Imagine guitarist Andy Summers’ surprise when he heard his iconic riff from the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” for the first time as part of a Puff Daddy song — on his kid’s radio.
There’s still no small amount of resentment about it. Summers now calls “I’ll Be Missing You” one of the biggest rip offs of all time.
An uncredited co-author of the original 1983 charttopper, the guitarist wasn’t consulted when bandmate Sting sold sampling rights to Puff Daddy for a 1997 track, which became a huge hit in its own right.
Puff Daddy — who now goes by Diddy — used to Summers’ riff as the base for rap in memory of the Notorious B.I.G., who had been gunned down earlier that year. “I’ll Be Missing You,” which also featured Faith Evans, would sell more than 7 million copies.
The track appropriates elements of the legendary spiritual “I’ll Fly Away,” as well. Bassist/vocalist Sting later appeared with Puff Daddy on MTV’s Video Music Awards program in ’97, and performed the tune.
Of course, the weird part for Summers was that, while Sting sold the rights, the only sound actually sampled was the guitar. The Police’s Stewart Copeland isn’t heard on the Puff Daddy song either.
Summers tells the A.V. Club that he was originally alerted to the sample by his child.
“It was actually my kid, who was 10 at the time, who said, ‘Hey dad, there’s some girl on the radio who’s playing you guys!’ I went into his room and listened to his radio, and I was like, ‘This is me; what the fuck is this?’”
Of course, Summers has heard countless other samples and remakes over the years, and he specifically references unusual versions of Police songs with Brazilian and smooth-jazz feels. But Summers, sounding just as blindsided today as he did 15 years ago, says “I’ll Be Missing You” still bothers him.
“That was the major rip-off of all time,” Summers tells the A.V. Club. “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 fucking thing would be playing over and over. It was very bizarre while it lasted.”