BassTalk 03.01.2024: The first time I saw The Police on TV was when a Danish TV legend played the video for 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' on DR TV. I loved the intro with the deep synth bass, Andy Summers few opening guitar figures, followed by Stewart Copeland's special hi-hat work and with the kick drum on 3. The top line had that special Police melody. In the second verse, Sting raises the vocal an octave because it sounds cool and because he can. 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' is from the album Zenyatta Mondatta (1980) and is the band's 3rd album. From then on I was a fan of The Police and I still am.
A couple of cousins in the family in Odense started listening to Police before I came on board, and they had the band's first two albums 'Outlandos D'Amour (1978) and Reggatta De Blanck (1979), so I could listen to them after school. After all, it was a long time before the bliss of the internet, so you could only hear what was played on flow radio and what you had access to via tapes and records. It was either one's own records, records from friends and family or tapes and records from the Odense Music Library.
For many years I was primarily a bassist in all sorts of contexts within a wide range of genres of rhythmic music. But I have always been preoccupied with the creative aspect of my musicianship, so even though I had many gigs as a bassist that had a character of task solving, I wrote my own compositions and songs early on. In this context, it was interesting to delve into how the music that I love is created. For most of The Police's back catalogue, I hear space in the sound image, because it is a trio and therefore there is often a high degree of air in the music, and the sound image does not become oversaturated, so to speak. The music also contains a high energy level, which is particularly driven by Stewart Copeland's energetic drumming. He has some interesting thoughts about tempo, which I like because it becomes the energy of the music that is dictating, to a greater extent than the metronome.
But since this is a Bass Talk, of course we also have to talk about Sting as a bassist. It is clear to fans of The Police that he had the perfect bright and powerful voice for this particular band. Sting is an excellent songwriter, but he also does some really interesting things on the bass. Listen to the iconic but simple line in 'Walking On The Moon' (1979). The bass makes room for all the subdivisions played on the drums by Stewart Copeland, which gives the song a reggae feel. Andy Summers makes big timbres via chords that in the verse are staggered compared to the bass. Again there is an interesting top line in the vocals with a single big interval that gives the melody character. In response to the question about why Sting leaves a lot of space in his bass lines, he stated at one point: That it's really about getting the vocals to work together with the bass in the first place.
Anyone who has tried to play bass and sing at the same time knows that it is demanding, and therefore it makes good sense to consider how active one's bass lines should be if you’re also the lead singer of the band. This is because the bass, which controls the bottom of the music, often has different rhythmic emphases than the top line of the vocals.
Another interesting bass line is found in the song 'Bring On The Night', where Sting has a lifted offbeat figure in the song's verse, and an almost melodic call response line in the chorus, seen in relation to the vocals. Sting was actually the reason why I started playing bass, after I had heard him in a radio interview, where he explained that in his eyes the bass is an apparently anonymous instrument, but in reality the bass is very controlling in a band, as you by changing just a single note can change the whole feeling of the chord, since the bass is usually at the bottom of the chord, and is therefore controlling in relation to how chords are heard.
I've had the pleasure of hearing Sting live a few times, but the highlight was when I heard The Police on their reunion tour at Vestereng in Aarhus on a cold September night in 2007. I'm a big fan of both Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers. Sting has been a great inspiration as a songwriter and singer, but at the same time he is highly placed on my favorite list of singing bassists in music history.
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