The Police had a romantic intent for “Every Breath You Take,” before it took a darker turn.
The song’s lyrics ended up exploring the consuming, stalker-like mentality of a man who refuses to let go of the object of his obsession. Phrases like “I’ll be watching you” and “you belong to me” are repeated throughout the song. Yet Sting didn’t set out to make “Every Breath You Take” quite so disturbing.
At the time, the Police frontman was enjoying a new romance, albeit one that was condemned by the tabloids. Sting had started a relationship with actress Trudie Styler, but it began while he was still married to Frances Tomelty. Making matters worse, the two women had been close friends and neighbors.
To escape the controversy, Sting went to Jamaica, where he relaxed at the Goldeneye estate of James Bond novelist Ian Fleming. Then inspiration struck in the form of the song’s famous refrain.
“I woke up in the middle of the night with that line in my head,” Sting told the Independent. He “sat down at the piano and had written it in half an hour. The tune itself is generic, an aggregate of hundreds of others, but the words are interesting. It sounds like a comforting love song. I didn’t realize at the time how sinister it is.”
Looking back, “Every Breath You Take” might have been more reflective of his psyche at the time than even Sting realized. His “intention might have been to write a romantic song, seductive, enveloping and warm,” the Police frontman admitted in the book Isle of Noises, but “then I saw another side of my personality was involved, too – about control and jealousy, and that’s its power. It was written at a difficult time.”
Sting brought a demo of the song to his bandmates. Tensions were at their height back then, and arguments were commonplace. In keeping, the Police squabbled over the best way to attack “Every Breath You Take,” and reportedly spent six weeks disagreeing on how to move forward. Eventually, everyone added their unique influence. Stewart Copeland’s backbeat propelled things along, while Andy Summers made an infectious contribution.
“Without that guitar part, there’s no song,” Summers told Record Collector. “My guitar completely made it classic and put the modern edge on it. I actually came up with it in one take, but that’s because Sting’s demo left a lot of space for me to do what I did. There was no way I was just gonna strum barre chords through a song like that.”
Listen to the Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’
Released in May 1983, as the lead single for Synchronicity, “Every Breath You Take” became a massive hit. The song reached No. 1 in six different countries, including the U.S., U.K. and Canada. It was the best-selling single of 1983 and won two Grammys, including Song of the Year.
Still, many listeners remained oblivious to its subject matter even as the song became a worldwide sensation. Fans commonly heard the romantic love song Sting had intended, rather than the more ominous final product. That dichotomy always fascinated him.
“I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it’s quite the opposite,” Sting told to BBC Radio. He confessed to DJ Casey Kasem that the misinterpretation led to some awkward moments: “One couple told me ‘Oh we love that song; it was the main song played at our wedding!’” Sting recalled. “I thought, ‘Well, good luck.'”
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