Suggest a Songfact / Artistfact
Album: SynchronicityReleased: 1983
The lyrics describe how to get in the mindset of killing people. Sting said it is about the evil deeds of politicians.
Sting wrote this with guitarist Andy Summers
. It was their only collaboration on Synchronicity
; besides the songs "Miss Gradenko" (Stewart Copeland) and "Mother
" (Summers), the songs on the album were written entirely by Sting.
This was used as the B-side of "Every Breath You Take
," but it was omitted from the vinyl copy of Synchronicity
. At the time, vinyl copies went on sale before cassettes, and CD technology was just emerging. Many people would buy the vinyl copies right away, so leaving this off encouraged them to also purchase the "Every Breath You Take" single or the cassette.
This was featured in the Sigourney Weaver movie Copycat. In the film, a serial killer leaves the lyrics to the song as a clue.
At some concerts, Sting introduced this by saying it was about the manipulation of large groups of people, knowing that the audience were being manipulated the whole time.
TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart said that this was performed by "The sons of Satan." In 1988, a few years after he made his comments, Swaggart was involved in a sex scandal.
Sting appeared at a Frank Zappa concert after meeting the eccentric composer before the show. When he got onstage, the band started to play "Murder By Numbers" as Sting talked about the comments Jimmy Swaggart made about this song being written by Satan, Beelzebub, and Lucifer. He concluded by saying, "I wrote the f**king song, alright?" He went on to sing the whole song with the band and the track appears on Zappa's live album, Broadway the Hard Way
Murder By Numbers
is the title of a 2002 movie staring Sandra Bullock.
Sting remembers Andy Summers bringing "a set of very jazzy and sophisticated chords" to the studio and wanting to put lyrics to them. Still on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, Sting took a tape of the chords with him on a long walk to a volcano at the top of the island.
He wrote in Lyrics By Sting
: "A few years later this volcano would destroy half of Montserrat, but on this day it was just bubbling quietly and throwing up a strong smell of sulfur. The words formed in my head and that pungent smell of sulfur continued to cling to the song: Jimmy Swaggart, the TV evangelist, publicly cited it as an example of the devil's work. He condemned it colorfully while entirely missing its irony and its satirical content. The devil indeed!
" (Sulfur has long been associated with the devil and demons in folklore, suggesting the smell emanates from the fiery pits of Hell.)