|"Spirits in the Material World"|
|Single by The Police|
|from the album Ghost in the Machine|
|Released||11 December 1981 (United Kingdom)|
1982 (United States)
|Label||A&M – AMS 8194|
|The Police singles chronology|
"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 and No. 11 in the US in early 1982.
"Spirits in the Material World" was written by Sting on a Casio keyboard while in a truck. It was his first experience using a synthesizer.
'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
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. 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." 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. 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." 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.
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.
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||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||11|
|US Billboard Top Rock Tracks||7|