Oct 08

THE POLICE – “Walking On The Moon”

FT + Popular68 comments • 5,247 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. 31
    rosie on 10 Oct 2008 #

    I’m still not convinced by suggestions of cod-Jamaican in the vocal here, but a thought has occurred to me.

    Once, at an OU summer school (and it would have been the terrible one at York in 1992), I was invited to read aloud a passage from Finnegans Wake. I said at the outset that I wasn’t going to attempt a Dublin accent, but discovered at the end that I’d been reciting in pure North Side. Just as the rhythms and cadences of Irish speech are embedded in Irish poetry and music, so surely are the rhythms and cadences of Jamaican speech, and so it becomes hard not to incorporate them, unconsciously when singing to a Jamaican rhythm?

  2. 32
    Erithian on 10 Oct 2008 #

    According to the Kutner and Leigh “1000 Number Ones” book, Sting got the idea for this song while recovering from a hangover after a night on the schnaps. He walked around the room to clear his head and started mumbling “Walking round the room … I hope my legs don’t break… walking round the room”. Which makes it a tad less glamorous than an ode to the Apollo space programme!

    As others have said, a fine record in its use of space and again an outstanding contribution from Stewart Copeland (wonder if the fact that his dad was something in the CIA helped them get access to the moon rockets?) The sparseness of the sound make it a pretty brave follow-up to a first number one – maybe comparable to the Rolling Stones following up “It’s All Over Now” with the stripped-down blues of “Little Red Rooster”?

  3. 33
    DJ Punctum on 10 Oct 2008 #

    Not a bad comparison as it happens.

    I should also point out for the sake of completeness that out of the three singles to debut within the top five in the second half of the seventies this was the only one that went all the way; “Somebody To Love” and “Going In With My Eyes Open” both stopped at #2.

  4. 34
    Waldo on 10 Oct 2008 #

    Marcello # 21 – The typos (with the associated comment about “joined-up writing”) I’ll give you: rather amusing, actually. Your signature accusations of “arrogance and racism”, which you have handed out like confetti to many of us I shall simply ignore. It had to be my turn sooner or later. As I have mentioned in another place, being “FLAMED BY MARCELLO” is rather like being given The George Cross. I shall treasure it always.

    # 30 – I really DON’T know what you mean by “true Jamaican grooves”, unless you simply mean all grooves from Jamaica rather than just some of them. If you mean all of them, this would imply that you feel that all Jamaican music is the same, which it most certainly is not. You have to believe that I’m not mischief-making here.

    As for “that gal of mine”, Sting, as far as I know has never proposed to her and she was always far more keen on Andy Summers anyway.

  5. 35
    DJ Punctum on 10 Oct 2008 #

    I agree that it is always easier to fire off a robot Out Of Office response than to construct a coherent, substantive argument when crass, generalised comments about cultures you couldn’t possibly hope to understand are challenged.

  6. 36
    Erithian on 10 Oct 2008 #

    DJP – well no, how about if someone challenged you to demonstrate why the last paragraph of #19 is “ignorant racist crap”, ‘cos I’m struggling to see it?

  7. 37
    Waldo on 10 Oct 2008 #

    # 35 – …whereas, Marcello, you of course, with your unique upbringing in ethnic arenas, DO understand such cultures. Indeed so worldly are you, might I suggest that your talents would be served to the grater good should you be posted immediately to to our Embassy in Reykjavik? There is not a doubt in my mind that you would attain a significant amount of distinction there within hours of your arrival.

  8. 38
    DJ Punctum on 10 Oct 2008 #

    And this place has the hypocrisy to bang on about Clapton and immigration, jesus fucking pimp.

    You know nothing about what Jamaicans might or might not have been listening to, even less about the history of lovers’ rock (including cover versions of several Police songs), as usual with you it’s always either/or, no shades, what the fuck you do know about JA and reggae, fuck all by the looks of things, so stick to what you know about and don’t touch what you can’t afford right?

  9. 39
    rosie on 10 Oct 2008 #

    Marcello. have you tried evening primrose oil? It’s very effective you know ;)

  10. 40
    DJ Punctum on 10 Oct 2008 #

    Don’t be giving me your ;)s, either.

    It always comes down to the same thing here, viz. Our Perspective/Unsubstantiated Bias Is The Only Correct And Acceptable Viewpoint And Anyone Who Disagrees With It Or Attempts To Disprove It Is A Spoilsport/Party Pooper/Bully/Psychopath/General Weirdo/Insert Other Daily Mail-Friendly Zing Where Appropriate.

    Or what it really comes down to is a disconnected mass of overachieving office workers who fundamentally can’t stand one another but spend time zinging back and forth out of boredom more than anything else :-(

  11. 41
    rosie on 10 Oct 2008 #

    All right Marcello. We don’t need no thought control.

  12. 42
    DJ Punctum on 10 Oct 2008 #

    Really is there going to be any change when we get to that one? I predict 100 posts on Jane Asher and her sodding cakes… :-(

  13. 43
    LondonLee on 10 Oct 2008 #

    Careful Rosie, the Bunny will get you.

  14. 44
    Mark G on 10 Oct 2008 #

    Go from Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong to Jane Asher and her sodding cakes in four steps…

  15. 45
    DJ Punctum on 10 Oct 2008 #

    I don’t think people want to listen to Jane Asher “conducting” an orchestra in times of recession either.

  16. 46
    Lena on 10 Oct 2008 #

    I have been trying & failing to remember when I first heard this song, or when I first heard anything by The Police (though it starts with “Roxanne” easily enough, I draw a blank after that – yes, 1979, but when I don’t recall). Like most here this is by far my favorite single by them, which at first I didn’t have much of a purchase on, ie I had no idea where The Police were ‘from’ (besides England) and I didn’t have a clue about dub, let alone reggae, soca, dancehall, etc. (In 1980 my father began to listen to a local radio show that was hosted by a DJ from Jamaica & I started to hear all these different beats & accents, but before that, nothing.) So to me it sounded like a jazz-pop song, a song that took its time to unfold and swung like crazy – the echoing bass seemingly underwater, the guitar notes carefully sitting next to you and then booming across a canyon, the drumming solid and yet light-as-air at the same time. Since the song didn’t get into the charts in the US at the time who knows how I first heard it (FM rather than AM radio most likely) but I’m very glad I did. I would give it a 9, easily.

    The next song, on the other hand, was utterly different, and was MASSIVE on AM radio, which baffled me & pleased me in turn…

  17. 47
    DJ Punctum on 10 Oct 2008 #

    Going way back to man like Sinker’s comments (#14): was talking about this record with Lena the other day and we note a possible pathway here towards “The ‘Sweetest Girl'” and especially “The Word ‘Girl'” (the dub, the floating in space, the ineffable patience of the song) so obviously someone in the London Musicians’ Collective concubine was taking note (Green was kind of an LMC DJ Punctum, come to think of it) although clearly (as L said) Green’s message was rather more multilayered than that of Wrigley’s Tantric Spearmint Man…

  18. 48
    Waldo on 10 Oct 2008 #

    # 38 – Marcello, there should have been a question mark after “JA and reggae” and a comma between “afford” and “right” at the end of that rant. Looks like I fuck up on spelling and you on grammar. Perhaps we both ought to undertake a session of Speedlearn. Proceed to pass. Pass!

    # 39 – Rosie. I’ve heard about primrose oil too but as Marcello would know, milk’s the thing for creating good temper.

    Hey teachers! Leave Jane Asher alone!

  19. 49
    rosie on 10 Oct 2008 #

    LondonLee @ 43: The bunny has been in my big casserole pot for the last three days and improves with every reheating.

  20. 50
    DJ Punctum on 10 Oct 2008 #

    Is there anyone else here interested in talking about “Walking On The Moon” by the Police?

  21. 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.

  22. 52
    DJ Punctum on 10 Oct 2008 #

    God I fucking HATE people :-((((

  23. 53
    Waldo on 10 Oct 2008 #

    Bang goes your job in our Icelandic Embassy, son!

  24. 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.

  25. 55
    Tom on 10 Oct 2008 #

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

  26. 56
    Mark G on 10 Oct 2008 #

    I’m getting that EDIT thing again…

  27. 57
    DJ Punctum on 10 Oct 2008 #

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

  28. 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.

  29. 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…

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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

  34. 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.

  35. 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).

  36. 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)

  37. 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

  38. 68
    Gareth Parker on 29 Apr 2021 #

    There is a dubby sparseness here that I find quite appealing. Not too much of a song here though for me, so a 6/10.

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