Oct 08

THE POLICE – “Walking On The Moon”

FT + Popular67 comments • 4,095 views

#447, 8th December 1979

“Walking On The Moon” has two strong, distinct and positive associations for me. It’s one of the first videos I can remember, and I was beyond impressed that The Police were standing around playing in front of an actual spaceship. Having no idea what dub reggae, or indeed any reggae, might be, I associated the record’s strange lope with the bouncy effects of moonwalking, which I knew from Herge’s Explorers On The Moon were quite dramatic. Of course I’m pretty sure this was Sting’s intention – at least on the chorus which has a certain sproing to it.

The second association comes from years later, on honeymoon in Poland in November. If the jump from “Poland in November” to “honeymoon” seems large to you, then I can’t blame you, but we had a lovely time. One afternoon we got a bus from Bialystok to Bialowieza, a village on the very edge of Europe, in the middle of the continent’s last primeval forest. The bus was busy: we had to take separate seats so I got my discman out. The forest itself was magnificent, but to get there we passed through what looked like desperately poor farming areas, mostly deserted – abandoned plots, rusting machinery and bleached winter fields laid out flat under a grey sky. I’d filled my holiday CDs in a pre-wedding rush, but the sequence of tracks was perfectly bleak: David Banner’s “Cadillac On 22s”; UB40’s “The Earth Dies Screaming”; Culture’s “Two Sevens Clash” – and this. So when I hear it now it’s that blasted landscape that comes to mind, rather than Sting’s metaphor for infatuated giddiness.

As with “Message In A Bottle”, Sting’s contribution on bass is terrific – its sprightliness injecting that vital lift into the chorus which gives the record a bit of extra shape and direction. His contribution on vocals is less successful – another obstacle course of weird inflections for the listener to negotiate. But the compelling soundworld of “Walking” – skittering drums, echoed stabs of guitar and most of all so much space – is still an unusually abstract one for the top of the charts. Vocals aside, “Walking” finds a workable accord between pop and dub and exploits it superbly.



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  1. 51
    Waldo on 10 Oct 2008 #

    Funny you should say that, Rosie. Liz and I had rabbit when in Brussels recently. Since I have stoked at least half a dozen on the A27 in the last year or so, I felt obliged, not holding with killing for sport, but being an uncurable meat eater. Nice tucker, as it happens, especially with a few bottles of Duval, a local beer which really takes your head off.

  2. 52
    DJ Punctum on 10 Oct 2008 #

    God I fucking HATE people :-((((

  3. 53
    Waldo on 10 Oct 2008 #

    Bang goes your job in our Icelandic Embassy, son!

  4. 54
    DJ Punctum on 10 Oct 2008 #

    OK, we can either talk about the quality, the nature and the potential influence of “Walking On The Moon” by the Police or I can post 500 consecutive pictures of Sarah Palin on every thread on Popular. The choice is yours.

  5. 55
    Tom on 10 Oct 2008 #

    Calm down everyone, there’s something else to talk about now.

  6. 56
    Mark G on 10 Oct 2008 #

    I’m getting that EDIT thing again…

  7. 57
    DJ Punctum on 10 Oct 2008 #

    You do what you like. That Pink Floyd thread was the last straw for me.

  8. 58
    Conrad on 10 Oct 2008 #

    A Number 2 followed by two consecutive Number 1s, all in the space of 4 months. That’s mighty impressive.

    Were The Police the most popular band in the country as 1979 drew to a close? It must have been a close run thing with Blondie, Numan and possibly The Jam coming up on the rails.

  9. 59
    rosie on 10 Oct 2008 #

    Waldo @ 51: That would be Duvel, I take it? Not Duval (neither Robert nor Shelley.) I have very fond memories of being taken out to dinner at the Falstaff near the Grand Place and enjoying an excellent lapin au kriek. Accompanied, of course, by a bottle or three of kriek bier. Made me feel like I was walking on the moon…

  10. 60
    Kat but logged out innit on 10 Oct 2008 #

    I like this record well enough – reading the comments on this post about ‘giant steps’ etc it struck me that I don’t know any of the words apart from, well, “Walking On The Moon”. It never really occurred to me that the other noises Sting was making on the (great) melody contained words! I know that sounds very ignorant, but my point is here that no matter how great a song Sting writes, his lack of charisma is such that I will never be interested in anything he has to say. I am perfectly happy to continue believing that the song is merely about the gravitational properties of the lunar surface.

    Musically, I think WOTM does the sparse-arrangement thing much better than ‘Another Brick In The Wall’. The video is a bit of a disappointment – I guess I must have imagined Sting in a space suit bouncing along in slow motion? And they all look like they should probably invest in a bottle of Pantene conditioning serum.

  11. 61
    Waldo on 11 Oct 2008 #

    Rosie # 59 – Yes, Duvel, of course. Oddly, they’re selling it in my local Sainsbury’s just now. The Grand Place is wonderful. We actually came across a fellow there playing “Purple Haze” on a violin. And this was BEFORE I started drinking.

  12. 62
    Malice Cooper on 14 Oct 2008 #

    This is dross at its worst. Banal lyrics, repetitive, weak cod-reggae and Sting with his usual squeaking insincerity. If ever there was a case of a band being able to release any old crap and get to Number 1 it was this. Lena Martell was a masterpiece compared to this tripe.

  13. 63
    Billy Smart on 10 Dec 2008 #

    NMEWatch: 1st December 1979. Single of the week from Ian Penman; “So dignified; what a leisurely affair! ‘Walking On The Moon’ is an undeniable serenade, hinged around popularity or sexuality or some post-euphoric sleight of hand-in-hand. ‘Walking On The Moon’ isn’t soft soil, understated though it is. It’s risky dubble seduction: edible reggae and hungry pop interest.”

    Also reviewed;

    Holger Czukay – Cool In The Pool
    Suicide – Dream Baby Dream
    Joe Jackson – It’s Different For Girls
    The Beat – Tears Of A Clown
    Mike Oldfield – Blue Peter

  14. 64
    Mark M on 29 Nov 2009 #

    Re Sting’s accent, variously: on The Cultural Show the other night, Sting, wearing a beard, plugging his new folk album, interviewed in a pub in Byker by Lauren Laverne, did seem to be dipping into light Geordie a couple of times a sentence. Then again, I can think of other pop stars with no connection to the place who in those surroundings would unconsciously start to mimic north-eastern vowels.

  15. 65
    seekenee on 5 Jun 2011 #

    From reading this thread and running parallel to my general reassessment of The Police in the last ten years, I am wondering what exactly it was that made me disown them after their next Popular entry. It can’t have been the songs – in hindsight the first lp is quite good, the next two patchy but still contain enough brilliant songs to raise them well above average and subsequent singles weren’t too shabby at all. So why did I deny to myself for thirty years that this was the first single I bought with my own money by myself blah blah.. Was it Sting’s solo work (not too shabby either) or just Sting himself? (more likely)
    But mostly just the bog standard tribal resentments I suppose, Strummer/Weller/the NME told me to.
    Anyway the 9 year old me knew all the words to this one and the fact that relatively avant dub pop would not generally be a chart topper had yet to be revealed to me. (that was a sad day).

  16. 66
    Mark G on 6 Jun 2011 #

    I think for me it was that “Zenyatta” was so bloody dull. Except for “Canary in a coalmine” which sounded a lot like “Get out of Denver” by Bob Seger (or Eddie and the Hotrods)

  17. 67
    hectorthebat on 14 Aug 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Paul Morley (UK) – Words and Music, 210 Greatest Pop Singles of All Time (2003)
    Uncut (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles from the Post-Punk Era (2001) 88
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 10
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 12
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Sounds (UK) – Singles of the Year 9

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