The Police – Don’t Stand So Close to Me
Surely from the 80s to today the common sensibility has changed a lot, and with all chances today many songs from the 80s would cause scandal and would also be outrageous, if we read and interpret the lyrics correctly. Some topics could no longer be mentioned. Sounds like a paradox, but probably any reggaeton video of today is much more vulgar than the videos of the 80s, but the point is not what you see, it is the subject of the song, even if in many cases the language barrier made us focus only on those wonderful musics.
Who knows if a text like that of Marvin Gaye in Sexual Healing, or the veiled eroticism of Guesch Patti in Etienne, would be acceptable today. Surely Falco could not tell the story of Jeanny from the point of view of his stalker (moreover the song was banned in many countries even in the 80s), just as Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood could be too explicit (the song had troubles also in the 80s).
Perhaps, however, there is an unsuspected group that should give up two fundamental songs for their career: The Police. Yes, because Sting and his teammates Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland touched on rather slippery themes at least twice, and with some of their most famous songs: Every Breath You Take, which is often interpreted as a love song to be sung at weddings, but it actually speaks of possessive obsession with total control over the desired person, and of course Don’t Stand So Close to Me, which tells of the disturbances of a teacher for one of his students who does not hide her desire.
We are in September 1980: The Police are a very well known group in the United Kingdom. Thanks to their first two albums Reggatta de Blanc and Outlandos d’Amour, they are the group that most quickly emerged from the London post punk scene and veered decisively towards electronic pop. They became famous thanks to songs like Roxanne, So Lonely, Message in a Bottle, and are now working on their third album. On September 15, 1980, Don’t Stand So Close to Me is released, the song that will open the doors to their third album Zenyatta Mondatta, which will be released a month later. If you are wondering what Zenyatta Mondatta means, it means exactly what you suspect, that is, nothing, but it sounds good. It is a mixture of various sounds and pieces of words, which sounds good and leaves the possibility for each of us to see the meaning we want.
Don’t Stand So Close to Me has a fairly explicit text and story: in a school, a male teacher is the object of the attention of one of his female students, who is obviously too young. Nothing explicit happens, but the temptation and the sense of attraction are clear. And probably some behavior also becomes evident, because insinuations and accusations begin to fly in the school environment, in a kind of trial to temptations, rather than intentions.
The text ends with a quote that leaves no room for interpretation: the teacher is as uncomfortable as the old man in that book by Nabokov, and that book is obviously Lolita, the symbol of early seduction, even if in the book Professor Humbert wasn’t that old. Moreover, Sting in the following years has always considered the rhyme between cough and Nabokov as something to forget, even if he acknowledged that he occasionally resorted to these low-grade tricks.
Of course when we think about the setting of this story there is a question that spontaneously arises: given that Sting was in fact an English teacher in his youth, and we know that he was absolutely considered a sex symbol, shall we perhaps think that the story is autobiographical? Sting has always been categorical about this: it’s just a story, exactly like the plot of Nabokov’s book.
Even the video helps to add fuel to the fire: not only does good old Sting find every opportunity to undress every three seconds, but he even shows up armed with a carpet beater, faithful to the itchy iconography that combines schoolgirls and short skirts with spanking and carpet beaters. Evidently in England they were quite more traditional on this.
Among other things, the Police also made a Christmas version of this video, shot in a resort in Quebec, Canada, in which the three boys run around the mountains on motor sleighs accompanied by a number of skiing guys dressed like Santa Claus. And also in this video Sting undresses. One would say it was a bad copy of the famous Last Christmas video, but actually this video was made four years earlier!
Finally, we must remember that in 1986 the Police released an album consisting of their great songs rewritten with more modern electronic sounds and instruments. Or rather, this was their intention, but in fact they managed to modernize only one song, this one, which took name of Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86 in the new version, slower and more harmonic. For all the other songs, they just had to put the original version back on the new album.
In short, Don’t Stand So Close to Me was the perfect song to project the Police into the stratosphere of music: irresistible rhythm and sounds, a gloomy story, and even Sting who continued to undress for the delight of the female audience. Given the Police career, I’d say the trick worked!
The Police on Wikipedia