It’s hard to believe that The Police’s 1983 hit Every Breath You Take was almost thrown out in the studio.
The track – by most accounts the bands biggest song, topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for eight weeks following its release, and garnering nearly 1.2 billion Spotify streams at the time of writing – features what’s now one of the most iconic electric guitar parts of all time.
But as guitarist Andy Summers explains in the new issue of Guitarist (opens in new tab), during the making of the band’s final album, Synchronicity, frontman/bassist Sting and drummer Stewart Copeland “could not agree on how the bass and drums were going to go, and so nearly insisted the track be discarded.
In a last-ditch punt to save it, Sting asked Summers to plug in his guitar and “make it [his] own”. Astonishingly, the guitarist recorded the track’s main riff in just one take. “They all stood up and clapped,” Summers remembers.
“And of course, the fucking thing went right around the world, straight to Number 1 in America. And the riff has become a kind of immortal guitar part that all guitar players have to learn.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Summers reveals his favorite guitar parts he’s recorded with The Police.
“Well, my favorite has always been Message In a Bottle,” he says. “It’s the best guitar riff and there’s a harmony part as well, which most people can’t get. You’ve got to have the fingers for it. Roxanne. Can’t Stand Losing You. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic. I like all of them.”
He explains that his writing philosophy with The Police was to make his material “harmonically neutral”
“Apart from all the sonics, I would never play things like big barre chords with major thirds,” he says. “We came from a modern place, which in my case was done by using not a major 3rd but the added 9th or the major 2nd, because that sounded hip and modern to me.
“It wasn’t tricky and extended jazz chords, and it wasn’t romantic 19th century progressions. It was something else.”
Read the full interview with Andy Summers in the latest issue of Guitarist, available now from Magazines Direct (opens in new tab).