The Police File - Part One - Vinyl Rarities
When a small London independent label named Illegal put out its first single in May 1977, no-one took much notice. Certainly, few could ever have imagined that within three years the punk group who screamed their way through Stewart Copeland's Fall Out would become the world's most successful band, with chart-topping singles in almost every country, and a track record that has made them Britain's most consistent sellers of singles and albums.
Individually, the members of the Police had found varyng degrees of success in the music business before they joined their talents together, but none of them could have been described as superstars. Now they fall into the supertax bracket, recording in luxurious overseas locations, touring all the rock markets of the world, including many which had never been exposed to rock and roll before; and their most recent releases suggest that they are now in the happy position of aving an audience who are prepared to let them progress and follow new musical directions without losing any of their popularity.
When they signed in A&M in 1978, the Police soon ran into problems with the media. After their first couple of singles had received rave reviews, they were denied a lot of radio and television airplay because of censorship problems. Then the music press dubbed them the New Wave band that everyone liked - which at the height of the punk explosion came to be considered as the ultimate insult! Through dynamic live performances, a strong visual image, and, most important of all, commercial material, they overcame all the bad publicity and completely captured the teenage audience. but they never seemed completely happy about being teenage idols, and they actually seemed relieved when Adam and the Ants took some of the pressure away from them at the start of last year. Unlike many groups, who flop as soon as the teen audience loses interest in them, the Police had managed to create a wide base of public support, and have moved easily into the rock mainstream. Along the way, they've picked up thousands of devoted fans, who have amounted to a huge market for the variuos limited edition collector's items produced throughout the Police's career. Many of these are still rising in value, and as the band's support is still increasing, it's a fair bet that they represent a good investment for the future.
The Police line-up that recorded that first single for Illegal wasn't the same as the one we know today. Sting played bass and sang lead on the record, and Stewart Copeland (who had the idea to set up the Illegal label) was the drummer - and also added some guitar - but the main guitarist was Henry Padovani. The A-side, Copeland's Fall Out, was very much in the punk mould, but the flip, Nothing Achieving, written by Stewart with his brother Ian, came nearer to heavy metal than New Wave, with Padovani playing guitar riffs straight out of the early Seventies. It was the A-side that undoubtedly sold the record. Only 10,000 were pressed at the time (in two 5,000 batches), and all sold out very quickly. This first release of Fall Out featured a picture sleeve, with the name of the group and the record printed on a black background. These original copies now sell for about £5, while promos of the release fetch about £12.
After the Police had enjoyed a couple of big hit singles, Fall Out was reissued in December 1979. This time the same cover picture was used, but the sleeve design was altered, and the picture appeared in front of a black and green checked background. In addition, the lettering was changed, to incorporate the established Police logo used on all their records after Outlandos D'Amour. These copies are not at all scarce, as the single was actually a hit the second time round, reaching the Top Fifty at the end of 1979. Besides the green/black check design, some copies carry a sleeve in purple and blue. These appear to be a slightly later issue than the first re-release, and at the moment don't have any extra value - though it's well worth bearing these variations in mind for the future, as these are just the kind of items which do become very collectable when copies are no longer so easy to find.
In between the making of the Illegal single and the Police's signing with A&M, the band's line-up changed. First of all, Andy Summers, a veteran of the British music scene who had been in Zoot Money's Big Roll Band as far back as 1964, became the group's second guitarist; and then Padovani decided to leave, toying with a solo career before joining Wayne (later Jayne) County's Electric Chairs. A&M signed up the new three-piece Police at the start of 1978, on the strength of the material Sting in particular had already written, and the group's obvious versatility on their instruments - not always a feature of new bands. Summers in particular was an excellent musician, who had played with the Animals, Mike Oldfield and Kevin Ayers among many others; while Copeland (the former drummer with Curved Air) was a powerhouse drummer, and Sting a melodic and inventive bassist.
Their first single for A&M was Roxanne, issued in a picture sleeve in April 1978. It was a Sting original, which highlighted the group's unusual `white reggae' sound, their trademark for the first couple of albums. The flip was Sting and Stewart's Peanuts, and both numbers subsequently appeared on the group's first LP later that year. Rather than the songs themselves, it is the picture sleeve that now makes that first A&M single a rarity. Both 7" and 12" versions were issued with the same picture sleeve design, showing a red telephone with a girl's face in the dialling ring, and the name `Roxanne' on the receiver. As the record wasn't a hit at the time (hindered from getting the airplay it deserved by the fact that the song referred to a prostitute), copies with the original sleeve are now very collectable, and the 12" version in particular fetches a very good price in Mint condition.
Roxanne was followed in August 1978 by Can't Stand Losing You, another catchy, commercial song with the unmistakeable Sting trademark of an unforgettable hook. Sadly, despite another picture sleeve as an added attraction, Losing You didn't rise any higher than No. 42 in the charts the first time round - thanks to more airplay restrictions. Losing You refers at one point to suicide, and the mere mention of the word seemed to be enough to deter many DJs from playing it. Original picture sleeve copies are getting harder to find now, while demos of the first release of the single (like those for the original Roxanne) sell for about £7. One other point worth noting about the single is that, like most of its successors, it features a non-LP cut as the flip, the stormling rocker Dead End Job - another reason for searching the single out.
To coincide with the first LP release, A&M took a third single from the album's track listing. So Lonely (which included a song later used on the band's second album as the flipside) was actually slightly shorter on the single than on the LP - as several of the vand's 45s have been. It too came in a picture sleeve, but once again wasn't a hit. One oddity worth looking out for here is that some original copies of the single (and some of the 1980 reissues as well) list the B-side as Time This Time - a trivial point but one which is likely to provide a collector's item of the future. Rarer still are copies of Can't Stand Losing You which have No Time This Time on the B-side instead od Dead End Job. Few of these seem to have been offered for sale, but we'd expect them to go for at least £7 in Mint condition.
The band's first album, Outlandos D'Amour, contained eight Sting songs, the Peanuts collaboration with Copeland, and a medley of Sting's Be My Girl ans Summers' Sally. Sally was actually less of a song and more of an ode to the variuos uses for inflatable plastic ladies, and introduced the Police sense of humour that has surfaced regularly ever since. Besides the singles, stand-out tracks were Truth Hits Everybody and Born In The 50's, both Police stage favourites.
The normal release of the LP is still available, but one of the rarest Police records these days is the limited edition blue vinyl issue of Outlandos. We've seen copies on offer for as much as £25, but £15 seems about the right price - though it is noticeable that the price of this item is starting to rise pretty quickly.
Although So Lonely didn't follow Can't Stand Losing You into the charts, their early singles started to get more and more airplay after their first album was released. Eventually, in April 1979, A&M decided to re-promote Roxanne, and issued 7" and 12" versions in a new picture sleeve - plus several thousand copies in blue vinyl (again with picture sleeves). The single soon entered the Top Fifty, peaking at No. 12 in May - the real start of the Police's success story. 12" copies of the single in Mint condition are getting harder to find, and blue vinyl copies sell for about £5.
Two months later, A&M followed up with a similar re-release af Can't Stand Losing You. Beside another picture sleeve, they helped to increase sales by issuing limited quantities in various colored vinyls. If you search round, you'll find Can't Stand Losing You in white, dark blue, light blue, red, yellow and green vinyl! The red and light blue issues seem to be the easiest to find (after the ordinary black issue, of course), while the white and yellow discs are now the scarcest. From this point on, marketing the Police took on new dimensions, and every new release arrived with at least a limited edition picture sleeve, and more often than not some other instant collector's items! Can't Stand Losing You reached No. 2 second time around, and prepared the way for the band's first new material for almost a year. Message In A Bottle was an unstoppable hit song which could have scored for just about anyone; but coupled with the dramatic rise in interest in the Police, it made them Britain's most popular band almost overnight. A week after release, it was Britain's No. 1 single; and it repeated that pattern all over the world.
As an extra marketing ploy, A&M released a few thousand copies in green vinyl, but for once that kind of bonus wasn't needed. You won't have any problem finding normal picture sleeve copies of the single, but those green discs will require slightly more effort - and money, as they now fetch about £4 each.
The success of Message led to the reissue of their first Illegal single - but for once this repackaging of the past couldn't be called exploitative, as the Police were the ones who decided that Fall Out deserved another airing. Although it didn't sound like the Police of 1979, it still hung around the lower end of the chart for a month or so, complete with the new picture sleeve we've already mentioned.
At the same time, A&M were publicising the Police's second album, Reggatta De Blanc. It was an instant and massive success, and over the next year dominated the album charts around the world - until dislodged by the band's next LP! Besides Message and the follow-up, Walking On The Moon, the album also included several stage favourites (Bring On The Night and the title track), and a couple more numbers which displayed a certain sense of humour (Does Everyone Stare and On Any Other Day). It also showed that Sting was starting to find putting an album's worth of songs together a considerable strain, as Stewart Copeland contributed three numbers, and three more were band compositions - probably written in the studio. In fact, it was later revealed that the band arrived in the studios without rehearsals or even having decided what to record - a far cry from the Outlandos session where the Police were in and out of the studio within a few days having spent a paltry £4,000!
Walking On The Moon was released just in time for Christmas 1979, and again made the No. 1 spot - with the usual picture sleeve, and with added sales coming from a limited edition 12" release, now worth about £5 in Mint condition and getting harder to find. Over the next year, the Police toured the world, visiting many countries which had never seen a rock and roll show before, and generally spreading the word about the group who were now Britain's most successful act overseas.
There was no prospect of any new Police material until the following autumn, so A&M decided to re-promote So Lonely, the band's only single so far not to have made the charts. Although both sides were available an album, it still leapt up the charts to No. 6, though not surprisingly it wasn't as successful as its predecessors.
The Police's next release aroused a lot of controversy, and accusations that they were ripping off their fans. In May 1980, A&M released a limited edition `six-pack' singles' set, which included their five previuos A&M 45s, plus a new combination of live versions of Truth Hits Everybody and The Bed's Too Big Without You, in a presentation pack - with all six records pressed up on blue vinyl. Besides the question of whether it was right to ask the fans to buy ten tracks they might already have to get hold of two new live songs, there was also the problem of whether the pack should count as an LP or a single in the charts. Although it actually cost more than any LP, the BRMB decided it should count as a single (making it easily the most expensive item ever to enter the 45s charts!) - and remarkably, after all the bad publicity, and the prohibitive cover price, it reached the No. 17 position in the Top Fifty, though it only stayed in the charts for a month.
In any case, only 50,000 of the sets were pressed, a genuine limited edition, which precluded a long chart run. For several months after it was first released, you could still buy sets at about £6 each from record stores which had stocked up when they had first appeared, but now you'll have to pay at least £10 to get hold of one. There's also a very interesting promo item available, which includes the A-sides of all the singles in the set (with Bed's Too Big taken as the top side of the live one) on a 12" single - current value about £12.
Another limited edition item which was easy to find at the time, but which is now much scarcer, is the double 10" album pack of the Reggatta album, also made available in the States. The U.K. pack sells for about £9, while the American one (complete with a Police poster) sells for slightly more.
In September 1980 came the band's new single, a trailer for the Zenyatta Mondatta LP recorded in Holland. Don't Stand So Close To Me (first 400,000 copies in picture sleeves, first few thousand with poster sleeves) entered the charts at No. 1 at the end of September, and remained there for four weeks - by which time it had been joined at the top of the charts by the new LP. Zenyatta showed a much slicker production than the first two albums, but also revealed an acute lack of material, highlighted by the inclusion of two instrumentals on the very low-key send side. The first side was excellent, however, and contained enough good material to make certain that the LP was a massive seller all over the world. By Christmas, A&M had released De Do Do Do as a follow-up (with a non-album B-side, like their previous three 45s), and that made No. 5 - kept off the top only by John Lennon and Adam and the Ants. De Do Do Do only appeared after Canary In A Coalmine had been announced as the second single from the LP, so it's quite possible that there are promotional copies of that track around on U.K. A&M - if so, they'd certainly fetch a very good price!
1981 was another year of frantic touring for the Police, including a final effort at establishing themselves in the States, which paid off in time for the latest batch of releases. Three singles have so far been pulled from what is probably their best LP, Ghost In The Machine, and all have been hits, complete with picture sleeves. In addition, Spirits, the latest release, has been issued in a limited edition poster cover, with free badge, making an item that will probably become another collector's item of the future! Each of the three Ghost In The Machine singles also contains a non-LP flipside, another reason for making sure you have copies in your collection.
Finally this month, we should mention three of the most established Police collector's items, the `badge' and `star' discs. The first Police `badge' picture disc featured Roxanne and Can't Stand Losing You, and appeared originally in a limited edition of 500 in the States. Copies then became available through the Police's own merchandising outlet, and now sell for about £12. A second promotional picture disc, this time star-shaped, went through the same procedure. This backed the studio cut of Message In A Bottle with an otherwise unobtainable live version, and now sells for about £9. Finally, a second `star' disc matches Don't Stand So Close To Me with De Do Do Do, and although it's easy to get hold of at the moment (for about £8), it looks set to join the other Police collector's items in the near future.
After four albums, and an unbroken run if hit singles, the Police are still riding high today, unquestionably Britain's most successful band of the last three years. They've widened their popularity over the last couple of years, and seem to have moved out of the teenage-orientated bracket into a mainstream rock one - a shift that shoud assure them of many years at the top. They've managed to retain the basics of their old sound while progressing at the same time - another very healthy sign - and it seems certain that their popularity with fans and collectors alike will continue well into the future.
Next month, we'll look at some of the more obscure items connected with the band which have become collector's items: overseas releases and promos; compilation LPs featuring the band; Stewart Copeland's pseudonymous solo releases; and the other records that contain contributions from Sting, Stewart and Andy, including some extremely rare items from Sting's first two bands! There's certainly plenty of rare Police material here to keep most collectors happy for a long time; and both patience and a healthy bank balance will probably be needed to track down everything we've mentioned here. As we'll also see next month, the list of Police rarities is almost endless, and represents one of the most interesting (and at times confusing) areas of collecting to have opened up for a long time!
Complete Police UK Discography (Record Collector January/1982)
|Cat No.||Title||1982 Mint Value|
|Illegal IL 001||Fall Out/Nothing Achieving (May/77, black&white)||£6|
|A&M AMS 7348||Roxanne/Peanuts (April/78, telephone picture sleeve)||£4|
|A&M AMS 7348||Roxanne/Peanuts (April/78, 12", telephone sleeve)||£10|
|A&M AMS 7381||Can’t Stand Losing You/Dead End Job (August/78, picture sleeve, No. 42)||£2.50|
|A&M AMS 7402||So Lonely/No Time This Time (October/78, picture sleeve)||£1.50|
|A&M AMS 7348||Roxanne/Peanuts (April/79, reissue, pic sleeve, No. 12)||£2|
|A&M AMS 7348||Roxanne/Peanuts (April/79, reissue, pic sleeve, 12")||£5|
|A&M AMS 7348||Roxanne/Peanuts (April/79, pic sleeve, blue vinyl)||£5|
|A&M AMS 7381||Can’t Stand Losing You/Dead End Job (June/79, reissue, picture sleeve, no. 2)||£1.50|
|A&M AMS 7381||Can’t Stand Losing You (June/79, pic sleeve, dark blue vinyl)||£4.50|
|A&M AMS 7381||Can’t Stand Losing You (June/79, pic sleeve, light blue vinyl)||£4|
|A&M AMS 7381||Can’t Stand Losing You (June/79, pic sleeve, yellow vinyl)||£5|
|A&M AMS 7381||Can’t Stand Losing You (June/79, pic sleeve, green vinyl)||£6|
|A&M AMS 7381||Can’t Stand Losing You (June/79, pic sleeve, red vinyl)||£3.50|
|A&M AMS 7381||Can’t Stand Losing You (June/79, pic sleeve, white vinyl)||£5|
|A&M AMS 7474||Message In A Bottle/Landlord (Sept/79, pic sleeve No. 1)||£1.50|
|A&M AMS 7474||Message In A Bottle/Landlord (Sept/79, P/S, green vinyl)||£4|
|Illegal IL 001||Fall Out/Nothing Achieving (December/79, green&black)||£1|
|Illegal IL 001||Fall Out/Nothing Achieving (December/79, purple&blue)||£1|
|A&M AMS 7494||Walking On The Moon/Visions of The Night (pic sleeve No. 1)||£1.5|
|A&M AMS 7494||Walking On The Moon/Visions of The Night (P/S, 12")||£5|
|A&M AMS 7402||So Lonely/No Time This Time (Feb/80, pic sleeve, No. 6)||£1.5|
|A&M AMPP 6001||Police Pack (six single pack, including AMS 7348, AMS 7381, AMS 7402, AMS 7474, and AMS 7494, plus extra single "Truth Hits Everybody"/"The Bed’s Too Big Without You". All singles in blue vinyl, in presentation pack. May/80, No. 17)||£9|
|A&M AMS 7564||Don’t Stand So Close To Me/Friends (Sept/80 poster sleeve)||£2.5|
|A&M AMS 7564||Don’t Stand So Close To Me/Friends (Oct/80 P/S no. 1)||£1.25|
|A&M AMS 7578||De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da/A Sermon (Dec/80 picture sleeve, No. 5)||£1.25|
|A&M AMS 8164||Invisible Sun/Shamelle (Sept/81 pic sleeve, No. 2)||£1|
|A&M AMS 8174||Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic/Flexible Strategies (Oct/81, picture sleeve, No. 1)||£1|
|A&M AMS 8194||Spirits/Low Life (November/81 poster sleeve)||£1|
|A&M AMLH 68502||Outlandos D’Amour (October 1978)||£4|
|A&M AMLN 68502||Outlandos D’Amour (blue vinyl)||£15|
|A&M AMLH 64792||Reggatta De Blanc (October 1979)||£4|
|A&M AMLH 64792||Reggatta De Blanc (2 10" LPs)||£9|
|A&M AMLH 64831||Zenyatta Mondatta (October 1980)||£4|
|A&M AMLK 63730||Ghost In The Machine (September 1981)||£4|