1977–1986: The Police and early solo work
In January 1977, Sting moved from Newcastle to London and joined Stewart Copeland and Henry Padovani (soon replaced by Andy Summers) to form the Police. From 1978 to 1983 they had five UK chart-topping albums, won six Grammy Awards, and two Brit Awards; for Best British Group, and for Outstanding Contribution to Music.Their initial sound was punk-inspired, but they switched to reggae rock and minimalist pop. Their final album, Synchronicity, was nominated for five Grammy Awards including Album of the Year in 1983. It included their most successful song, “Every Breath You Take”, written by Sting.
According to Sting, who appeared in the documentary Last Play at Shea, he decided to leave the Police while onstage during a concert of 18 August 1983 at Shea Stadium because he felt that playing that venue was “[Mount] Everest”. While never formally breaking up, after Synchronicity the group agreed to concentrate on solo projects. As the years went by, the band members, particularly Sting, dismissed the possibility of reforming. In 2007, however, the band did reform and undertook a world tour.
Four of their five studio albums appeared on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and two Sting songs, “Every Breath You Take” and “Roxanne”, appeared on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In addition both songs were among the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In 2003 the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were also included in Rolling Stone’s and VH1’s lists of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”.
In 1978, Sting collaborated with members of Hawkwind and Gong as the Radio Actors on the one-off single “Nuclear Waste”. In September 1981, Sting made his first live solo appearance, on all four nights of the fourth Amnesty International benefit The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball in London’s Drury Lane theatre at the invitation of producer Martin Lewis. He performed solo versions of “Roxanne” and “Message in a Bottle”. He also led an all-star band (dubbed “the Secret Police”) on his own arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released”. The band and chorus included Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Phil Collins, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, all of whom (except Beck) later worked on Live Aid. His performances were in the album and movie of the show. The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball began his growing involvement in political and social causes. In 1982 he made a solo single, “Spread a Little Happiness” from the film of the Dennis Potter television play Brimstone and Treacle. The song was a re-interpretation of the 1920s musical Mr. Cinders by Vivian Ellis, and a Top 20 hit in the UK.