The Story of... 'Every Breath You Take' by The Police

15 February 2021, 11:28 | Updated: 15 February 2021, 11:37

The Story of... 'Every Breath You Take' by The Police
The Story of... 'Every Breath You Take' by The Police. Picture: A&M/YouTube

By Tom Eames

The Police's classic hit 'Every Breath You Take' remains one of the best-selling and most loved tracks of all time, let alone the 1980s.

But did you know about the fascinating backstory behind Sting's stalking classic?

In 2019, Sting received a BMI Award for 'Every Breath You Take', after it became the most played song in radio history. An incredible feat.

What inspired the moody song? Why do people think it's a romantic song? Why was there a fallout between the band over the song?

Here's all you need to know about 'Every Breath You Take':

  1. Who wrote 'Every Breath You Take'?

    Sting in 1982
    Sting in 1982. Picture: Getty

    Police star Sting wrote the song in 1982, and it was later included on the band's fifth and final album Synchronicity, released a year later.

  2. What was the inspiration and meaning behind 'Every Breath You Take'?

    Sting and his ex-partner Frances Tomelty in 1980
    Sting and his ex-partner Frances Tomelty in 1980. Picture: Getty
    • Sting wrote it in the aftermath of his separation from Frances Tomelty, and the beginning of his relationship with Trudie Styler.

    • 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). The affair was widely condemned."

    • To escape from the public eye, Sting retreated in the Caribbean where he started writing the song.
    Sting And Trudie Styler in 1982
    Sting And Trudie Styler in 1982. Picture: Getty

    Sting later said: "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 realize at the time how sinister it is. I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control."

    Read more: The moment Sting jumped on stage to join overwhelmed singer in rendition of 'Englishman in New York'

    • According to the Back to Mono box-set, the song is influenced by a Gene Pitney tack titled 'Every Breath I Take'.

    • Led Zeppelin's song, 'D'Yer Mak'er', also contains the words 'every breath I take; every move I make'.
  3. What is 'Every Breath You Take' about?

    • Although often thought of as a love song, the lyrics are the words of a possessive lover who is watching "every breath you take; every move you make".

    • Sting later said he was disconcerted by how many people think it is a positive song. He insists it is about the obsession with a lost lover, and the jealousy that follows.

    Read more: Sting's 10 greatest songs ever, ranked

    He said: "One couple told me 'Oh we love that song; it was the main song played at our wedding!' I thought, 'Well, good luck'.

    "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."

  4. How was the song made?

    The Police in 1979
    The Police in 1979. Picture: Getty

    The demo was recorded in an eight-track suite in London's Utopia studios and featured Sting singing over a Hammond organ.

    A few months later, he presented it to his bandmates in Montserrat. While recording, Andy Summers came up with a guitar part inspired by Béla Bartók, that would later become the famous riff, and played it in one take.

    He was asked to put guitar onto a simple backing track, with Sting offering no directive beyond "make it your own."

    Summers later said: "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 synthesiser 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."

  5. Why did it cause problems in the band?

    The Police
    The Police. Picture: Getty
    • Tensions were already running high within the Police, particularly between Sting and Copeland.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    Copeland said: "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."

  6. What happens in the music video?

    • The music video was directed by duo Godley & Creme of 10cc. It was loosely based on Gjon Mili's 1944 short film Jammin' the Blues.

    • Shot in black-and-white, the video show 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.

    Read more: Listen to Sting's new version of 'Every Breath You Take' from new album 'My Songs'

    Singer Richard Marx once said: "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."

  7. How did it perform in the charts?

    • The song is considered to be both The Police's and Sting's signature song, and in 2010 was estimated to bring in between a quarter and a third of Sting's music publishing income.

    • In the US, it was the best-selling single of 1983 and fifth-best-selling single of the decade.

    • The song ranked number 84 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

    • In 2015, the song was voted by the British public as the nation's favourite 1980s number one in a poll for ITV.

    • It topped both the UK and US charts, and was number one for nine weeks in the latter.
  8. It had a new lease of life in 1997 (which caused more problems for the band)

    • The song's famous riff was sampled in Puff Daddy's 1997 number one tribute The Notorious BIG, 'I'll Be Missing You', which was a massive international hit.

    • However, despite only using Summers' riff rather than Sting's contribution, only Sting ever receives royalties. In 2010, 'Every Breath You Take' was estimated to generate between a quarter and a third of Sting's music publishing income.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Fields of Gold' by Sting

    Summers said: "And I mean, it’s very flattering. I guess everybody likes it. You can work yourself up into a fury about 'Why am I not getting paid for it?'.

    Andy Summers performed the song's famous riff
    Andy Summers performed the song's famous riff. Picture: Getty

    "The Puff Daddy one was weird for me, because, I mean, what do you use with the guitar riff? He actually sampled my guitar, and that’s what he based his whole track on. Stewart’s not on it. Sting’s not on it.

    "I’d be walking round Tower Records, and the f**king thing would be playing over and over. It was very bizarre while it lasted."