Is anybody alive in here?
Nobody but us.
Programming note: the vote for next week’s topic was nearly unanimous for the fourth path. The only votes for cranky bitterness were from a couple of chaos agents in my group chat. I will start down said path on Monday. But weekends are for music and navel-gazing, and today’s blog is about one of my favorite records.
I like decade anniversaries. I wrote about a 100-year-old science paper earlier this week. For the weekend, I’ll write about the 40th anniversary of me becoming a music fan.
The first record I ever “bought” turned 40 years old in June. I put “bought” in quotes because I was 5. My dad bought it for me. He also put his thumb on the scale for what I should pick. But this record remains one of my all-time favorites.
The record was Synchronicity by The Police.
I gave Synchronicity a relisten this week, and it’s just so brilliant. The A-side is an arty prog-rock record. It starts off with the off-kilter, odd-time synth line of Synchronicity 1, a song that could have been on a King Crimson record. I also have a soft spot for 80s-era Crimson, but this song is better than anything on the Red, Blue, or Yellow records. And it’s in no small part because of Stewart Copeland’s incomparable drumming. The A-side ends with Cold War anthem Miss Gradenko, with its weird tremolo guitar under lyrics of an illicit romance in the politburo. Definitely the most underrated Police song.
The B-side is Sting’s best solo record. Every song is a pop masterpiece. And every song is better than anything Sting has done since. Even though Sting’s lyrics still push the limits of trying too hard to be provocative, each track holds up. Especially King of Pain. I can listen to King of Pain on repeat all day. Am I listening to it on repeat as I write this blog? Maybe.
The Police are still one of my favorite bands. No one sounds like Stewart Copeland, and he pushes songs forward like no other drummer. His snare drum is the core of every song. He’s one of the few drummers who can add technical glitter on the cymbals and have it make the song better. Andy Summers is one of my guitar heroes. As a teenager, I developed so many hand cramps trying to phrase his chord progressions. But this taught me that every rhythm guitar part is better when you add the 9th to the chords. It’s even better when you drop the 3rd. And Sting’s off-kilter bass playing switches between creating tension and drive. Oh, and you can sing along to every Police song.
A bunch of nerdy music dorks became one of the biggest bands of the early eighties. They pulled it off like no one else. Roxanne was a huge hit, with Eddie Murphy famously singing it in 48 hours, but the chord phrasings and syncopation in that song are anything but conventional. So Lonely is just the most over-used chord progression in rock music, “I V VI IV,” but they bring it to a different level. Message in a Bottle’s iconic chord progression is a cramp-inducing cascade of 9th chords. And this nerdiness comes together best in “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” one of the weirdest songs ever to crack the Billboard Top 10. That one features some of Sting’s best lyrics too.
A friend once asked me to put together a “best of the Police” list, and I just sent him a Spotify playlist with all five records. The Police apparently hated each other. They only managed to hold it together for a five-year run and 54 songs. But those songs are all so good.