The Police

King of Pain

Composed by Sting

Song Review by

"King of Pain" was the second single from the phenomenal Synchronicity album, which in turn was the last release for the Police. The song peaked at the number three spot in August of 1983 as one of four Top 20 hits from Synchronicity, which deservedly entered the U.K. charts at number one. Somewhat overshadowed by "Every Breath You Take"'s eight-week appearance on top of the charts, "King of Pain"'s lyrics creep a little deeper, reflecting Sting's fascination with Carl Jung and, to a greater extent, Arthur Koestler. As a Hungarian-born novelist who resided in England, Koestler was enthralled with parapsychology and the unexplained workings of the mind (he wrote the book titled The Ghost in the Machine in the late '60s, which the Police named their fourth album after). Musically, "King of Pain" harbors an odd-sounding rhythmical structure, but it fits in well with the album's philosophical and psychological concepts. With its eerie, semi-shaded introduction that works into a crawling tempo, "King of Pain"'s haunting, isolated appeal is bred by the lone piano in the background and the coldness of the vocals at the front. Just as Stewart Copeland's wispy percussion and the ghost-like vocal backing come into play, the chorus abundantly kicks in, and the song begins to take flight. Although the lyrics are a little obscure and metaphoric, Sting's references to "painful" yet everyday occurrences (a butterfly caught in a spider's web, a seagull with a broken back, etc.) symbolize how the physical world regards death and pain as insignificant and minute in the grand scheme of things, whereas the human perception is dealt with an abundance of sorrow and anguish. The song's ideals are esoteric to be sure, but most of the album's tracks fared this way as well, mildly exploring the human psyche but at the same time collaborating to create a solid masterpiece, thus forging a name for the Police in rock & roll history.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Synchronicity 1983 A&M / Interscope 4:59
Synchronicity [Video] 1983 A&M / A&M Video
Every Breath You Take: The Singles 1986 A&M 4:57
Message in a Box: The Complete Recordings 1993 A&M / Interscope / Polydor / Universal 4:59
Live! 1995 A&M / Interscope 5:53
Every Breath You Take: The Classics 1995 Universal 4:59
Don't Stand So Close to Me [CD5 Single] 1998 A&M
Greatest Hits 1998 Polydor / A&M / Interscope 4:58
Every Breath You Take/Live in Atlanta [Bonus DVD] 2004 Universal International 5:00
Synchronicity Concert 2005 A&M
The Police 2007 Polystar (Japan) 4:59
Certifiable [Video] 2008 A&M / Polydor
No Image 2013
Various Artists
Shout! Factory 6:57
blue highlight denotes editor's pick