Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: The Police
Guitarist Andy Summers stands up for his band
Every musician in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame means something to some faction of music fans, but not many can say that they were once in the biggest band on the planet. Guitarist Andy Summers and his bandmates in the Police, singer/bassist Sting and drummer Stewart Copeland, can make that claim.
Their late Seventies ska- and punk-seasoned hits "Roxanne," "Can't Stand Losing You" and "Message in a Bottle" had radio stations across the U.S. ditching their classic rock formats in favor of New Wave. And in the early Eighties, after the permanent or temporary dissolution of rock giants Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and the Who, the Police were the ones selling out baseball stadiums.
Unfortunately, less than a decade after they conquered America, the band members' notorious infighting boiled over in 1985, and they split up. For their upcoming Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Summers, who has recorded more than a dozen jazz fusion albums of his own, remembers when the Police were in charge.
Between the Stones and U2, the Police were the biggest band on the planet . . .
Yes, and unlike U2, we went out during our pinnacle, which was brave, and maybe foolhardy. U2 wouldn't have been the biggest band on the planet if we kept going. I know that's conjecture, but we sort of gave it up.
For me, hearing "Can't Stand Losing" on the radio in the late Seventies was a significant musical moment, because it was so different from the classic rock of the time. Do you hear that a lot?
Yeah, actually, but it's always very gratifying. I think the Hall of Fame is partly an acknowledgement of our breaking through on radio, because radio was very segmented in those days. They must be running out of people though -- it's not like there are any James Browns left to induct.
How did you react to being elected?
Well, I'd be surprised if we didn't get in, but, for the record, it's a great honor. I think we should be in there. The reason I don't like these things is I hope it's not an end, not like it's over because we're in here.
A tribute but not a tombstone?
Are you gonna play the ceremony?
Oh, absolutely we're gonna play. It's all set. We've booked two days of rehearsal time in a New York studio. I don't think we really need two days -- we could probably do it in two hours.
How do you feel about getting back together to play with those guys for the first time since -- not counting Sting and Trudy's wedding -- 1986?
Well, I've played with them a lot [individually] here and there. I see Stewart a lot more because we live right near each other in L.A., and I see Sting about twice a year. But it's gonna be great. It'll be incredible to be in the room with them again playing those songs. It's only a shame that we can't do it for more than one night -- do a proper reunion. But that'll never happen. That's not Sting's agenda.
Do you think you'll fight over song selection?
I hope not. I mean, we'll probably have to play "Every Breath You Take" and, of course, "Roxanne," but I'd love to play "Message in a Bottle."
Is that a favorite track of yours?
Oh yeah, that was one where I felt everything just came together.
There is much argument over what is the Police's definitive album. The first one, Outlandos d'Amour, was the most sound-defining, Zenyatta Mondatta gets the highest scores from the critics and Synchronicity was the biggest seller. Do you think there is one?
I'd say the second one [Reggatta de Blanc]. Not the first one, because that came out first in the U.K. and sort of dove and then took off later in the U.S. The second one came right out at Number One, and it had "Message in a Bottle."
Any other tracks that are your particular favorites in the Police catalog?
"Secret Journey." I always thought that should have been a single.
Yeah, that one's buried on the sort of meandering Side Two of Ghost in the Machine?
Yeah, I know it is. I also thought "Omega Man," a song I wrote from that album, should have been a single. Because of the politics, it wasn't -- but we won't go into all that.
Was there ever a song that didn't impress you that became huge?
Oh, sure, the prime example of that is "Roxanne." We had recorded that and kind of hid it away. It was [manager] Miles Copeland who kept playing it for people, and that's how we got the deal with A&M, and the rest is history. But Miles deserves credit for that . . . Well, I guess Sting wrote it.
Why was there so much battling in the Police?
Well, for us we were like three brothers, and with three of you there is always that two-against-one thing. We couldn't sort of break off into camps of two and two.
Were you the peacemaker?
No, I was the most fiery of the three. Stewart is the most animated, so people think he was, and Sting was sort of brooding in those days. I'm sure he's become more extroverted now -- now that he's famous.
Joe Strummer told me his theory of why the Clash broke up. He said that, unlike bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Clash were not boyhood friends and thus found it easier to go on without each other. The Police also met later in life. Was that true for you guys?
Huh, that's interesting. I like that theory. I suppose there are a lot of bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who meet in their teens, form a band and stay together. I will say though that I have a bond with Stewart and Sting that I don't share -- and will never share -- with anybody else from being in the Police.
Any thoughts on this year's other inductees?
I'm glad to see the Clash go in. They seemed to be just a cult band in the U.S., but they were very important. Elvis Costello is a great artist, and he's continued to do it for years. Who else is in?
AC/DC and the Righteous Brothers.
Yeah, AC/DC is a great band and they deserve it. The Righteous Brothers? Sure, that was a big song.
Anybody at all you think should be in there that isn't?
I think the Sex Pistols should be in. It's hard to imagine that we would have broken through the way we did in the U.S. if it weren't for the Sex Pistols.
I know Sting has been to the induction ceremony, but have you?
No, I've never been, but I've seen one on TV and I was impressed. It was very slick -- yeah that's the word. I saw the Talking Heads play, and they were great. So that's good enough for me.
Since you've left the Police you've made far more experimental and challenging music. As a guitar player do you find it ironic that the easiest stuff you ever played brought you the most attention and money?
Absolutely, but that's the business. But I am definitely a better player now than I ever was then . . . and you can't just play Police songs for the rest of your life.