With Reggatta de Blanc, the Police kept it simple on the way to stardom

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Another band might have felt some pressure after enjoying a Top 10 UK debut. But the Police were determined to follow up Outlandos d’Amour with something that remained in the moment, free of label influence and of overthinking.

Thus Reggatta de Blanc, released on October 2, 1979, would be recorded with the songs at hand, or with updates of things that had come before. It would be recorded in just a matter of days, and with the same producer — against the express wishes of A&M Records.

This approach gave Reggatta de Blanc a fizzy, very present feel, even as it ensured that proceeds from the Police’s debut would more than cover expenses. The result didn’t just confirm their newfound place in the rock firmament, it turned the Police into budding superstars. Both “Message in a Bottle” and “Walking on the Moon” became chart-topping UK hits.

The Police filled out Reggatta de Blanc with songs like “Bring on the Night” — which, owing to the fast-paced, improvisatory nature of these sessions, included recycled lyrics from Sting’s previous band, Last Exit. The song, which would also serve as the title for a subsequent concert release by Sting, is one of several where Andy Summers makes prominent use of his thumb.

“There are certainly times when it’s nice to play like that,” Andy Summers tells us, in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown. “I don’t do it all of the time; it depends on what you’re playing. Certainly, I like it on slower things.”

A technique most associated with jazz legend Wes Montgomery, its rare practitioners also include Jeff Beck and John Abercrombie.

“I don’t have the rapid speed that Wes had — and I don’t think anybody’s ever had that,” Summers adds. “The thing about playing with your thumb on your strings is, you’re essentially one closer. There’s really nothing between you and it. Especially, if you are playing a ballad, I find that playing with the thumb, you phrase differently than you do with a pick. You get this very sweet sound. You play, in a way, more soulfully. There’s something about the thumb that takes you right into it.”

Elsewhere, “Does Everyone Stare” grew out of an old Stewart Copeland instrumental. “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” was also fashioned out of Last Exit’s repertoire. “No Time This Time,” which closed out Reggatta de Blanc, had earlier appeared as the B-side for “So Lonely.” Even the band-written title track grew out of their extended live performances of “Can’t Stand Losing You.”

It didn’t matter. The still fresh-sounding Reggatta de Blanc leapt out of speakers, and then up the charts — becoming the Police’s first UK No. 1 album even as it went Top 5 in five other countries. That title song earned the Police a Grammy for best rock instrumental. Conquering America, where Reggatta de Blanc settled at No. 25, would take a bit longer. But the Police were on their way.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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