Coming into their fifth and final album, 1983’s Synchronicity, The Police were on the verge of something big. Their previous LP, 1981’s Ghost In the Machine, had peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and yielded the Top 5 smash “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” Now the reggae-inspired, formerly punk-adjacent English trio led by Sting was poised for a level of stardom that few groups can even dream about.
Synchronicity—released 40 years ago this June—definitely delivered on its promise. On the strength of three Top 10 singles, one of them being the decade-defining, chart-topping, frequently misunderstood “Every Breath You Take,” Synchronicity reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and held that slot for 17 non-consecutive weeks. (It also reached No. 1 in the UK.) More importantly, it showcased a musically and intellectually curious band that was able to create great music despite some serious interpersonal conflicts.
Here are 10 facts about The Police’s blockbuster swan song.
1. The band members were not on good terms.
Sessions for 1981’s Ghost In the Machine went pretty smoothly. Sting came in with the song ideas; then guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland added their distinctive parts. But that changed with Synchronicity: The three of them were “sick of each other,” as producer Hugh Padgham told Sound on Sound.
“Sting and Stewart hated each other, and although Andy didn’t show as much venom, he could be quite grumpy—and there were both verbal and physical fights in the studio,” Padgham said. Eventually, Police manager Miles Copeland presided over a poolside meeting that saved the sessions from disintegrating.
2. Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland actually worked in separate rooms.
The Police recorded Synchronicity at Beatles producer George Martin’s AIR facility on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Sting played bass in the control room, Summers strummed in the studio’s live room, and Copeland whacked his drums in a dining room upstairs. According to Hugh Padgham, this arrangement “worked both sonically and for social reasons.” It kept the warring musicians apart, and it ensured that there was no bleed between the guitar and bass during recording. Plus, Copeland’s drums sounded best in the dining area, even if he could only see his bandmates via live video feed.
3. The album’s title was inspired by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.
Sting has a reputation for being one of rock’s leading intellectuals, and he proved it once again with Synchronicity. The title nods to famed Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s 1960 book Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, which deals with the “meaningful coincidence of two or more events where something other than the probability of chance is involved.” In Jung’s view, some coincidences aren’t coincidences—they’re something more—and as Sting told the radio show In the Studio, he wanted the entire album to focus on this idea.
“The concept interested me in that it was about accidents and some of the greatest things that happen in music with a band are accidental, or apparently accidental,” he said. Sting can even be seen reading Jung’s book on the Synchronicity album cover.
4. Synchronicity was the beginning of the end for The Police.
Although it was based on the writings of Jung—the man behind the theory of the “collective unconscious”—Synchronicity was an intensely personal album for the newly divorced Sting. “‘Every Breath You Take,’ ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’ were all about my life,” Sting told In the Studio. “And so that was the end of The Police because I realized that I couldn’t involve this kind of personal work in a democratic process, at least not about the issues. So it was very clear to me during the making of this record this was the end of The Police.”
5. Sting wrote many of the songs in a very famous house.
Sting may have been in a fragile mental state when he wrote his songs for Synchronicity, but at least his body was in a peaceful place: James Bond creator Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye estate on the northern Jamaican coast. “Britain had gone to war with Argentina over the Falklands,” Sting wrote in his book Lyrics. “Young men were dying in the freezing waters of the South Atlantic, while I was gazing at sunspots on a clifftop overlooking the Caribbean.”
6. Summers worked through some mommy issues on “Mother.”
Synchronicity includes the super-catchy hit singles “I’ll Be Watching You,” “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” and “King of Pain.” It also features “Mother,” an abrasive, spoken-word track by Summers. Over the course of three unsettling minutes, Summers rants about his mom phoning him all the time and generally threatening to “devour” him—a fear that may stem from this lyric: “Every girl I go out with becomes my mother in the end.”
Summers told Songfacts that “Mother” was inspired by his actual mother. “We all have our family situations, and I had a pretty intense mother who was very focused on me,” he said. “I was sort of ‘the golden child,’ and there I was, sort of fulfilling all of her dreams by being this pop star in The Police. I got a certain amount of pressure from her. It’s not heavy—it was written kind of ironic, to be kind of funny, but crazy. It’s inspired a little bit by Captain Beefheart. It’s something that’s really off-the-wall.” The weirdest part: Sting apparently loved it.
7. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” references Greek mythology.
In the opening lines of “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” Sting sings about being “caught between the Scylla and Charybdis.” The line basically means “stuck between a rock and a hard place,” and it name-checks two figures from Greek mythology. Scylla was a deadly sea creature said to have 12 feet and six heads—each with a set of sharp teeth. Living right across from Scylla in the Straits of Messina was Charybdis, another sea monster, this one in the form of a whirlpool. Scylla and Charybdis appear in numerous ancient stories, most notably Homer’s Odyssey, where the former claims six members of Odysseus’s crew.
8. “O My God” calls back to two earlier Police (or Police-related) songs.
A highlight of side one of Synchronicity, the sax-streaked “O My God” contains snippets of lyrics from two earlier songs. The first verse and chorus are lifted from “3 O’Clock Shot,” an unreleased song from Sting, Summers, and Copeland’s pre-Police band Strontium 90. Later on, around the 2:58 mark of “O My God,” Sting quotes some lines from “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” off Ghost in the Machine.
9. Musically speaking, the album is an exercise in minimalism. (Sort of.)
After the overstuffed sound of Ghost in the Machine, which brought synths and horns into the mix, The Police decided to strip things back on their follow-up. “I think we’d become so refined as a group of musicians that we realized that the three instruments just playing solo and ensemble was perhaps the best way of doing it—and it just seemed to happen,” Sting told Rolling Stone. “The songs worked with three instruments. There were lots of overdubs, but the overall feel was spartan.”
10. There are many versions of the album cover.
The Synchronicity cover design features three rows of black and white photographs, each overlaid with a streak of bright red, yellow, or blue. This basic concept gave way to many variations. According to the Goldmine Record Album Price Guide, there are 93, though a seemingly authoritative YouTube video puts the total number of U.S. vinyl variations around 40, depending on how you count. To further complicate matters, some rare variations swap the usual colors for black and white or gold, silver, and bronze.