This song is about a teacher who lusts after one of his students. Sting was a teacher before joining The Police, and was no doubt the subject of young girl fantasy, but he insists the lyric is not based on personal experience. Putting the speculation to rest, he explained on the DVD for his 2001 All This Time
album that he made up the story.
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.
Martin - London, United Kingdom
The Police recorded this in Holland 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.
In the UK, this sold 900,000 copies and was the best-selling single of 1980.
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.
The band made a video for this song in 1980 that MTV put in rotation when they launched the following year. In the clip, the guys are larking about a school in graduation gowns, with Sting going through a few costume changes and taking his shirt off at one point. They're clearly having fun and messing around with each other - it's a good snapshot of how they could get on in their early years.
They also made a video for the 1986 version of the song, this one directed by Godley & Creme. No shenanigans in that one, just the band looking somber amid many dated special effects.
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).
This was featured in the first-season Friends
episode "The One Where Underdog Gets Away," where the character Joey appears on a poster for venereal disease treatment. The song plays when they show the posters all over New York City.
Matt - Milton, PA
When Stewart Copeland put together the 2006 documentary Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out
, he created new versions of some of the songs using the original masters and outtakes. "The version of 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' comes from both studio recordings because we re-recorded it - strangely, no one can remember why - but we re-recorded it in a different key and I jammed both of those versions together, which was a hell of a puzzle to figure out the transition keys," he told Songfacts
. "I used Sting's overdubs because he did some amazing overdub work with the new version of 'Don't Stand So Close To Me,' which I used on the original backing track."
In the video, Sting is wearing a T-shirt for the band The Beat (known in America as The English Beat) in some scenes. The Beat was an opening act for some shows on the Ghost in the Machine tour.