|"Every Breath You Take"|
|Single by The Police|
|from the album Synchronicity|
|B-side||"Murder by Numbers"|
|Released||20 May 1983|
|Format||7-inch 45 rpm record|
|Recorded||December 1982 – February 1983|
|Label||A&M (AM 117)|
|The Police singles chronology|
"Every Breath You Take" is a song by the English rock band the Police from their album Synchronicity (1983). Written by Sting, the single was the biggest US and UK hit of 1983, topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for eight weeks (the band's only No. 1 hit on that chart), and the UK Singles Chart for four weeks. It also topped the Billboard Top Tracks chart for nine weeks.
At the 26th Annual Grammy Awards the song was nominated for three Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year, Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and Record of the Year, winning in the first two categories. For the song, Sting received the 1983 Ivor Novello award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.
The song is considered to be both the Police's and Sting's signature song, and in 2010 was estimated to generate between a quarter and a third of Sting's music publishing income. In the 1983 Rolling Stone critics' and readers' poll, it was voted "Song of the Year". In the US, it was the best-selling single of 1983 and fifth-best-selling single of the decade. Billboard ranked it as the No. 1 song for 1983.
In May 2019, “Every Breath You Take” was recognized by BMI as being the most played song in radio history. With nearly 15 million radio plays, Sting received a BMI Award at a ceremony held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills to mark it being the Most Performed Song in BMI’s catalogue, a distinction previously held since 1999 by Mann and Weill’s “You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'”. BMI President and CEO Mike O’Neill stated: “For the first time in 22 years, BMI has a new top song in our repertoire with Sting’s timeless hit ‘Every Breath You Take,’ a remarkable achievement that solidifies its place in songwriting history.”
The song ranked No. 84 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. It also ranked number 25 on Billboard's Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs. In 2008, Q magazine named it among the top 10 British Songs of the 1980s. In 2015, the song was voted by the British public as the nation's favourite 1980s number one in a UK-wide poll for ITV.
Origins and songwriting
Sting wrote the song in 1982 in the aftermath of his separation from Frances Tomelty and the beginning of his relationship with Trudie Styler. Their split was controversial. As The Independent reported in 2006, "The problem was, he was already married – to actress Frances Tomelty, who just happened to be Trudie's best friend (Sting and Frances lived next door to Trudie in Bayswater, West London, for several years before the two of them became lovers). The affair was widely condemned." In order to escape from the public eye, Sting retreated in the Caribbean. He started writing the song at Ian Fleming's writing desk on the Goldeneye estate in Oracabessa, Jamaica. The lyrics are the words of a possessive lover who is watching "every breath you take; every move you make". Sting recalls:
I woke up in the middle of the night with that line in my head, 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 realise at the time how sinister it is. I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control.
Sting later said he was disconcerted by how many people think the song is more positive than it is. He insists it is about the obsession with a lost lover, and the jealousy and surveillance that follow. "One couple told me 'Oh we love that song; it was the main song played at our wedding!' I thought, 'Well, good luck.'" When asked why he appears angry in the music video, Sting told BBC Radio 2, "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." Gary T. Marx, sociologist and scholar of surveillance studies, wrote in 1988 that, while the song was "a love rather than a protest song", it "nicely captures elements of the new surveillance". He compared the lines to various new technologies of surveillance, including linking "every breath you take" to "breath analyzer", "every step you take" to "electronic anklet", and "every vow you break" to "voice stress analysis".
According to the Back to Mono box-set book, "Every Breath You Take" is influenced by a Gene Pitney song titled "Every Breath I Take". Led Zeppelin's song, "D'yer Mak'er" (1973), also contains the words "every breath I take; every move I make". The song has an AABACABA structure.
The demo of the song was recorded in an eight-track suite in North London's Utopia studios and featured Sting singing over a Hammond organ. A few months later he presented the song to the other band members when they reconvened at George Martin's AIR Studios in Montserrat to work on the Synchronicity album. While recording, guitarist Andy Summers came up with a guitar part inspired by Béla Bartók that would later become a trademark lick, and played it straight through in one take. He was asked to put guitar onto a simple backing track of bass, drums, and a single vocal, with Sting offering no directive beyond "make it your own." Summers remembers:
This was a difficult one to get, because Sting wrote a very good song, but there was no guitar on it. He had this Hammond organ thing that sounded like Billy Preston. It certainly didn't sound like the Police, with that big, rolling synthesizer part. 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.
The recording process was fraught with difficulties as personal tensions between the band members, particularly Sting and Stewart Copeland, came to the fore. Producer Hugh Padgham claimed that by the time of the recording sessions, Sting and Copeland "hated each other", with verbal and physical fights in the studio common. The tensions almost led to the recording sessions being cancelled until a meeting involving the band and the group's manager, Miles Copeland (Stewart's brother), resulted in an agreement to continue. Keyboard parts were added from Roland guitar synthesizers, a Prophet-5 and an Oberheim synthesiser. The single-note piano in the middle eight was recommended by Padgham, inspired by similar work that he had done with the group XTC. The drum track was largely created through separate overdubs of each percussive instrument, with the main backbeat created by simultaneously playing a snare and a gong drum. To give the song more liveliness, Padgham asked Copeland to record his drum part in the studio's dining room in order to achieve some "special sound effects". The room, however, was so hot that Copeland's drum sticks had to be taped to his hands to avoid slippage. According to Stewart Copeland:
In my humble opinion, this is Sting's best song with the worst arrangement. I think Sting could have had any other group do this song and it would have been better than our version—except for Andy's brilliant guitar part. Basically, there's an utter lack of groove. It's a totally wasted opportunity for our band. Even though we made gazillions off of it, and it's the biggest hit we ever had.
The song had a music video (directed by duo Godley & Creme) loosely based on Gjon Mili's 1944 short film Jammin' the Blues. Shot in black-and-white with a navy blue tint, the video depicts the band, accompanied by a pianist and string section, performing the song in a darkened ballroom as a man washes the floor-to-ceiling window behind them. Sting performs his part on upright bass rather than bass guitar.
The video was praised for its cinematography; MTV (1999), Rolling Stone (1993), and VH1 (2002) named it as one of the best music videos ever, placing it 16th, 61st, & 33rd in their respective top 100 lists. Daniel Pearl won the first MTV cinematography award for his work on the video. Released in the early days of MTV, "Every Breath You Take" was one of the earliest videos to enter heavy rotation, a fact that significantly contributed to the popularity of the song. Pop star Richard Marx remembers that "the first video I watched over and over was 'Every Breath You Take'. It was like seeing a Bergman film. Directors usually spelled out every word of the lyrics in a video, but this was the first video I knew that didn't do that. It was abstract." According to A&M co-founder Jeff Ayeroff, "[The video for] 'Every Breath You Take' probably cost $75,000 to $100,000, and we sold over 5 million albums. With a good video, the return on your investment was phenomenal."
"Every Breath You Take" was released as a single in 1983, with "Murder by Numbers", a composition by Andy Summers and Sting, on the B-side. "Every Breath You Take" reached the No. 1 spot in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Israel, Ireland, and South Africa. In the 1983 Rolling Stone critics and readers poll, it was voted "Song of the Year".
In 1999, "Every Breath You Take" was listed as one of the Top 100 Songs of the Century by BMI. In May 2019, BMI updated the list and “Every Breath You Take” was recognized as the Most Performed Song in BMI’s catalogue, a distinction previously held by Mann and Weill’s “You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'”. In 2003, VH1 ranked the song the No. 2 greatest Break-up song of all time. As of 2003, Sting was still taking in an average of $2000 per day in royalties for the song.
In October 2007, Sting was awarded a Million-Air certificate for nine million airplays of "Every Breath You Take" at the BMI Awards show in London, with only Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" a close second at 8 million air plays.
The song is sampled in Puff Daddy's 1997 hit "I'll Be Missing You," which would later go platinum multiple times and win a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group; Sting ultimately participated in a performance of "I'll Be Missing You" at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards.
It is one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. On the 60th anniversary of the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, on Billboard released the "Greatest of All Time Hot 100 Singles" chart where the song was ranked No. 29. On the 50th anniversary of the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, the song was ranked No. 25 on Billboard's "The All-Time Top 100 Songs" chart.
- 7": A&M / AM 117
- "Every Breath You Take" – 3:56
- "Murder by Numbers" – 4:31
- 2x7": A&M / AM 117
- "Every Breath You Take" – 4:13
- "Murder by Numbers" – 4:31
- "Man in a Suitcase" (Live) – 2:18
- "Truth Hits Everybody '83" – 3:34
- Rare 2x7" single
- Sting – lead and backing vocals, bass guitar, synthesizers
- Andy Summers – guitars, piano
- Stewart Copeland – drums, Oberheim DX
Charts and certifications
Sales and certifications
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