The Police's Stewart Copeland thought 'Roxanne' was a "throwaway song" when Sting first wrote it

8 January 2024, 13:22

'Roxanne' was The Police's breakthrough hit, and paved the band's way to global superstardom.
'Roxanne' was The Police's breakthrough hit, and paved the band's way to global superstardom. Picture: Getty/A&M Records

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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Their relationship has forever been tumultuous.

Ever since The Police formed in 1977, tensions continued to rise amongst the three band mates until their eventual demise.

Though they officially called it a day in 1986, that was after a two-year hiatus and several instances where they'd threatened to break up the band.

Even at the height of their success, being touted as the "world's biggest rock band", it wasn't enough to salvage any future for Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers.

And you can understand why, particularly where Sting and Copeland were concerned, who almost constantly squabbled in the recording studio.

Creative tensions would frequently boil over into the public realm, and the pair would openly spat about the band's direction, given Sting ruled the roost when it came to songwriting.

In a new interview, Stewart Copeland revealed that even with The Police's breakthrough single that he was dismissive of Sting's creative integrity.

'Roxanne' is now a sure-fire classic, but at the time, Copeland admitted that he thought the 1978 track was a "throwaway song" and had no chance of being a hit.

The Police - Roxanne (Official Music Video)

"We were struggling and starving and going nowhere for about a year and a half, and [Sting] wrote it without any agenda," the iconic drummer recently recalled on The Bob Lefsetz Podcast.

"It was certainly not a Police song because we were still theoretically a punk band," with Copeland sticking to the punk ethos whilst Sting and Andy Summer wanted to embrace other sonic territory.

"I was the one cracking the punk whip," he revealed in the interview. "No, we've got to be punk. We've got to be punk. And they're saying, 'Can't we just play?'"

According to Copeland, Sting "secretly" shared the idea for 'Roxanne' with Summers first, knowing that he was more open-minded about new musical directions.

After his initial excitement, he shared the song with Copeland, who initially poo-poo'd it, despite it going on to become the band's first charting hit.

"I gave it a drum beat that was kind of bass-ackwards and made it into a Police song," Copeland explained. "It wasn't punk-o-rama, but it was still a rock song, even though it was kind of a lament."

The Police's Stewart Copeland: 'Sting was an arrogant "Lion King" from birth, but a golden shaft of light'

"It was a throwaway song, he added, still unconvinced about the song's potential. Until his brother Miles - who was the band's manager at the time - thought otherwise.

"He hears it, 'Folks are going to love this. And I don't care if it's any good or not, but I do know folks are going to love this,'" Stewart said.

The drummer continued: "He took it and he said, 'I'll take that to a record company,' And they said, ‘OK, we'll release that as a single.’ And the rest is history."

Inspired by prostitutes and the 1897 Edmond Rostand play Cyrano de Bergerac, the subject matter of 'Roxanne' was unlike any songs from the era that made it into the mainstream charts.

Nevertheless, it reached No.12 in the UK charts after its 1979 re-release, starting the band's journey toward global superstardom, despite Copeland's initial protestation.

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