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BeatTips MusicStudy: The Police – “Walking on the Moon”

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Group Offers Great Example of Style and Sound Fusion

By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)

Before Sting became a one-man mega star (in the 80s), he was the front-man and bassist for the group, The Police. The Police where an English outfit who specialized in an uptempo rock-reggae that mostly side-stepped the British ska sound of their time. Originally a punk inspired band, The Police moved towards the new wave sound, before settling on a minimalist rock-reggae hybrid that was decidedly pop (the good kind).

The collective musicianship of The Police was great, but most of my attention went to drummer Stewart Copeland. Copeland’s default drum style was rooted in the reggae style, a rhythmic style characterized by accents on the off-beat. Specifically, Copeland road the “steppers” beat sub-style (itself a variation of “four on the floor”), but he was also clearly influenced by other worldly sounds and rhythms. This was perhaps one of the main reasons that he drummed on an expanded kit. I remember the first time I saw his set in a video, I couldn’t believe how many mini-toms and percussion pieces it contained.

Guitarist Andy Summers was a seasoned and accomplished sessions player before he joined The Police. In fact, before he got with The Police (replacing The Police’s original guitarist, Henry Padovani), he nearly became a member of The Rolling Stones. Summers play was less prominent than Stewart’s drumming, but it didn’t need to be. Instead, it was relaxed but insistent and never overbearing, perfectly equal to the sum-task of The Police’s rhythms and sonic designs.

Sting, a former school teacher who was dedicated to the blues-rock tunes that he’d heard in clubs as a high schooler, began as a guitarist, before eventually switching over to bass. Like Summmers, Sting’s bass play didn’t do anything more or less than it needed to do. Compared to similar bassists, I found Sting’s playing to be subtle and plush, never overworked or harsh.

The Police ran a table of successful albums between 1978 and 1983. In 1984, the trio unofficially split up. However, the “unofficial” tag was removed a year later, when Sting released his first notable solo effort, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. Shortly thereafter, Sting’s solo career went somewhat viral. Sting was a great solo artist, but I’ve always found his work with The Police to be edgier, much more engaging, and more raw.

Side note:
Imagine what would have happened to The Police if MTV was around in 1979… I wonder how their music would have changed. Would it have changed for the better or worse? Would Sting have left for a solo career? Would he have left even sooner?

Below, I’ve included an example of The Police in their prime. When listening to the song, pay careful attention to the drumming decisions Stewart Copeland made; pay close attention to the repetition of the guitar framework; and, finally, pay attention to how the bass is used almost as a support for the rhythm of the drum framework. I can not stress enough how much The Police—and the song “Roxanne,” in particular—helped me with my overall understanding of music creation.

The music and video below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship

The Police – “Walking on the Moon”


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About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual