"Spirits in the Material World"
Single by The Police
from the album Ghost in the Machine
  • "Low Life" (UK)
  • "Flexibile Strategies" (US)
Released11 December 1981 (United Kingdom)
1982 (United States)
GenreNew wave
LabelA&MAMS 8194
The Police singles chronology
"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"
"Spirits in the Material World"
"Secret Journey"
Alternative cover
US 7-Inch Single cover

"Spirits in the Material World" is a song by rock trio The Police, written by Sting. It is the opening track for their 1981 album Ghost in the Machine. It was released as a single in 1981 and reached No. 12 in the United Kingdom[1] and No. 11 in the US in early 1982.[2]


"Spirits in the Material World" was written by Sting on a Casio keyboard while in a truck.[3] It was his first experience using a synthesizer.[3]

'Spirits in the Material World' was written on one of those Casio keyboards while I was riding in the back of a truck somewhere. I just tap, tap, tap and there it was, just by accident. That was the first time I'd ever touched a synthesizer, that album.

— Sting, Synchronicity Tour Program, 1983[3]

Andy Summers' presence on the studio track is considerably less pronounced than on the vast majority of Police songs, and in fact, Sting wanted to record it without him entirely. Having written the song on a synthesizer, he wanted for it to use synthesizer instead of guitar, and to play the synthesizer part himself. Summers thought the synthesizer part should be replaced by guitar, and after considerable argument, they compromised by recording the part on both instruments, with a mix such that the synthesizer drowned out much of Summers's guitar.[4] In live performances this part was played on guitar only, with synthesizer used only for background chords. The bass part for the song is distinctively complex, with music producer and cognitive psychologist Daniel Levitin writing that it "takes this rhythmic play to such an extreme that it can be hard to tell where the downbeat even is."[5] The track was recorded at Air Studios Montserrat.

The lyrics comment on the nature of man's existence and the failure of his earthly institutions.

"Spirits in the Material World" eventually saw single release in 1981 as the follow-up to "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic", making it the third single from Ghost in the Machine in Britain and the second in America. The single, while not as successful as its predecessors, peaked at No. 12 in Britain and No. 11 in America. It was followed up by "Secret Journey" in America.

The UK B-side of "Spirits in the Material World," "Low Life," was written by Sting around 1977 in the back of a German tour bus.[3] Although the band's drummer Stewart Copeland claimed to have "always loved the song," guitarist Andy Summers claimed that "Neither Stewart or I liked 'Low Life.' I thought the lyric was snobby and it had a kind of corny jazziness to it."[3] The American B-Side, an instrumental song titled "Flexible Strategies", was recorded in Canada while the band jammed for ten minutes while working on Ghost in the Machine, when word came for them to create a B-Side. According to Stewart Copeland, recording this particular song was a disgrace.[6][7]

Live performances

The band performed the song live during the Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity tours (the latter of which was included on their Live! album) and it was also included on their first North American setlist during their reunion tour. Since the dissolution of the Police, Sting has often performed the song on solo tours.

In all live performances, the song is played in a different key from the studio version. In most cases, Sting plays a more simplified version of the original bassline to play while singing.[8]


Track listing

7": A&M / AMS 8194 (UK)

  1. "Spirits in the Material World" – 2:59
  2. "Low Life" – 3:45

7": A&M / AM 2390 (US)

  1. "Spirits in the Material World" – 3:01
  2. "Flexible Strategies" – 3:44


Chart (1981–82) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[10] 50
Canadian RPM Top Singles 13
Dutch Singles Chart 6
French Singles Chart 4
German Singles Chart 44
Irish Singles Chart 6
UK Singles Chart 12
US Billboard Hot 100[2] 11
US Billboard Top Rock Tracks 7

Cover versions


  1. ^ The Police in the UK Charts, The Official Charts.
  2. ^ a b "The Police – Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 28 March 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b c d e "Spirits In The Material World, 7". sting.com. Retrieved 12 April 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ Summers, Andy (2007). One Train Later, 1st Edition (St. Martin's Griffin), page 295-6.
  5. ^ J., Levitin, Daniel (2006). This is your brain on music : the science of a human obsession. New York, N.Y.: Dutton. ISBN 0525949690. OCLC 65197831.
  6. ^ https://www.discogs.com/The-Police-Spirits-In-The-Material-World/release/1680698
  7. ^ The Police Message in a Box booklet Page 58.
  8. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ta_a5ohtWtc
  9. ^ Sutcliffe, Phil (1993). "The B-sides and Other Obscure Releases". In Message in a Box: The Complete Recordings (pp.57–59) [Boxed set booklet]. A&M Records Ltd.
  10. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 235. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  11. ^ https://www.discogs.com/Michael-Manring-Drastic-Measures/release/2317059
  12. ^ UK Singles Chart for the week of January 20, 1996, The Official Charts.
  13. ^ https://www.discogs.com/Various-Reggatta-Mondatta-A-Reggae-Tribute-To-The-Police/master/827853
  14. ^ https://www.discogs.com/Various-Outlandos-DAmericas-Tributo-A-Police-A-Tribute-To-The-Police/master/1000889
  15. ^ https://www.discogs.com/Various-Backspin-A-Six-Degrees-Ten-Year-Anniversary-Project/release/1385821
  16. ^ https://www.discogs.com/Various-Reggatta-De-Lounge/release/14537969