Among the greatest hits of the 1980s, “Every Breath You Take” marked a career milestone for The Police. Composed by the band’s frontman Sting, the song was well-received for its repetitive and catchy lyrics. The memorable guitar riff played by Andy Summers added more flavour to it, making it legendary. These are only a few reasons why “Every Breath You Take” reached the peak it did.
“Every Breath You Take” is still lauded as Sting’s best song. And this is because the lyrics came from an intensely personal place. At the time of composition, Sting was drawing a lot of criticism for his affair with Trudie Styler – while he was married to her best friend Frances Tomelty. Sting felt that his actions were constantly watched and he attempted to escape the public scrutiny by retreating to Jamaica. The first few lines of the song came to him late at night while he was going through these events. The tune itself was composed in half an hour. Sting elaborated on the inspiration behind the song:
“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 realise at the time how sinister it is. I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control.”
Of course, the song was not just yet done. Sting later gave The Police’s guitarist Andy Summers free rein to incorporate a guitar part. Summers experimented with many sounds until he came up with one that everyone was satisfied with. He described the process:
“We spent about six weeks recording just the snare drums and the bass. It was a simple, classic chord sequence, but we couldn’t agree how to do it. I’d been making an album with Robert Fripp, and I was kind of experimenting with playing Bartok violin duets and had worked up a new riff. When Sting said ‘go and make it your own’, I went and stuck that lick on it, and immediately we knew we had something special.”
“Every Breath You Take” is a hit single from ‘Synchronicity’, which is one of the most critically acclaimed albums by The Police. The album was released on June 17, 1983, and included some of the band’s other mega-hits, such as “King of Pain” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. ‘Synchronicity’ was nominated for a total of five Grammys at the 26th annual awards, and bagged three – Song of the Year for “Every Breath You Take”, Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
However, the album also marked the beginning of the end for the band. During the recordings, tensions between Sting and The Police’s drummer Stewart Copeland ran high, eventually leading to their disbandment. Copeland talking about the atmosphere at the time said:
“We were in paradise, creating our own hell. But in the bitter despond of that trench warfare, we could all hear that this music was f**king great.”
Despite the conflict that gave birth to it, “Every Breath You Take” remains a favourite of generations to come. What better proof of this can we offer other than Puff Daddy’s “I’ll be Missing You”? This song released in the late ’90s samples “Every Breath You Take”, and it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for eleven weeks!
Its many accolades over the years are a testament to the popularity of “Every Breath You Take”. The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 and was charted #1 on RPM Canada Top Singles, IRMA Ireland, and OCC UK Singles among many others. It ranked #305 on Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list published in 2021. In 2002, the song became 5x Multi-Platinum certified by RIAA and in June 2019, gained the BPI Platinum certification as well.
Listen to “Every Breath You Take” by The Police
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The Police “Every Breath You Take” Lyrics Review and Song Meaning
The lyrics of “Every Breath You Take” are as uncomplicated as it gets! And this is probably the secret behind the song’s huge success. It doesn’t take much effort to remember the lines and sing-along, making it a staple in party playlists. But that is just scratching the surface. The unexpected depth of the lyrics will definitely be a surprise.
“Every breath you take
And every move you make”
What appears to be the ramblings of a besotted lover suddenly takes a dark turn with the concluding line “I’ll be watchin’ you”. The song is no longer about being infatuated but rather about being possessive – to the extent of being obsessive. Every move, word, and action is being monitored. And this feeling is magnified when broken vows, fake smiles, and playing games are mentioned. It brings out the feelings of a jilted lover that is unwilling to let go.
“Oh, can’t you see
You belong to me?”
The sinister feel to the song gains more traction at this point. It is stated outright that the lover believes that his beloved belongs to him and him alone. These lines probably came from Sting’s personal experience at the time – the ugly truth of love that turned possessive. Or the fact that he had to constantly watch his behaviour due to his illicit affair. But it’s also the sound of someone desperate for love, speaking of heartache that comes with not being able to acknowledge or declare the love he feels. This becomes clear when the bridge starts playing.
“I dream at night, I can only see your face
I look around but it’s you I can’t replace”
The song speaks about the pain of losing someone you love. How it feels to think only of your beloved, how that he would find no other love like this again. And the loneliness that comes with love lost. The accompaniment at this point is a breakaway from the guitar riff and Sting’s vocals swell up in despair before the song returns to its original mellowness.
“Every Breath You Take” then goes back to its repeating lines. Maybe this was done intentionally. Just like a lover that returns to that one person who holds his heart, the song cycles back to the previous lines. The obsessiveness comes to the forefront as each line is repeated. ‘Every breath, move, step, bond, smile’ loop again and again while the backup vocals add “I’ll be watchin’ you” as the song fades out. The song’s cheerful melody is a perfect cover-up for its darker meaning. It was no wonder that Sting was caught off guard when he discovered that “Every Breath You Take” was a popular song of choice for weddings.
Many people, unaware of the origins of the song, misinterpret it to be one of pure love. Some even liken it to the overprotective love that a parent would feel towards a child. And as wonderful as those may interpretations are, we have to go with what Sting himself thought about it. “Every Breath You Take” has more to do with the darker undertones of unrequited love. But no matter what your take is, there is no doubt that “Every Breath You Take” is one of the greatest songs ever recorded!
Let us hear what you think about this song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics on Genius.