In late 1982, Police frontman Sting was newly separated from his first wife, the actress Frances Tomelty. They’d been married since 1976 and had two children together.
He had an affair with the actress Trudie Styler, who became pregnant in 1983, and Sting and Tomelty divorced the following year. Sting and Styler remained together, eventually marrying in 1992.
“Neither of us are proud of a situation that happened — it just happened,” Styler admitted to The Guardian in 2002. “We loved each other and we lived together, and then we got married and we had more kids. And that’s our life story.”
She and Sting fled to Jamaica at some point in 1982, where he spent a considerable amount of time contemplating the way his personal life was going. “The King of Pain” soon emerged.
“I was fortunate to be able to go to Jamaica, I have to say, and stayed at this nice house and was looking at the sun one day,” Sting said during an In the Studio radio interview. “I was with Trudie, who is now my current wife and said ‘Look, there’s a little black spot on the sun today’ – and there’s a pause. I said, ‘That’s my soul up there.’ I was full of hyperbole. I said that! I went back in and wrote it down …. and wrote some other stuff.”
Sting then brought the song to his bandmates, and Andy Summers said they proceeded to “Police-ify” it.
“Once [drummer] Stewart [Copeland] and I got our hands on it, then it would go in a very different direction,” the guitarist tells UCR in an exclusive interview. “Sting, if I’m remembering correctly, wasn’t very resistant to that – because it had to sound like us.”
Listen to the Police’s ‘King of Pain’
But engineer and co-producer Hugh Padgham argued that they ended up taking things too far with “King of Pain.” “If you listen to it now, it’s very stripped down, bits and pieces coming in here and there,” he told Tape Op in 2006. “Literally everything was recorded all the way through” and then Sting said, “‘This is shit’ and I went, ‘I think you’re probably right.’ The thing at the back of my mind always is trying to keep things simple, so you can then hear what’s there.”
They pulled back on the arrangement, and that better served the second single from 1983’s Synchronicity. Released in August 1983, “King of Pain” became a No. 3 smash on the Billboard Hot 100 and then a Top 20 hit in the U.K.
“Great lyric. Magical lyric,” Copeland told MusicRadar in 2022 “‘There’s a little black spot on the sun today.’ I have no idea what that means, but it breaks my heart.”
Sting wasn’t sure exactly what it meant either, but that didn’t matter. “I conjured up symbols of pain and related them to my soul,” he told Musician magazine in 1983. “A black spot on the sun struck me as being a very painful image, and I felt that was my soul up there on the sun. It’s just projecting your state into the world of symbolism – which is what poetry’s all about, really.”
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