October 1979: The Police's 'Reggatta' Sails to Top of U.K. Charts

The Police, "Message in a Bottle"
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video screenshot/A&M Records

With the release of their second album Reggatta de Blanc on Oct. 2, 1979, The Police's ship truly came in.

The British trio earned the adoration of their home country slowly but surely over the course of a year. Debut album Outlandos d'Amour, their first to fuse punk styles with the rhythms of reggae, took time to resonate with audiences but ultimately spun off the hits "Roxanne" and "Can't Stand Losing You." Despite this burst of recognition, the group didn't have much of a plan for what came next.

Read More: Seven Fun Facts You Might Not Have Known About The Police's "Roxanne"

"We just went into the studio and said, 'Right, who's got the first song?'" drummer Stewart Copeland commented to Sounds in 1980. "We hadn't even rehearsed them before we went in."

The band also eschewed label A&M Records' suggestion to hire a more polished producer, choosing to re-team with Outlandos producer Nigel Gray at his Surrey Sound Studios, built in a converted dairy in the south of England. This move helped the group turn a record in for well under an average budget.

But what of the songs? Singer-songwriter-bassist Sting found crafting follow-ups to "Roxanne" a challenge, so much so that Reggatta went out with a host of recycled material. Album closer "No Time This Time" was released months before as a B-side to Outlandos single "So Lonely," while the instrumental title track came from a jam the trio would perform in concert on "Can't Stand Losing You." Even the lyrics to favorite album tracks "The Bed's Too Big Without You" and "Bring on the Night" emerged from Sting's early notebooks with jazz combo Last Exit.

Two of the album's most notable tunes, however, were new additions to The Police's file. Opening track "Message in a Bottle" was a resonant metaphor on loneliness punctuated by some of Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers' best playing. "I like the idea that while it's about loneliness and alienation it's also about finding solace and other people going through the same thing," Sting told Q in 1993. "The guy's on a desert island and throws a bottle out to sea saying he's alone and all these millions of bottles come back saying, so what, so am I! I like the fact that the whole deal is clinched by the third verse. It makes a journey."

Another classic, "Walking on the Moon," featured a spacey, bass-forward riff and lyrics inspired by a wild night after a gig in Germany. As Sting explained in the 1981 Police biography L'Historia Bandido:

I was drunk in a hotel room in Munich, slumped on the bed with the whirling pit when this riff came into my head. I got up and started walking round the room, singing "Walking round the room, ya, ya, walking round the room"...In the cool light of morning I remembered what had happened and I wrote the riff down. But "Walking Round the Room" was a stupid title so I thought of something even more stupid which was "Walking on the Moon."

Both songs were huge hits with the British public: "Message in a Bottle" became their first No. 1 single on Sept. 29, 1979, staying on top for three weeks. "Walking on the Moon" reached the summit months later, for a week on Dec. 1. And Reggatta de Blanc itself debuted at No. 1 in England on Oct. 13, where it stayed for four weeks. (In America, both singles missed the Top 40 just months after "Roxanne" reached No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100, though Regatta peaked at a respectable No. 25 on the magazine's album chart.) Reggatta also gave the group their very first Grammy Award in a most unusual category: the title track took home the second-ever trophy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

Read More: June 1983: The Police Release Last Studio Album 'Synchronicity'

As Sting would tell Musician in 1983 - the same year the group reached biggest-band-in-the-world status with final album Synchronicity - it was Reggatta that "was where it all clicked...As a musician, you learn your craft and emulate and copy people, and suddenly there's a moment in your development when you grow up and finally become yourself. I think Reggatta was that moment for us."

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It's the most expensive rock and roll tee ever sold.
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From the remixed, reimagined album of the same name.

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