Friday, August 9, 2019

Certain Songs #1605: The Police – “Message in a Bottle” | Medialoper

Album: Reggatta de Blanc
Year: 1979

. . .

Life comes at you pretty quickly when you’re 17.

Summer 1979 Jim, an idiot: “Because I don’t like that annoying “Roxanne” song that is all over the radio, I can safely ignore The Police’s clearly novelty fusion of reggae and punk and concentrate on the Clash, Jam, Television and Ramones albums that are turning my world upside down.”

Christmas 1979 Jim, a brain genius: “I just bought Reggatta de Blanc at Tower Records”!!!

While “Walking on the Moon” cemented the purchase, it was “Message in a Bottle” that caused the turnaround. At least, in Fresno, on KKDJ, it was next Police song to be played on the radio with any serious regularity after “Roxanne.” I was totally and utterly transfixed by the whole fucking thing. For one thing, it was pretty much all uptempo, and while the reggae was still lurking there, during the breakdowns, there was no way anybody would ever mistake it for a reggae song.

Instead, it starts with a hypnotic, spiraling Andy Summers guitar part — kind of a punk “Don’t Fear The Reaper” — driven ever forward by Stewart Copeland’s relentless snare drum, over which Sting, with a quiet little “ow” sings the first verse:

Just a castaway
An island lost at sea, oh
Another lonely day
With no one here but me, oh
More loneliness
Than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair

And with a stutter-step snare from Copeland and Summer shifting to straight-out chords, they accelerate into a three part chorus.

I’ll send an SOS to the world
I’ll send an SOS to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle, yeah
Message in a bottle, yeah

There some absolutely genius dynamics at work here, as the excitement generated by the repetitions of “I’ll send an SOS to the world” and “I hope that someone gets my” totally and fully collapse at the end of the chorus, the musical resignation that somebody probably won’t get his message in the bottle. It’s all a big metaphor, of course, for the loneliness he was singing about in “So Lonely,” but writ larger and more universal.

Walked out this morning
Don’t believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore
Seems I’m not alone at being alone
A hundred billion castaways
Looking for a home

And sure, it’s probably too on the nose, but it sounds so fucking great that you really don’t care. And even better, when they could probably gotten away with the verse chorus verse throughout the entire song, they tack on a genius coda, featuring Sting singing “sending out an SOS” a hundred billion times while Andy Summers makes squealing noises until the fade.

Like I said, this totally blew me away, and I wasn’t the only one: “Message in a Bottle” was a massive hit around the world — the first of five U.K. chart-toppers — except here in the U.S., where resistance to the “new wave” had it stall out at #74, even though I know it saturated the radio in Fresno, along with a bunch of the other singles from Reggatta de Blanc.

“Message in a Bottle”

“Message in a Bottle”

“Message in a Bottle” live at Rockpalast, 1980

“Message in a Bottle” live in Atlanta, 1983

“Message in a Bottle” live in Japan, 2008

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