This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #355: Roxanne by The Police.
If you know this song at all then, it is impossible to simply say the name of the female character in this song as anything other than:
You don’t have to put on the red light.
Those days are over.
You don’t have to sell your body to the night.
You don’t have to wear that dress tonight.
Walk the streets for money.
You don’t care if it’s wrong or right.
Roooooooooooxanne!“……….and so it goes.
“Roxanne” was one of the first big hits for The Police. The song was part of their debut album Outlandos d’Amour and was released in 1978. That debut also had hit songs such as “So Lonely” and “Can’t Stand Losing You”. The Police consisted of lead singer/guitarist Sting, bassist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland. Originally the three musicians came together as part of the burgeoning Punk Rock scene in England in the mid-to-late 1970s. While they may have worn the punk uniform of spiky hair and torn clothing, The Police were never a real hardcore Punk band like The Sex Pistols or The Clash. Instead, they were more influenced by the growing Reggae and Ska scene. They became known for incorporating those styles into their songs which fell more on the Pop/Rock side of the musical spectrum than anything to do with real Punk Rock.
Over the course of a career that lasted less than ten years The Police enjoyed many chart-topping hits including “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”, “Message in a Bottle”, “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”, “Walking On The Moon”, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”, “Every Breath You Take”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger” and “King of Pain”. By the mid-1980s, many critics had labelled The Police as the biggest band in the world. They have won multiple Grammy Awards and had record sales of over the 100 million mark. The Police were inducted into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of fame in 2003. Unfortunately, creative tensions that existed within the band, coupled with the pull of side projects by all three members, caused The Police to break up as the 1980s came to a close. They had reunited for a reunion tour in 2008 but, other than that they have no plans for any new music in the near future.
The song “Roxanne” harkens back to the very early days when they were just starting out. They had little money for touring or for accommodations. The story is that while playing in a small club in Paris, the band could only afford to stay in, what they termed, a seedy hotel. Near this hotel were prostitutes. In the doorway of this hotel was a tattered and torn poster for a play about Cyrano de Bergerac, of which one of the central characters is a girl named Roxanne. Thus, Sting was inspired to write a song about a prostitute named Roxanne. These are the things of hit songs, I suppose.
In any case, The Police were one of the first big acts that I became aware of when I started University in Toronto in 1982. Each summer, for several summers in a row, they headlined a music festival in town called The Police Picnic. I never went but I recall how excited some of my friends were about it. More recently, Sting (who was acting in a play in Toronto) put on a benefit concert for striking GM auto workers in Oshawa, just prior to the Covid-19 lockdowns. All three members of the band remain active and are involved in many acting and music-related projects. But, it is hard to argue that anything any of the members have done on their own (even taking into account Sting’s solo career, which hasn’t been bad), has rivalled what they accomplished as a complete unit. While it is too bad that they were not able to make a longer go of things, we are still lucky to be able to enjoy a rich catalogue of some of the best music of the 1980s and beyond. That catalogue’s first chapter began with an album called Outlandos d’Amour and a song entitled “Roxanne”. Enjoy.
The link to the official website for The Police can be found here.
Thanks to Rolling Stone Magazine for helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their official website can be found here.
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