What’s That Sound? Examining Sting’s half-arsed mistake on The Police song ‘Roxanne’

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The Police were known as innovators by the punk standards they grew up with. For all the misfits filling up clubs playing the bare minimum required for anyone to be a rock star, Sting was more than happy to show off his more sophisticated sense of harmony whenever the band went to make a record. That didn’t mean he forgot how to make a great melody, but when ‘Roxanne’ was unleashed upon the world, Sting introduced himself to the public arse first.

Before we look at the sound of Sting’s rear end, we need to back up and see where the band were when making the record. They had already made a few half-hearted attempts at making punk-infused hard rock on their single ‘Fall Out’, but getting Andy Summers in the band was a hell of an upgrade, bringing with him a vast knowledge of complicated harmony.

Though Sting had already gained a deep knowledge of music theory, ‘Roxanne’ might be the most simplistic song on the record. Not many could have played the strange solo in the middle of ‘So Lonely’ or the offbeat chords of ‘Hole In My Life’, but those first stabs on the record were right in the wheelhouse of playable for any promising young guitarists.

Right before Stewart Copeland’s groove starts, you hear a random chord being played on the piano, followed by some offbeat studio chatter by Sting. Whereas every critic may have been looking for some logical explanation of the artistry behind the laugh, Sting admitted that he accidentally sat on the piano as they were tracking the song.

When talking about the tracking of the song, Sting said that the whole thing was completely involuntary, saying, “There’s a piano chord on there, but I played it with my ass. There was an upright piano right next to me, and I was singing, and I just wanted a rest, and the piano lid was open, so I sat, and I played that chord. I think it’s A-demolished. It just made me laugh, so it was on the record.”

In fact, that one chord may have a lot more to do with the ethos behind the band’s debut, Outlandos D’Amour. They were still pretty green as a lineup when making the record, so including some of the gory details of the mix lent to a more punk rock attitude behind their aesthetic.

Then again, maybe not cleaning everything up was more out of necessity than anything else. While the band tended to work away to create different textures later in their career, Stewart Copeland remembered the first sessions as a lot more disheveled, including a handful of B-sides that just came from them jamming in the studio or the final version as the first time that he had ever heard the song.

The Police certainly had great musicianship between the three of them, but the fact that they left this one sonic artefact in was proof that they weren’t taking themselves too seriously. You’re already flirting with pretension when you bother to learn scales in rock and roll, so what better to break that tension than with an arse joke?

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