Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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OMGWTFLOL: The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me ‘86″

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 25, 2007

To hurt they try and try

I used to find listening to The Police’s original “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” really jarring, because for a long time it wasn’t the version of the song I knew best. Like many, my first exposure to The Police was with ther mid-80s hits compilation Every Breath You Take, which surely rivals the Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Billy Joel Greatest Hits sets for the most widely circulated hits comp among my generation. I remember whole days when I was ten of my brother listening to it on repeat while I played NHL 95 in the next room. I’ve had a little exposure to other Police since, but that whole CD I know back and forth.

I believe EBYT was originally conceptualized under the pretense of the band re-uniting to play new versions of all their biggest hits, but the only one they actually got to recording for the album was “Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86.” At the time I first heard it, I thought it was fantastic–probably one of my favorite songs on the album, actually. So when I started to heard the original DSSCTM on the radio and VH-1, I hated it–what happened to the drama, the epic sweep? What was this lightweight skank-y shit? A decade or so passes without me hearing the ’86 version, and I start to acclimate to the original. So today I decided to listen to the re-recorded one again, to see how it held up in comparison.

Well goddamn. I don’t remember exactly what my listening habits were like before I discovered MTV, but if I thought this was great, Richard Marx probably would’ve been like The Beatles to me. The song is ponderous, overwrought, and unbelievably slow–the thing’s like five minutes long, and it feels even longer. And the airy, thin production is uttelry ridiculous–even the most neutered songs on Synchronicity are like “Next to You” compared to this. I mean, Sting would get to these smothering levels of unoffensiveness on his own eventually, but The Police actually used to be kind of badass (even in the original version, whose low bass intro is sort of legitimately creepy). I can’t imagine how dispiriting DSSCTM ’86 must’ve been for people who were actually fans of the band when this came out.

The most laughworthy thing about it must be the last verse, though. Even for his Police days, Sting receives a lot of shit for his lyrical gaffes, and he deserves most of it–as is well evidenced by the last verse’s last line, “It’s no use, he sees her / He starts to shake and cough / just like the old man in that book by Nabokov”. He even pronounces “Nabokov” wrong, a mistake which has made me look really stupid in at least one literary discussion at college. But the ’86 version takes it even further–“he starts to shake and cough” becomes “he starts to shake, he starts to cough,” and “that book by Nabakov” is now “that famous book by Nabokov.” Sting takes one of the most awkward lyrics in pop music history and makes it even more horrible. Amazing.

Nothing demonstrates the core difference between the two songs better than their respective videos. The video for the original is nothing terribly special–essentially just an excuse for the three guys to play dress-up (Schoolteacher Sting and students Copeland and Summers, of course) while they pranced about for a few minutes. Needless to say, there is zero prancing in the ’86 video, which featuers the lads solemnly spinning in circles against unfathomable computer-animated backgrounds that make the video for Mike + the Mechanics’ “Silent Running” look like 2001.The dizzyingly shaky part with the band’s silhouettes might be my personal favorite.

Listening to DSSCTM ’86, it’s not surprising that the band’s first reunion was so short-lived–frankly, it’s sort of amazing they made it as far as they did. No band could make a song and video like this if the members didn’t utterly hate each other.

6 Responses to “OMGWTFLOL: The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me ‘86″”

  1. Al said

    How utterly pissed does Stuart Copeland – and to a lesser degree, Andy Summers, look throughout that video? They seem to be fully aware of how embarrassing the whole enterprise is.

  2. Marcia said

    While that ’86 version is positively awful, I don’t remember it all. Selective memory, perhaps. There are people leaving comments on you tube who love the changes, but I fail to see the appeal.

    (Heads up, Andrew: Your video links are both for the “86 video)

  3. the editor said

    So when I started to heard the original

  4. Gemari77 said

    I think you are all waaayyy off. But that’s my opinion… Like the author above, Don’t Stand Too Close Me ’86 was the first version that I heard–in fact, it was THE song that made me a Police/Sting fan–no other!! These days, I’ve been a fan for almost 20 years and own everything they’ve released… Don’t Stand ’86 is STILL my favorite over the happy, bouncy, jump up and down, sing as high as I can original… which, like the author sorta mentioned, doesn’t have the depth, power or brooding darkness. And Sting’s low range whisper is CLASSIC here.

  5. Geoff Morton said

    I personally prefer the ’86 version to the original. Musically, it feels like a continuation of where they were headed with Synchronicity, more mid-tempo, menacing, thick chimey echo sound. I have a feeling that if they’d actually recorded a full album in this vein, it would have made Synchronicity look cheery. And it’d probably still be a favourite of mine today.

    Ah well.

  6. BlackMoon said

    Disagree totally. I hated the original when it first came out (obviously I’m older than you kids), but I loved the ’86 version as soon as I heard it. and I still do!

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