On this day in 1979, British rock band The Police released the single “Roxanne” in the United States. (It was released in the UK in April of the previous year.)
Though we now think of “Roxanne” as The Police’s signature song—Rolling Stone even dubbed it one of the top 500 rock songs—when it came out initially it was largely ignored.
According to Song Facts, it was a DJ in Austin, Texas, who started the “Roxanne” surge, and by April of 1979, The song had become a minor hit, peaking at No. 32 on the US Billboard charts and at No. 12 in the UK.
Sting got the idea for the song walking through the red-light district of Paris, and originally intended it to be a bossa nova, although he credited drummer Stewart Copeland for turning its rhythmic form into a tango.
He told The Independent: “I was playing this very sparse bass line, just two notes per bar, and Stewart said, ‘Why don’t you come in on the off beat,’ which made it a tango. I was into Bob Marley at the time, singing with that kind of lilt. The melody has a lot of whoops and swoops, and then goes into this rock-and-roll chorus. It sounded really odd, but in a nice way. Everyone who heard it said they had heard the constituent parts before but never the hybrid.”
As Brad Schlueter notes in his transcription of Copeland’s “Roxanne” drum parts, “This unusual pop song about a prostitute has an even stranger drum pattern. Copeland plays & 2 on his bass drum under a typical rock hi-hat pattern that accents all the quarter-notes. It’s very cool and completes the reggae feel of the tune. The pre-chorus features a reggae-meets-mambo groove that somehow works perfectly.”