Police – Message In A Bottle

It’s one of those songs that I would have bet charted higher in the US than it did. In America, “Message In A Bottle” was just a minor hit, peaking at  #74 in the Billboard 100 in 1979. It wasn’t until their third album, Zenyatta Mondatta, released in 1980, that the group got much attention in the US.

The song peaked at #1 in the UK, #2 in Canada, and #11 in New Zealand.

Sting: “I used to sing Gregorian chants and plainsong as an altar boy. A lot of my melodies might reflect that love and my early exposure to that stark, melodic narrative. ‘Message In A Bottle’ reflects that, too.”

“I think the lyrics are subtle and well crafted enough to hit people on a different level from something you just sing along to. It’s quite a cleverly put together metaphor. It develops and has an artistic shape to it.”

 

From Songfacts

This song is about a guy stranded on a remote island. One day he finds a bottle, puts a message in it and throws it out to sea in hopes that someone will find it and come save him. He’s thrilled to wake up one morning and find a whole bunch (a hundred billion, by his count) of bottles on the shore, proving there are many other castaways just like him. The lyrics can be seen as a metaphor for being lonely and realizing there are lots of people just like you. >>

Guitarist Andy Summers said it was the best track he ever played on.

Until they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this was the last song The Police played together; after breaking up in 1986, they performed it at Sting’s wedding to Trudie Styler in 1992. Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers were all a little drunk and didn’t play it very well, but the guests loved it. In 2003, The Police got together again for the induction ceremonies, where they played this along with “Roxanne” and “Every Breath You Take.”

This was the first single from the second Police album, Reggatta De Blanc (which means “White Reggae” in Police-speak). In the UK, their first album, Outlandos d’Amour, was released a year earlier but was still being discovered. “Roxanne” and “Can’t Stand Losing You” had charted, but the band was still bubbling under. “Message In A Bottle” was when they exploded in Britain; the song went to #1 on September 29, 1979 and stayed for three weeks. Their next single, “Walking On The Moon,” also went to the top. At this point, “So Lonely,” a track from their first album that flopped when it was issued as a single, was re-released, reaching #6 in March 1980.

Sting wrote in Lyrics By Sting: “I was pleased that I’d managed a narrative song with a beginning, a middle, and some kind of philosophical resolution in the final verse. If I’d been a more sophisticated songwriter, I would have probably illuminated this change of mood by modulating the third verse into a different key. But it worked anyway.”

This song is “Hey Jude”-like in its outro, with the phrase “sending out an SOS” repeated over and over for over a minute as it slowly fades. We counted 25 repetitions of the phrase.

Drummer Stewart Copeland overdubbed some cymbals and snare on top of this section, which he later came to regret. “I just overdid it,” he told Songfacts. “Where was Andy [Summers] when we needed him? Because usually it was Andy who was the limiter of our indulgence. He must have stepped out of the studio.”

The first person to hear the guitar riff for this song was not a person at all, but Sting’s dog. “I used to play it over and over again to my dog in our basement flat in Bayswater,” Sting wrote in Lyrics By Sting, “and he would stare at me with that look of hopeless resignation dogs can have when they’re waiting for their walk in the park. Was it that hopeless look that provoked the idea of the island castaway and his bottle? I don’t know, but the song sounded like a hit the first time we played it. The dog finally got his walk, and this song was our first number-one in the UK.”

This was the first-ever UK #1 for the A&M label, which Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss founded in 1962.

This might be the most famous song where a singer sends out an SOS distress signal, but it’s certainly not the only one. The Clash did it in “London Calling,” and many groups have done it metaphorically to signify love gone wrong.

Sting performed this at an Amnesty International benefit in 1981 that was used in a film released the following year called The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball.

This was one of the most popular live songs for the band, played at just about every concert after it was released, often as the set opener. Sting continued to perform it as a solo artist, including at his set at Live Aid in 1985.

After MTV launched in 1981, The Police made some high-concept, big-budget videos that were huge on the network. Prior to that, their videos were more restrained. The “Message in a Bottle” video combines concert footage with shots of the band performing it in some kind of backstage area. It was directed by Derek Burbidge.

Sting performed this with No Doubt at halftime of the 2003 Super Bowl between the Bucs and Raiders. No Doubt lead singer Gwen Stefani came out and sang with him about midway through. Stefani inducted Police into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later that year.

It may surprise you to learn that the song was influenced by the church music that Sting used to sing as a child. He explained in Isle of Noises by Daniel Rachel: isode “Fallen Angel”; in Doctors, in the 2011 episode “Message in a Bottle”; and in The Office (US), in the 2007 episode “Phyllis’ Wedding.”

The Police boxed set is called Message In A Box as a reference to this song.

The industrial metal band Machinehead covered this on their 1999 album The Burning Red >>

There is a 1999 film by the same name starring Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn, and Paul Newman that is not directly connected to this song. >>

In 2003, this song got the post-punk treatment when American Hi-Fi covered it for the film Rugrats Go Wild.

Message In A Bottle

Just a cast away an island lost at sea-o
Another lonely day, no one here but me-o
More loneliness than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair-o

I’ll send an S.O.S. to the world
I’ll send an S.O.S. 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

A year has passed since I wrote my note
But I should have known this right from the start
Only hope can keep me together
Love can mend your life but love can break your heart

I’ll send an S.O.S. to the world
I’ll send an S.O.S. 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
Oh message in a bottle yeah
Message in a bottle yeah

Walked out this morning I don’t believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore
Seems I’m not alone in being alone
A hundred billion castaways looking for a home

I’ll send an S.O.S. to the world
I’ll send an S.O.S. 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
Message in a bottle whoa
Message in a bottle yeah

Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
I’m sending out an S.O.S.
I’m sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Sending out an S.O.S.

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

17 thoughts on “Police – Message In A Bottle”

  1. Same here I figured it was at least a Top 40 hit- seems like it was at least on the radio station I listened to a lot- and on the MTV before they went into the toilet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Off Topic Hans – You may already know but a John Entwistle book is being released April 7…and the audio version March 15… by Paul Rees

      The Ox: The Last of the Great Rock Stars: The Authorised Biography of The Who’s John Entwistle

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  2. a great tune, although I would’ve perhaps edited down the ending by about 20 seconds. The first single I heard by them, and a striking example of how different the US and Canadian markets COULD be then… i knew they weren’t as big in US yet at that point, but it’s not a surprise it was a #2 hit up north. It IS a surprise it didn’t get to at least maybe #25 in the States. Of course, 4 years or so later, when Synchronicity hit, this one was retroactively declared a classic by many radio stations….

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  3. Great song. The movie with the same name is great, too.

    A lot of The Police’s music got more popular after initial charting. They are kinda pop and, rock so, they always wind up on Classic Rock stations. I’ve always considered them very eclectic…not hard rock, not totally pop…nearly their own genre, maybe with R.E.M.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They did have three great musicians. As musicans they were great. I was never a big Sting fan but I have to admit he is talented…the others are also.
      I like their early stuff the best…like this and…do do do da da da…etc.

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