1983 was a momentous year for rock albums. In 2023, we find ourselves 40 years away from that era. With “On Fire At 40,” we take some time to speak to artists and band members about their albums celebrating this significant anniversary. Each month, we will speak to a different artist or band member about their album. This month, we speak with Andy Summers of The Police about their album “Synchronicity” turning 40. The album was released on June 17th, 1983.
Andy and I began our discussion of “Synchronicity” speaking about the album cover. Andy needed just a little reminding of what the album cover was. Luckily, I had my vinyl copy that I bought back in 1983 handy. Andy recognized it right away. You can’t look into the concept of even the album’s cover without talking about Carl Jung. So that is exactly what Andy did. He said “Synchronicity” is a “Fancy word for coincidence.” Andy mentioned he had been to a Jungian therapist and so read the book “Synchronicity” and then passed it on to Sting. Being into photography Andy was the band member who hired Duane Michals to shoot the pictures for the cover. Andy said none of the band members knew what the others were doing as far as the photos they were shooting for the album. They each came up with their own ideas and “Duane would execute them.” Andy even informed me that there were 36 different versions of the cover and that there are some covers that even he does not have copies of. He spoke of a rare cover that was done in Gold, Silver and Bronze which he does not have. None of the band members saw the album covers until the day it was released. Andy shared a pretty funny story about an idea for photos he was taking that involved butterflies.
We spoke about how polished the album was with tracks like “Every Breath You Take”, Wrapped Around Your Finger”, “King Of Pain” and “Tea In The Sahara.” But there is one song that stood out as having the most edge, “Mother” which in an Andy Summers composition. The song despite its edge seems to have an orchestral feel. And that orchestral feel seems to be mimicked by the guitar on the track. Andy responded “What can I say? I wrote it, composed it, and was dead scared that my mother, my own mother would be incredibly offended. She laughed her ass off; she thought it was great.” Andy said the track was inspired by Captain Beefheart.
As huge as the album was there appears to be much made of the tension in the band at the time. Andy did however say that he never witnessed the alleged fist fight between Sting and Stewart Copeland while recording “Every Breath You Take.” He did however joke that “I had to beat both of them up quite often.” Andy spoke of how they hit a point where the tension was so bad, they just couldn’t do anymore. They were recording on the island of Montserrat. Sir George Martin, famous for the work he did with The Beatles, was on the island. They decided to get George in. Andy hiked his way across the island to where George was to speak to him. He described the journey as quite a difficult one. When he arrived at George’s house and was invited in, he felt much more at ease about the situation just to be in George’s presence. Andy explained the situation to George who was convinced they’d be able to “Sort it out.” Andy spoke of how it was almost as if Sir George Martin waved a magic wand, and everything was fixed. He hiked back to the other side of the island, and they became polite to one another and finished the album.
MTV was very much a part of the music industry in 1983. However, “Synchronicity” has highly intelligent lyrics and themes. It made me ask if they felt it was a risk to go after something so intelligent when many people were seemingly dumbing things down. Andy’s immediate response was that “You have to be true to yourself and that’s what was coming out. I mean we weren’t dumb guys at all. They’re all actually pretty well read, very educated people. We weren’t like a typical rock band at all.” Despite the album having a title which not many people understood, it gave them a lot to speak about when being interviewed. Andy even discussed how the album went straight to the #1 spot on the charts and stayed there for about 4 months, it even kept Michael Jackson out of the top spot.
With all the successes the album had it made me ask Andy, at what point did the band members realize they had such a good album. “I don’t know if we ever felt that actually” came as a quick reply. Although there was a certain smugness with the band, thinking whatever they did would be great, Andy said he didn’t think they’d ever felt they’d made a great record. That was also when Andy shared that he felt the second Police album “Reggatta de Blanc” was their best. He even shared that a lot of people wanted to play with them including Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell but “We refused them all.” It seemed that as they were completing the album, they ran into some tension again. Andy said that he solved the sequencing issue by simply suggesting they put the up-tempo songs on one side and the slower tunes on the other.
Watch the conversation above and you can check out the rest of the “On Fire At 40″ series here.
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