This song is about a teacher who lusts after one of his students. Sting was a teacher before joining The Police. After a lot of speculation, Sting denied that this came from any personal experience on the DVD for his 2001 All This Time album. (thanks, Tiffany - Castro Valley, CA)
The line "Just like the old man in the book by Nabokov" refers to the novel Lolita
by Vladimir Nabokov, which is about an older man who pursues underage girls. Sting based this song on the book. Sting mispronounces the author's name - the "bo" should be stressed. Also, in the novel Lolita
, Humbert is not quite an old man. (thanks, Martin - London, United Kingdom)
The Police recorded this over a period of months. The song started as a Hammond organ-based Soul track then evolved through various complex arrangements, until it was eventually reduced to it's simplest elements.
This sold 900,000 copies and was the best selling single of 1980 in the UK.
This won the 1981 Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Group.
The Police reunited in 1986 to record updated versions of some of their old songs. The reunion brought out old hostilities, and this was the only song they completed. The new version was released as a single titled "Don't Stand So Close To Me '86," and included on their greatest hits album Every Breath You Take - The Singles.
In 1985, Sting worked with Dire Straits on "Money For Nothing
," which has a chorus that sounds very similar to this (compare the lines "Don't stand so close to me" with "I want my MTV"). Sting did not want a songwriting credit, but his record company thought he should get one so they could receive royalties.
This was featured on Friends in the episode "The One Where Underdog Gets Away." Joey was on a poster for Venereal Disease treatment, and the song was played when they showed all the posters all over New York City. (thanks, matt - Milton, PA)
The race horse Zenyatta is named after the album Zenyatta Mondatta. The horse is owned by Jerry Moss, who signed The Police to his label A&M Records.
This is an example of Sting's "work-backward" method. "I pluck a title from the air, just free-associating, and then try to figure out a story that it could apply to," he wrote in Lyrics By Sting. Fascinated by the dangerous obsession at the center of Nabokov's novel, he "transposed this idea to a relationship between a teacher and his pupil. Wanting by this time to identify whatever my sources were, I conspired to get the author's name into the song with one of the loosest rhymes in the history of pop. Well, I thought it was hilarious, but I caught some flak."
This was used on The Simpsons episode "On a Clear Day I Can't See My Sister" (2005), on The Office (US) episode "Casino Night" (2006), and on the Glee episode "Ballad" (2009).