Nov 08

THE POLICE – “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”

FT + Popular40 comments • 3,481 views

#467, 27th September 1980

A cold, claustrophobic record, “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” picks meticulously over a grim situation – the interest of a young teacher in a much younger pupil. Sting’s director’s eye takes in staffroom dynamics, teen social hierarchies and the teacher’s own self-consciousness as he reaches in horror for the inevitable literary reference. Unlike many of Sting’s clunkers, the “Nabokov” lyric is in-character, and quite clever: the teacher’s avoidance of the fatal L-word is an attempt to duck the self-condemnation he knows is his due. Sting still sounds a little pleased with himself but it’s hardly a deal-breaker.

“Don’t Stand” is structured like a death ballad – fate hustling its characters towards the inevitable tragedy. Its build up is cruelly slow – that long intro the work of a band who know perfectly well that anything they produce will get playlisted. Its chorus is a spasm of irritable energy. But the song then turns away – we expect an end but don’t get one: instead we get a too-languid breakdown, the stuttering chorus again, and the record’s baleful energy drains away. It’s not that “Don’t Stand” needs to resolve its story – in fact it works better for not doing so – but it doesn’t need to hang around either.



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  1. 26
    Taylor on 1 Dec 2008 #

    #24 – I agree wholeheartedly. The only “serious” pro-Sting piece I can recall is that thing by Morley in India. The only good thing I can find to say about that is that it’s… unexpected, placed at the end of “Ask”, as if the whole of New Pop has been leading up to Sting’s bare chest, furrowed brow and dog-eared library card. I’d love to read a proper defence of this seemingly indefensible man, so long as it doesn’t follow the same early-Q pattern: he’s clever, he’s serious about what he does, all that irrelevant claptrap.

  2. 27
    wichita lineman on 1 Dec 2008 #

    Q-style, or the Feb ’95 Mojo cover story, “The Fugitive: is it time Sting was forgiven?”

    (Answer has to be “No”, dunnit?)

    Sting aside, The Police have had an astonishingly easy ride on Popular til now. Taylor, have you checked the Walking On The Moon thread? “I hope my legs don’t break”: I was on my ownsome.

    I remember a Behind The Music-style doc on Sting from the early 90s in which he said something along the lines of “I’d hate it if people thought I was preaching and patronising about the future of the rainforest…” It then cut straight to a shot of him, in a lecture room, stick in hand, pointing to a map of the Amazon.

    And then there’s Quadrophenia. Where do you start?

  3. 28
    Mark G on 2 Dec 2008 #

    Well, to anyone still asking “Does Billy kill himself at the end?” you say “Play the first minute of the film again!”

    Anyroad, there is another POV:

    The Boomtown Rats’ “Mary of the fourth form” was the usual ‘teenbait’ fantasy figure a’la every rockband passim, whereas this was more studied, and seemingly more real for the reactions of the minor characters of the staff in the staffroom, and the friends of the girl, and so on. The story doesn’t end, maybe because in the majority of cases, the story fades out into nothing anyway.

  4. 29
    Doctor Casino on 2 Dec 2008 #

    Just wanted to chime in and note for interested parties that we got rather well into the Nabokov discussion way back on “Baby Jump”. (I am staggered and amazed to realize that this was two years ago.) Sukrat in particular gets some good observations in!

    Another line of this song that improves greatly if read as “in character” is “Her friends are / So jealous / You know how bad girls get,” which is a banal filler line on its face, but maybe works if it’s intended as something the teacher offers as an explanation in the staff room. “Your students have been saying WHAT? Oh, those kids! You know how girls get…”

    It’s a reach, though. I think the song is okay, maybe not as pretentious and cold as it’s being read here, but certainly a bit dull. It also exposes one of the worst tendencies of The Police: the chorus is just one line repeated over and over. When it’s done with some energy I forgive it (“Canary in a Coal Mine”) but even so, for a guy apparently overflowing with impressions of himself as a writer, Sting really couldn’t be bothered when it came to hooks!

  5. 30
    Doctor Casino on 2 Dec 2008 #

    I also suspect that you could transfer almost all the lyrics of “Baby Jump” into this song and it would basically work…

  6. 31
    wichita lineman on 2 Dec 2008 #

    Baby Jump, I realised just a week ago, is basically a jugband cover of Vince Taylor’s Brand New Cadillac. Even the lyrics (Lolita and Da Vinci aside) are nicked. Vince, by ’71. would have been too far out to sea to notice. And then his life story was regurgitated as Ziggy Stardust a year later.

  7. 32
    peter goodlaws on 3 Dec 2008 #

    I have nothing really to say about the Lolita angle. Waldo’s been boring me to death about it but I only hear this as a great track about Sting jumping some schoolgirl he’s teaching which is a bit naughty but if shes sixteen not illegal. Subject a bit strange but its only rock and roll and I like it.

  8. 33
    Billy Smart on 8 Dec 2008 #

    NMEWatch: Max Bell, 20th September 1980.

    “Sting knows the scenario, eh? All those nubile Lolitas in 3B just itching to get Mr Sumner hot and bothered while he’s marking their geography papers. Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone! Aside from the perils of classroom footsy The Police are still manipulating their formula. And why not? It works. Helluva subject matter, isn’t it? Vladimir’s syndrome. Underneath it they’re lovable, dependable, safe. Sting is the best looking man in the world and The Police are better than The Beatles. I just wish he’d try a different voice for a change, that the band would attempt a different beat. The subliminal dance goes on and on and on.”

    Bell makes ‘The Wanderer’ by Donna Summer single of the week. Also reviewed are;

    Orange Juice – Blue Boy/ Love Sick
    Kid Creole & The Coconuts – Maladie D’Amour
    Paul McCartney – Temporary Secretary
    John Cale – Mercenaries
    Viv Stanshall – Terry Keeps His Clips on

  9. 34
    lonepilgrim on 8 Dec 2008 #

    the sexual/gender politics at the NME always were a bit dodgy – I can remember when they used to have a pin-up each week in the Gig Guide….er not that I disapproved at the time.
    Max Bell was keen on the West Coast acts like Little Feat and Steely Dan I seem to recall so the Police would probably be his idea of cutting edge.
    Thanks for digging these out Billy – are you one of those shut ins whose rooms are filled with tottering piles of newspaper or just very well organised?

  10. 35
    Billy Smart on 8 Dec 2008 #

    Well, I’m back at my parents’ house for the weekend. Tottering piles of newspaper and magazines in the attic vie with walls of books, heaps of records in my bedroom… The heaps do at least tend to be in order, though!

  11. 36
    Billy Smart on 8 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

  12. 37
    Laura Brown on 10 Dec 2008 #

    Something I’ve always wondered: What would someone think if they heard this song and the only Nabokov novel they knew was Pale Fire?

    (Also: It’s pronounced nuh-BAH-koff, dammit!)

  13. 38
    punctum on 6 Feb 2013 #

    TPL on the parent album.

  14. 39
    Conrad on 7 Feb 2013 #

    you’re costing me a fortune on amazon, Punctum!

  15. 40
    hectorthebat on 28 Aug 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1980s (2001) 101
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 556
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 46

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