It was 38 years ago today (Feb. 12) that British punk/new-wave band The Police went into the studio to record their first-ever single “Fall Out” in 1977, for the equivalent of $250. The song never charted and never appeared on a studio album (only on compilations and live recordings), and today only the most dedicated Police fans probably remember it.
However, their second single, “Roxanne,” generated enough interest to land The Police a contract with A&M Records, starting them on their path to worldwide fame—and today, “Roxanne” is known as one of their signature songs.
Ironically enough, “Roxanne” didn’t see much chart success, either. On its first release on the band’s debut album Outlandos d’Amour in 1978, it didn’t chart at all, and when it was re-released a year later as North America’s introduction to the band, “Roxanne” barely broke the Top-40 in the U.S. (although it reached No. 12 in the UK). Despite the band’s manager’s infatuation with Sting’s song about a man falling in love with a prostitute (inspired by the hookers he observed outside a Paris hotel), it appeared to be a modest hit, at best.
But something about the song resonated with the band’s growing fan base, and it just wouldn’t go away. Despite “Roxanne’s” meager chart action in comparison with later hits like “Every Breath You Take,” it somehow remained a favorite with fans and a staple in The Police’s playlist.
Speaking of fans, although The Police disbanded in the mid-1980s, they remain one of the few rock acts in history whose studio albums have all gone Platinum. And when the band reunited briefly to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2007, their Reunion Tour became the third-highest grossing tour of all time, raking in over $350 million in ticket sales.
After the band’s breakup, lead singer Sting (and writer of “Roxanne”) went on to have an incredibly successful solo career, and recently ventured into Broadway success with his semi-autobiographical musical The Last Ship. As for the song that effectively launched The Police and Sting’s international career, “Roxanne” is now listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame among the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.