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Murder By Numbers by The Police: Great B-Sides

The Police were arguably the greatest singles band of their era. In the late 1970s and early 1980s they released a string of great songs – ‘Roxanne’, ‘Message in a Bottle’, ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’, and ‘Every Breath You Take’ are robust songs that have stood up to repeated play. While bassist and vocalist Sting was the focal point, the other two members offered distinctive musicianship – Stewart Copeland was an amazing drummer, and Summers’ guitar playing was creative and distinctive.

But despite all their positive attributes, the band’s albums were generally patchy, like Sting couldn’t write songs quickly enough to fill an album each year; while Copeland and Summers also wrote material, Sting wrote almost all of the group’s hits. But one Police b-side went on to minor infamy.

‘Murder By Numbers’ was the b-side for the mega-hit ‘Every Breath You Take’, and was also included on the cassette and CD editions of their final album, 1983’s Synchronicity. The Police created the song extremely quickly:

“Andy is plonking on his guitar, as is his rote, and he’s got these chords which are kinda beguiling, and Sting is kinda turned on by them.”

Stewart Copeland, How Absence Made the Police’s Art Go Faster

Sting quickly dug out some lyrics that he’d written previously. The recorded version of ‘Murder By Numbers’ was recorded the same evening, the band’s first run-through of the song.

Even though ‘Murder By Numbers’ wasn’t a single, it was singled out for criticism by televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. Swaggart proclaimed that the song was performed by the “sons of Satan”. Sting later wrote in Lyrics by Sting that “A few years later this volcano would destroy half of Montserrat, but on this day it was just bubbling quietly and throwing up a strong smell of sulfur. The words formed in my head and that pungent smell of sulfur continued to cling to the song: Jimmy Swaggart, the TV evangelist, publicly cited it as an example of the devil’s work.”

‘Murder by Numbers’ is clearly satirical, and its most pertinent point is that people in positions of power have much more opportunity to kill than individual citizens do.

After Swaggart’s fall from grace in 1988, Sting performed the song live with Frank Zappa, a performance captured on Broadway the Hard Way.

Once that you’ve decided on a killing
First you make a stone of your heart
And if you find that your hands are still willing
Then you can turn a murder into art

There really isn’t any need for bloodshed
You just do it with a little more finesse
If you can slip a tablet into someone’s coffee
Then it avoids an awful lot of mess

It’s murder by numbers, one, two, three
It’s as easy to learn as your ABC’s
It’s murder by numbers, one, two, three
It’s as easy to learn as your ABC’s

Now if you have a taste for this experience
If you’re flushed with your very first success
Then you must try a twosome or a threesome
You’ll find your conscience bothers you much less

Because murder is like anything you take to
It’s a habit-forming need for more and more
You can bump off every member of your family
And anybody else you find a bore

Because it’s murder by numbers, one, two, three
It’s as easy to learn as your ABC’s
Murder by numbers, one, two, three
It’s as easy to learn as your ABC’s

Now you can join the ranks of the illustrious
In history’s great dark hall of fame
All our greatest killers were industrious
At least the ones that we all know by name

But you can reach the top of your profession
If you become the leader of the land
For murder is the sport of the elected
And you don’t need to lift a finger of your hand

Because it’s murder by numbers, one, two, three
It’s as easy to learn as your ABC’s
Murder by numbers, one, two, three
It’s as easy to learn as your A, B, C, D, E
1, 2, 3, A, B, C
1, 2, 3, A, B, C
1, 2, 3, A, B, C

Because it’s murder by numbers, one, two, three
It’s as easy to learn as your ABC
Murder by numbers, one, two, three
It’s as easy to learn as your A, B, C, D, E

9 thoughts on “Murder By Numbers by The Police: Great B-Sides Leave a comment

  1. Ah, Jimmy Swaggart, best comedy on Sunday morning television. I used to love to hear his anti-rock and roll rants and I thought his downfall was spectacular. The thing with the Police back in the day, every album would have one song I really liked.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ozzy in his Miracle Man video wearing a Swaggart mask amongst pigs in a barn is classic.
    Police always had the classic singles and than some oddball stuff which were the lone tracks from Copeland and Summers.
    They still made it work though and back than how many big bands shut it down as quick as they did.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Really cool song. When I read your post I didn’t think I knew it… but I did…I heard it quite a bit in the 80s and 90s… thanks for the reminder.

    I always liked Summers unique guitar playing. Copeland and Sting deserve the praise they get but I like the way Summers weaves his guitar through that rhythm section.

    Swaggart pointing his finger at anyone is hilarious. I bet Jerry Lee had a lot of fun with that scandal.

    Liked by 1 person

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