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#ThrowbackThursday: “Roxanne” by The Police

Image via A&M Records

by Sean Smith

The English rock band The Police released their debut single in America 38 years ago tomorrow. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the band’s main trio forming the group.

Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers are the three mainstay members of The Police. These three artists first played a gig together in August of 1977 at a small venue in Birmingham, England. They originally set out to be a punk band, which was a very popular sound at the time in the United Kingdom, though they were never really fully accepted by many artists in that genre.

The Police had no record deal or even a manager when they got into the studio to record their first album. This being the case, the band had an extremely small budget for the project. One way the group saved money to be able to complete the project was to record at Surrey Studios, just outside of London, during traditionally slow times for the studio or when other bands cancelled their sessions. Thus not being charged the normal full price for their studio time.

As the band began to record songs for their debut album at Surrey Studios, Stewart Copeland’s brother Miles came by and listened to what they had done so far. When he heard the track “Roxanne” he thought he heard a hit. With permission of the band, he took the song to A&M Records to try to get The Police signed to a deal. The record label agreed to distribute the single and shortly after agreed to sign the band to their label.

The Police’s debut album Outlandos d’Amour was recorded over a period of six months and was ultimately released in November of 1978. The lead single was the aforementioned track “Roxanne.” It was originally released in the United Kingdom on April 7, 1978. The song did not perform well upon its original release. Not only did it fail to chart in the UK, it also failed to receive airplay on BBC Radio due to it’s subject matter.

Sting was inspired to write “Roxanne” when he and his fellow bandmates were staying at a shady hotel in a not so upstanding part of Paris, France. He was walking the streets around the hotel and noticed all of the prostitutes working their way up and down the avenue. He wondered to himself what it would be like to fall in love with one of them, and “Roxanne” was born.

Despite it’s failure to chart in the UK, “Roxanne” was released as The Police’s first single in the United States on February 24, 1979. The track performed moderately better in the U.S. as by April of 1979 it had broken into the Billboard Hot 100 chart and reached as high as the #32 position.  The stateside success of the song spurred A&M Records to re-release “Roxanne” back across the pond, and this time around it charted as high as the #12 spot on the UK Singles chart.

So with this week marking 38 years since The Police released their first single in America, this week we take a moment to remember that song, “Roxanne.” Enjoy.


The Police


A&M Records