Saturday, April 07, 2018

Songs from '78: "Roxanne"

"Roxanne," The Police's "signature tune according to their bassist, Andy Summers--and he's right; the only song of theirs which might challenge that judgment is, of course, "Every Breath You Take"--as released as a single in the UK today, 40 years ago. It was the second record they'd ever released, and the first with the line-up and look that made them famous (Summers on lead guitar, and Sting with spiky blonde hair), but it didn't fair any better than their first release did. In fact it got no airplay at all until they released their first album Outlandos d'Amour in the United States and toured in support of it the following year; "Roxanne" got some airplay on American radio, made a slight climb up the American charts, which prompted a re-release in the UK, and it became a top ten hit there. Better songs and much greater success lay in their future, but it was this song that really got them on their way.

Like "Because the Night," this song was too punk (although honestly, it's a jangly, guitar-heavy, reggae love song; the punkishness was all in the performers' attitudes, not in the music they made) for it to have made it onto the rock stations which formed my foundational music sensibility. I suppose I must have tracked it down sometime in very early 80s, as the hits from their later, pre-Synchronicity albums--and, in particular, as Sting's nascent fan club, which I freely admit I was a fully committed member of--increasingly turned The Police into The Band That Punks and Intellectuals Could Both Rock Too. In any case, though, once I heard it, it retroactively became part of my 1978 romance. Few songs could deserve it more.

2 comments:

John B. said...

For what it's worth, Sting credits KLBJ in Austin with being the first U.S. station to play "Roxanne." I also remembering reading an interview with either Copeland or Summers in which he said that "we still have trouble playing" "Roxanne."

Russell Arben Fox said...

Neither of those really surprise me to learn, John. Austin's a college-radio town, so they would have been hip to the still-building New Wave years before it reached the rock stations of Spokane, WA, where I grew up. And as for playing the song, I'm pretty such a remember reading an interview--maybe the same one?--where Sting confessed that The Police were "the worst rehearsed band" on the radio. Considering how much competition-bordering-on-contempt the early Sting and Copeland had for each other, it's amazing the band held together as long as it did.