447. ‘Walking on the Moon’, by The Police

Back in my post on Blondie’s ‘Sunday Girl’, I pushed the idea of a forgotten number one. A band racks up a few chart-toppers; one inevitably doesn’t remain in our collective memories quite as much as the others. Here then, is The Police’s…

Walking on the Moon, by The Police (their 2nd of five #1s)

1 week, from 2nd – 9th December 1979

It’s got a slow build up, this one, with a bass riff and sparse, chiming guitars. It’s got even more of a reggae vibe than the band’s first #1, ‘Message in a Bottle, and more than a hint of jazz in the tickly drums. I like it, at first. Sting’s walking back from his girlfriend’s house: Walking back from your house, Walking on the moon… The idea is that when you’re in the first throws of love, you feel light, as if you could defy gravity.

Which is nice. But the concept, and the stripped-back music, gets stretched very thin over this five minute record. I keep waiting for the punk guitars to kick in, as they did to save ‘Message in a Bottle’, but they never do. The liveliest it gets is the middle-eight: So, they say… I’m wishing my days away… The pace quickens, and a little urgency enters Sting’s voice, for a moment or two. But, on the whole, I’m filing this one under ‘dull’.

I admitted in my first Police post that they were a band I struggled with, and this record is not doing much to change my mind. As I listen, I have one eye on the ‘Meh’ award in my upcoming recap… But. I think this is a bit of a false start to the Police’s chart-topping career. 1979 might have been their most prolific year, in terms of #1s; however, there is better to come from their eighties hits. I just know it.

The last minute is one giant fade out, with Sting chanting Keep it up… for far longer than he needs to. You begin to wish they hadn’t kept it up, or had at least considered a radio-edit. (One does exist, but pretty much every version around nowadays is the full-length album track.) ‘Walking on the Moon’ would sound pleasant at a beach bar around sunset, but you wonder how this managed to become a best-selling single. Of course, that might be an indicator of how big The Police were at this stage of their career – their second album – and that they were well on their way to becoming one of the biggest bands in the world…

20 thoughts on “447. ‘Walking on the Moon’, by The Police

  1. I am not alone, it seems. I never really ‘got’ the Police, to me there was something mildly irritating about Sting’s high-pitched vocals (I loved Amen Corner and Andy Fairweather-Low could cut it with me, but Mr Sumner couldn’t), the songs were nothing special, and I always thought them overrated. ‘Message in a Bottle’ did at least have some energy, but I never saw anything in this at all. It’s just filler to me, mildly more interesting than ‘One Day at a Time’ (sorry, Lena), but yes…how did it ever get in the Top 10, let alone No. 1?

    1. I guess it might have sneaked its week at the top, but when a band manages to get a huge hit from what sounds like a straight-up album track, then it usually means they are one of the biggest acts around.

  2. Blame me! I bought this single and it topped my personal charts. Why? I liked the relaxed reggae vibes, I liked the video (Saturn V rocket is HOOOOOOGE and took men to the moon), and Sting was hot. Never understimate sex appeal in the success of pop singles – there’s a reason why pop stars are invariably attractive over the decades! My brother took a cinefilm of me playing this in my bedroom back in the day, and I’d pay a fortune to find a surviving copy of it and the rest of my family from 1979.

    So for all those reasons I’m still fond of it – but yeah it’s not their best record. In retrospect it’s prob not even as good as the album track that got released as part of a 6-pack of singles and charted (after So Lonely had been reissued top 10 in 1980), Bed’s Too Big Without You. With the exception of De Doo Da Da, doh, I stand by all their future singles till they broke up acrimoniously, and some album tracks like Canary In A Coalmine, from the pretty good Zenyatta Mondatta – up next in a few weeks. Talking of teachers, do we or don’t we need no educashun. Presumably we’ll be assessing the next one up technically is making the argument we do need education with the double negative, oops! 🙂

    1. Haha! Or they were educated enough to use the double negative ironically…??

      Anyway, my condensed thoughts on this one are that I don’t dislike it, but that I’m struggling to hear the hook that caused it to be a number one hit. But maybe like you say the hook is more the video and Sting’s chiseled jawline…

      1. It was probably just good timing, coming after Message In A Bottle as they were beginning to become the biggest UK poprock band, selling singles and albums in bucketloads – I think it got outsold by Abba’s I Have A Dream which peaked at 2 behind the next million-selling chart-topper which The Police held-off at 2 for a week. I’d say if either of those had been released a week or 2 earlier it would have peaked at 2 or 3. Sting’s habit of getting his top off at concerts was also handy for record magazine posters for student walls 🙂

        Re: irony and PF – the meat-grinder video & the album are pretty much Roger Waters not being a fan of his own experience as a former pupil of a Cambridge High School (that he hated). It might have made more sense if the video wasn’t featuring Comprehensives though 🙂 I’m sure Sting would have had a different point of view (see their next chart-topping video), so it’s semi-ironic he got knocked off the top spot by them… 🙂

      2. Interesting. You quite often get a quiet couple of weeks late-Nov, early-Dec, before the big Xmas #1 contenders take off. Speaking of ABBA… what do you make of their new songs??

      3. I love them, they are as good as I’d hoped they’d be and much better than I expected they’d be, well worthy of their back catalogue and better than a good deal of their early 72/74 stuff. Brought tears to my eyes after 39 years of no new material and no expectations of ever having new material. The closest previous experience for me was when The Beatles Anthology gave us 2 new tracks. I rate The Beatles and Abba as the Greatest bands of all-time, Pet Shop Boys the Greatest duo. 🙂

      4. I like them too, especially ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ – I like that they’re both written from an ‘older persons’ perspective, and that they’ve made no concessions to modern pop.

        I’m too young to really remember the Beatles’ ‘comeback’, though that was slightly different with them being beefed-up demos (I do love ‘Real Love’ though.)

  3. While not exactly an all time favorite, I like “Walking On The Moon” for the sparse reggae like feel though probably because of that weirdness is why it didn’t chart at all on the Hot 100. I also like how the band got to shoot the video at the Kennedy Space Center and how Sting doesn’t play bass. They really went all in on the space theme of the title. The only memory I have of the song is seeing it performed at my cousin’s wedding a couple years earlier since he plays in a prog like band and they did an admirable job with it managing to get down the effects used in the original song.

    1. The video is cool – I like the way Stewart Copeland drums against the rockets – and I don’t actively dislike the song. I’m just struggling to find the hook to explain why it was such a big hit. Maybe the hook was the video, and the fact that they were fast becoming the biggest band in the country…

  4. badfinger20 (Max)

    Sometimes I do think bands get number 1s because of the strength of their other songs. This one just doesn’t belong…but there it is!

  5. It’s not a BAD song but, it didn’t chart here at all. It was years before it got airplay on Classic Rock stations as an album cut.

    My very first rock concert was The Police (Synchronicity…I may have already mentioned that). I didn’t seek out a ticket, it was given to me as a birthday present. It was a cool first concert to a 16 year old. My chaperone was my dad’s girlfriend (the ticket purchaser) and she drove a badass Rally Camaro with big f***ing stereo speakers in it.

    I don’t dislike The Police (setting aside the connection to the CIA). They have interesting music, though I’ve never gone out of my way to buy an album or a single. They seem to be on the radio all the time, anyway despite being dis-banded. If I hear Every Breath You Take or Wrapped Around Your Finger or Roxanne one more time, I’m gonna scream.

    That being said, Mr. Sumner solo SUCKS…out loud.

    1. It isn’t a bad song… But where’s the hook? It’s just a little dull. And I agree about Sting’s solo career – very glossy and well-produced but nothing has ever grabbed me. Boring.

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  7. Two final thoughts on those conversations above. Firstly. ‘Walking on the Moon’ undoubtedly did indeed manage to ride on the coat tails of a massive No. 1 to put them in peak position again. Ironically, Blondie’s ‘Union City Blue’ and the Boomtown Rats’ ‘Diamond Smiles’ were in my opinion much stronger singles, that followed a couple of No. 1s and No. 2s for both bands, were also released at the same time in the run-up to Christmas when the competition was pretty severe, and both fell short of the Top 10. Ironic. However, their first 45s of 1980 peaked at No. 1 and No. 4 respectively…… And as for the new ABBA songs, I’ve heard ‘I Still Believe in You’ and ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ once, and loved them both. On the strength of that, I would say it’s one comeback that has certainly been worth the wait. In the last couple of years we have also had new albums from Deep Purple, Status Quo and The Who that have all passed the test and been pretty good. Grey power, yayyyy – these people can still reach the age of 70 and cut it!

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