drove us home, and I listened to “Synchronicity I”, “Walking In Your Footsteps” and “O My God” for the first time. “Walking In Your Footsteps” seemed weird but exotic, but so did the other two songs. It was not The Police I had expected to hear, but it was new and it was good. I looked forward to getting home and listening to it in the privacy of my room.

The first thing I wanted to know was: what does Synchronicity mean? Even though the song was very descriptive, my dictionary didn’t have it listed. I would learn that it has to do with two different things happening at the same time, and while they may not be related to one another, one can find a way for both to be happening for a reason. I really didn’t wrap that around my head as a pre-teen, I simply wanted the new music although as I’ve become older and started to think about coincidences and events, the word would always pop up. One must thank Carl Jung for coming up with the theory of synchronicity and how it affects us in some fashion. With that known, one has to wonder how that concept is used on the album. While not a true concept album, Synchronicity is an album with a running theme, that being the title.

  • The themes are discovered immediately in the opening song, “Synchronicity I”, which is in a 6/4 time signature. It covers some of the topics that are brought up in the album, that being incidences of coincidence:
    With one breath, with one flow
    You will know: Synchronicity

    A sleep trance, a dream dance
    A shared romance: Synchronicity

    A connecting principle
    Linked to the invisible
    Almost imperceptible
    Something inexpressible
    Science insusceptible
    Logic so inflexible
    Causally connectible
    Yet nothing is invincible

    The song slowly builds in mood, it sounds a bit soulful and jazz but also distant. Foreign? Worldly? The song’s last verse is the climax of the story, and is the key towards what lurks inside of the album. It maybe heady, but one can be satisfied in knowing with the first step forward:
    It’s so deep, it’s so wide
    You’re inside
    Synchronicity

    Effect without a cause
    Sub-atomic laws, scientific pause
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity

  • “Walking In Your Footsteps” may sound like a slight variation of Toto’s “Africa”, with its slight musical nods to the forests and oceans, but it tells a story that isn’t so happy and loving. It goes back 50,000,000 years ago when some of the first creatures walked the planet. Sting sings about what the character of the song sees, but when he says the song’s title, it implies that if we as humans do not watch our steps, we will one day become extinct. The final verse of the song was printed on the album’s lyric sheet, but not heard in the final album mix. The only way one could hear it was if they went to see the band live, and it is there where Sting reveals the moral of the story:
    Fifty million years ago
    They walked upon the planet so
    They live in a museum
    It’s the only place you’ll see ’em

    By continuing to say that we are walking in the footsteps of the dinosaur, perhaps our evolution will lead to our inevitable end. The song comes to a close with Sting getting biblical by saying “they say the meek shall inherit the earth.” One may be lead to ask “what or who are the meek, and if we as humans are in a slow demise, who is running us? Or who are we allowing to run us?”

  • “O My God” is a man speaking out to his spiritual maker, asking for someone to fill the void in his life. He is, of course, talking to himself, hoping that his inner dialogue will lead to answers that we, as humans, will ask ourselves for life:
    Everyone I know is lonely
    and God’s so far away,
    And my heart belongs to no one
    So now sometimes I pray
    Please take the space between us
    And fill it up some way
    Take the space between us
    and fill it up some way

    My favorite part of the song is when Sting revisits the second verse from “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”. Again, a completely different song from a completely different album, but by bringing it into this song he is able to make it fit and appropriate for the theme, a synchronicity:
    Do I have to tell the story
    of a thousand rainy days
    since we first met?
    It’s a big enough umbrella
    But it’s always me that ends up getting wet

  • “Mother” is Andy Summers’ contribution to the album, a track that some fans and critics have called the weirdest song on Synchronicity. To me, it seems Summers decided to bring the lyrical mentality of their non-LP B-sides onto the album. It may be disturbing that Summers compares his tentative romantic interests to his mother. It is never revealed whether he needs motherly love or is warped by his upbringing, but the vocal torment he has through his screams means that that connection, even though unconnected, will continue to punish him.
  • “Miss Gradenko” is a Stewart Copeland composition that touches on a possible romance at a place where events should not happen. Is it political, is it social, or a mixture of both? By the end of the song, clothes have been removed and a seduction is in process, with no one knowing a thing but the two involved.

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  • “Synchronicity II” may sound nothing like “Synchronicity I” that opens the album, and maybe that’s the point. The song, released as the album’s third single, touches on a man going through his day, from the point he wakes up to going through his work day, and eventually returning back home. He is completely stressed, which is expressed as “the pain upstairs that makes his eyeballs ache” and while he doesn’t have to go home, he knows that’s where he has to go. At the end of each verse, it may seem that the Scottish Loch ness monster has absolutely nothing to do with the work day being described, but he is comparing his daily activities to that of the monster that is unknown, but always seems to return to the surface. End of Side 1.

    I was in college (and) “Synchronicity II” was one of the last 45 RPM records I ever bought, and I had to forgo food to do it. (The song) was dramatic, different from everything else and used instruments in ways I rarely heard. Remember the ping-pong steps guitar riff? Almost like listening to rubber bands being plucked but – as a transition? Very effective.” -Donna (@konanut)

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  • “Every Breath You Take” was released as the album’s first single on May 20, 1983. What people seemed to enjoy about this mid-tempo song was that it came off as a love song, something to pass along to a loved one, but by the last verse, the voice sounds like an obsessed stalker. The bridge itself is quite beautiful, as it describes someone who has departed or is no longer there:
    Since you’ve gone I’ve been lost without a trace
    I dream at night, I can only see your face
    I look around but it’s you I can’t replace
    I feel so cold and I long for your embrace
    I keep crying baby, baby please

    It is that point in the song where the direction of things makes a unique turn, and it’s not a nice one. The song would become The Police’s biggest hit and according to Wikipedia, Sting’s biggest money-maker, providing him at least $2000 a day from radio airplay and streaming. Not bad for a song where the primary theme is “I may not be with you, but I may be around the corner looking at or for you. Trust me.”

    What I thought was cool was that The Police would present the video in different shades, coordinating with the blue, red, and yellow paint strips on the cover. A version would be with a red tint, another would be in yellow. There was also a version of the video where the colors would change throughout, and these were shown in the year of the album. Eventually, MTV and VH-1 would keep the standard black & white version in rotation.

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  • “King Of Pain” was the follow-up single to “Every Breath You Take”, and the only single out of the album’s four where a music video was not made. Sting compares himself to various things, beings, or people who are caught in some type of trauma, from a skeleton chocking on a crust of bread to a butterfly trapped in a spider’s web. Even though he has nothing to do with those items, he can relate to that trauma and stress, and has done so throughout his life. It is a bit amazing that someone like Weird Al Yankovic can turn that around to create a parody like “King Of Suede”.

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  • If lines like “just like that old man in that book by Nabokov” didn’t lead people to a library or encyclopedia for a definition, then the next song would. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” is the album’s fourth single, a song that has to do with making a choice between two evils, which is clear in the song’s second line, “caught between the Scylla and Charybdis”, referring to Greek sea monsters, which also goes back a few songs with discussion about the Loch Ness monster. When the song leads to Sting singing “then you’ll find your servant is your master”, it has him realizing that the two evils will always be joined, no matter how bad it is, and perhaps we ourselves are one of the evils in the equation. Or perhaps the fight between the two evils are nothing more than our own.

  • The album closes with the beautiful “Tea In The Sahara”, which tells the tale of three people who are seeking the presence of a specific man. The man meets up with them to grant one of their wishes, and that is merely to have tea with him in a desert. While they would like to have more meetings like this, it never happens in the same way again, if at all. Their initial obsession becomes something that ends in tragedy, which in a way describes the circle of life we all experience. The demise of us will happen, but at the same time, someone else may be having their first cup of tea. Even though The Police had become worldly with their touring, they always remained very British in their music and lyrics, and while the music direction on Synchronicity may sound different, they remained a ska and reggae band until the end with “Tea In The Sahara” being a very laid back reggae song that falls into a warm dub.

    While it is known as the final song on the album, it actually isn’t. “Murder By Numbers” was first released as the non-LP B-side to “Every Breath You Take”, and was released as a bonus track on the cassette and CD versions of Synchronicity. The song was co-written by Sting and Summers, and comes in the tradition of Summers’ more sinister songs like “Friends”, which details the story of a man who asks for his friends to come over, only so he can eat them. This one covers the killing of people and how easy the task is, especially when you bring in people to help. As the song’s final verse states, maybe murder is a pleasure:
    But you can reach the top of your profession
    If you become the leader of the land,
    For murder is the sport of the elected,
    And you don’t need to lift a finger of your hand

    “Someone To Talk To”, the B-side to “King Of Pain”, is a Summers track, and his sinister side is much calmer, as he realizes some of his flaws, knows he fucked up in the relationship he had, and simply asks for something sensible, a bit of calm in his life.

    “Once Upon A Daydream” was released as the B-side to “Synchronicity II”, and while it begins as a calm tale of romance and possible marriage, it turns into quite the opposite with the second verse:
    Once her daddy found out
    He threw her to the floor
    He killed her unborn baby
    And kicked me from the door
    Once upon a nightmare
    I bought myself a gun
    I blew her daddy’s brains out
    Now hell has just begun

    The third verse has the man regretting the task, stating that what started out as someone who wanted to sweet his woman away turned into someone wasting his life and dreams away. The song ends with him clearly stating this was nothing more than a daydream, and one that has the listener wondering if he prefers it that way, or if he would like for similar dreams to return,.


    Synchronicity is my favorite Police album, although it very much has battles with Zenyatta Mondatta and Ghost In The Machine, ahtough for my all-time favorite Police song, that honor will always be “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”. I loved Synchronicity not only for its music, but the fact that it was released with 36 different covers.

    I remember the album not only for what was contained within, but for the effect its music had on me and some of the events that were happening in my life. My dad had wanted to join a small music group for bar gigs, as a means to make some extra money. He had auditioned at the restaurant and chose to sing Hall & Oates’ “One On One”. He was asked to join, and I clearly remember going to the leader of the band for a jam session. The song my dad chose was “Every Breath You Take”. It was the hit song, so it would make sense that he would chose a song of-the-moment. Three weeks after the release of Synchronicity, my dad died. I remember holding the cassette in my hand, thinking of the music and more importantly, how it was the last album my dad bought for me. During that week, I heard the bridge in “Every Breath You Take” a bit differently:
    Since you’ve gone I’ve been lost without a trace
    I dream at night, I can only see your face
    I look around but it’s you I can’t replace
    I feel so cold and I long for your embrace
    I keep crying baby, baby please

    I had interpreted those words as one that dealt with how I was feeling at the time. The man that I had learned a lot from, and hoped to learn from in my soon-to-come teen eyars, was no longer there. I had learned from TV shows that I was supposed to become “the man of the house” but it’s different when you’re actually confronted with it. At the age of 12, I was not ready for that.

    I bought all four singles from Synchronicity just so I could enjoy all of the B-sides, including the live version of “Tea In The Sahara” that was on “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. When I bought the 4th and final single from the album, I knew that we were only a few months away from moving from Honolulu. My parents had plans on moving to Canada for a complete change of pace, a different way of living. When my dad died, my mom decided to continue with the move but to be closer to her sister, who lived in Washington State. I had always wanted to finish school in Honolulu, for I had all of my friends and liked many girls, a few of who were friends with me, at least in an 8th grade capacity. Who knows, maybe I would fall in love, or fall in and out of love of number of times, maybe go to prom, get my first car, start a family… all the possibilities, and to be able to experience this with those friends would have been great. But I did not. My mom also wanted to move us because she felt things in Honolulu were going for the worse, and also did not want to see our education go to waste. My sister and I both went to public school, but as with some teens in Hawai’i, perhaps going down a bad side would have lead to drugs or violence. I was (and still am) a nerd, I wasn’t about to touch any shit, I loved school and had plans on taking it to a college level. We eventually moved right before the summer of 1984, and that was that. By then, Prince’s “When Doves Cry” was dominating the airwaves and MTV. Synchronicity was now last year’s album, but one that would always be one that I marked as the time in my life where some changes were made, or where I had to make a mad rush to change to embrace what would come, whatever it would be.

    Before this move happened, I did get a chance to see The Police perform live at the Aloha Stadium on February 25, 1984. Bryan Adams and Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble opened up, with Stevie Ray Vaughn pointing at me, Jimi Hendrix style, during his solo in “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. There was also a man who juggled for The Jacksons. It was an incredible show, and when they showed how many people attended on the stadium’s score board (somewhere close to 33,000), the crowd went nuts. I had been aware of how the band was on the Sunchronicity tour through the concert that was shown on Showtime, but it’s another thing to experience in person. I left the Aloha Stadium barefoot because I had went there in slippers and broke them having fun in there. It would be my last concert as a Honolulu resident.
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    Yet with all that happened in my life 30 years ago, I can still listen to an album that sounds incredible, even though it had taken years for me to fully understand what was being said. Things happen for a reason, things may happen without us ever knowing it, but perhaps those things are happening with some sense of union. What is that missing link that we continue to search for in our lives? Maybe we’ll never know unless we truly look into ourselves to see the full picture. Or find a way to connect things for the sake of figuring out this puzzle called life.

    A star fall
    A phone call
    It joins all
    Synchronicity

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  • 0 thoughts on “DUST IT OFF: The Police’s “Synchronicity”…30 Years Later

    1. Side note for John… back in May of 2003, you recommended a movie on Okayplayer called “Hero” (Ying xiong). I ordered it, and received it on June 2, 2003 — one day after the 20th Anniversary of the release of “Synchronicity”.

      You sir, have great taste in music and film.

      Like

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