Message in a Bottle

Album: Reggatta de Blanc (1979)
Charted: 1 74
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  • This song is about a guy stranded on a remote island. One day he finds a bottle, puts a message in it and throws it out to sea in hopes that someone will find it and come save him. He's thrilled to wake up one morning and find a whole bunch (a hundred billion, by his count) of bottles on the shore, proving there are many other castaways just like him. The lyrics can be seen as a metaphor for being lonely and realizing there are lots of people just like you. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Sid - Bryson City, NC
  • Sting said in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh: "I think the lyrics are subtle and well crafted enough to hit people on a different level from something you just sing along to. It's quite a cleverly put together metaphor. It develops and has an artistic shape to it."

    Guitarist Andy Summers said it was the best track he ever played on.
  • Until they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this was the last song The Police played together; after breaking up in 1986, they performed it at Sting's wedding to Trudie Styler in 1992. Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers were all a little drunk and didn't play it very well, but the guests loved it. In 2003, The Police got together again for the induction ceremonies, where they played this along with "Roxanne" and "Every Breath You Take."
  • This was the first single from the second Police album, Reggatta De Blanc (which means "White Reggae" in Police-speak). In the UK, their first album, Outlandos d'Amour, was released a year earlier but was still being discovered. "Roxanne" and "Can't Stand Losing You" had charted, but the band was still bubbling under. "Message In A Bottle" was when they exploded in Britain; the song went to #1 on September 29, 1979 and stayed for three weeks. Their next single, "Walking On The Moon," also went to the top. At this point, "So Lonely," a track from their first album that flopped when it was issued as a single, was re-released, reaching #6 in March 1980.

    In America, "Message In A Bottle" was just a minor hit, reaching #74 in December 1979. It wasn't until their third album, Zenyatta Mondatta, released in 1980, that the group got much attention in the US.
  • Sting wrote in Lyrics By Sting: "I was pleased that I'd managed a narrative song with a beginning, a middle, and some kind of philosophical resolution in the final verse. If I'd been a more sophisticated songwriter, I would have probably illuminated this change of mood by modulating the third verse into a different key. But it worked anyway."
  • This song is "Hey Jude"-like in its outro, with the phrase "sending out an SOS" repeated over and over for over a minute as it slowly fades. We counted 25 repetitions of the phrase.

    Drummer Stewart Copeland overdubbed some cymbals and snare on top of this section, which he later came to regret. "I just overdid it," he told Songfacts. "Where was Andy [Summers] when we needed him? Because usually it was Andy who was the limiter of our indulgence. He must have stepped out of the studio."
  • The first person to hear the guitar riff for this song was not a person at all, but Sting's dog. "I used to play it over and over again to my dog in our basement flat in Bayswater," Sting wrote in Lyrics By Sting, "and he would stare at me with that look of hopeless resignation dogs can have when they're waiting for their walk in the park. Was it that hopeless look that provoked the idea of the island castaway and his bottle? I don't know, but the song sounded like a hit the first time we played it. The dog finally got his walk, and this song was our first number-one in the UK."
  • This was the first ever UK #1 for the A&M label, which Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss founded in 1962.
  • This might be the most famous song where a singer sends out an SOS distress signal, but it's certainly not the only one. The Clash did it in "London Calling," and many groups have done it metaphorically to signify love gone wrong.
  • Sting performed this at an Amnesty International benefit in 1981 that was used in a film released the following year called The Secret Policeman's Other Ball.
  • This was one of the most popular live songs for the band, played at just about every concert after it was released, often as the set opener. Sting continued to perform it as a solo artist, including at his set at Live Aid in 1985.
  • After MTV launched in 1981, The Police made some high-concept, big budget videos that were huge on the network. Prior to that, their videos were more restrained. The "Message in a Bottle" video combines concert footage with shots of the band performing it in some kind of backstage area. It was directed by Derek Burbidge.
  • Sting performed this with No Doubt at halftime of the 2003 Super Bowl between the Bucs and Raiders. No Doubt lead singer Gwen Stefani came out and sang with him about midway through. Stefani inducted Police into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later that year.
  • It may surprise you to learn that the song was influenced by the church music that Sting used to sing as a child. He explained in Isle of Noises by Daniel Rachel: "I used to sing Gregorian chants and plainsong as an altar boy. A lot of my melodies might reflect that love and my early exposure to that stark, melodic narrative. 'Message In A Bottle' reflects that, too."
  • This was used on several TV shows, including Ballykissangel, in the 1996 episode "Fallen Angel"; in Doctors, in the 2011 episode "Message in a Bottle"; and in The Office (US), in the 2007 episode "Phyllis' Wedding."
  • The Police boxed set is called Message In A Box as a reference to this song.
  • The industrial metal band Machinehead covered this on their 1999 album The Burning Red >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Torbjørn - Trondheim, Norway
  • There is a 1999 film by the same name starring Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn, and Paul Newman that is not directly connected to this song. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Mike - Mountlake Terrace, WA
  • In 2003, this song got the post-punk treatment when American Hi-Fi covered it for the film Rugrats Go Wild.
  • The UK girl group All Saints performed the song on BBC Children in Need Rocks 2018, and they continued to include it in their live sets. They released their version, which features additional vocals by Sting, in April 2020.
  • In 2009, Sting's vineyard in Italy started producing a red wine called "Message In A Bottle." He also has a series of wines called "Roxanne."

Comments: 38

  • AnonymousLast line: Sending out an Esso Blue
  • Anne from Hamburg For me, the song is about alcoholism. The loneliness expressed with the bottle.
  • Andy from TorontoI've always felt like it was possible he woke up and found all of his own messages washed back up on shore, but he's kinda crazy now or in denial and thinks it's other castaways.
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxI knew someone who had served in the Army who always pictured Sting sending chipped beef on toast to the world whenever he heard this.
  • Thegripester from Wellington, New ZealandI know it's just a metaphor, but think for a minute about how many bottle a hundred billion is. If the average bottle is 4 inches wide and 1 foot long, that's a carpet of bottles that is over 1 square mile.
  • Thegripester from Wellington, New ZealandThe Pete Townsend story below is BS, btw. Townsend's biggest dependency problems have been alcoholism, not heroin addiction.
  • Joe from Norwalk, CtThank you Andrew from London for clarifying what the "sending out an Esso Blue" meant as the last line of the song. I've been trying to find out the meaning of that for the better part of a quarter century!
  • Thegripester from Wellington, New ZealandThis is how much of a contemporary music geek I am - I hear one of the verses as "No one there but Milhaud..." (Darius Milhaud, french composer 1892-1974, pronounced "mee-oh"). Btw, the Police disbanded in 1984, not 1986 as it says above. But they briefly reunited for a recording project in '86, that might be what they mean.
  • Miz Lady from Oakland, CaThis song seems to just be about love. Love leaves you stranded alove, when it's gone like you are the only one on that island of loneliness and you send out an S.O.S. for someone else to come along and rescue you with what? Love. For every love disaster you have, don't fear everyone is going through the same thing and looking for someone to love. Pick up a bottle, be rescued and rescuer.
  • Anthony from Cape May, NjSong is a great classic i always remember hearing on the radio on my trips to Philly.. The song is great for listening to if you feel lonely, reminding you of the millions out there that feel the same way that you can hope to meet and help :)
  • Ashley from Carlisle, PaI freakin' love this song.
  • Jeff from Austin, TxI always loved this song. During the first chorus after the second "I'll send an SOS to the world", that drum fill was always one of my all time favorites. Copeland was a genius.
  • Jamie from Brandon, Mblyrics are mediforic about an outcast who looks for people like him but he thinks theres noone out there but one day finds out that there are millions of outcast like him
  • Derreck from Unknown, PaThis song is quite obvious is meaning. A person has lost someone that they had been in a romantic relationship with. Whether the person with them cheated on them, or they passes away, or just broke up with the narrarator... it doesn't matter, I suppose that's self opinion. But obviously, the point of view in the song, is saying the the person became lonely and began to give up hope... thinking that there's no one else out there. Their past love was the only good one, but now that they're gone, there's nobody left out there for them. Though at the part where it mentions "hundred million bottles washed up on the shore" it's pointing out that all this time he has been moping around, lost in his own thoughts and feeling hopeless, he hadn't even taken a second to realize there's so many people out there, he can find someone else. I dunno, to me that's what i believe.
  • Andrew from London, Englandpretty obvious what this is about but if you listen carefully to the album version the final line that Sting sings is "sending out an ESSO BLUE" which was a popular brand of parafin that heated our homes back in the 50s and 60s
  • Pat from Reading, Mathis is an episode of the office and in guitar hero 2. sick song
  • Shannon from Bakersfield , CaI love the police and this song is my favorite.
    Sting is an ezcellant song writer and I want to write beautiful songs just like him some day(I know kinda teenie bopper-ish)but it's true.I'm a poet myself.The poice and their music is so insparational.
  • Kent from Toronto, CanadaAs a demonstration of how these neighbouring music markets differ, this song went to #1 in Canada, compared to its #74 chart placing in the US. (Some other Police #1's in Canada: "Don't Stand So Close To Me", "De Doo Doo Doo, De Da Da Da", "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic", "Every Breath You Take"; only the last title was also a US chart-topper.)
  • Sam from Baraboo, Wii say here it once or a hundred just try it. as i said before favorite song.
  • Sam from Baraboo, Withis is my favorite song, everything is cool about's so good i can''t even think what to type.
  • Dylan from New Britain, CtI like the Sting solo live versions better than the studio Police version
  • Abc from New York City, NyPerhaps MIAB states: 'no one is an island' ?
    Also, I'd like to comment on the Police EBYT DVD: Does Sting, or Andy, or Stewart ever glance at these things before they're flooded into the market? Just wondering what they think of the quality, which could have been a lot better since the VHS version came out in 1986. However, the additional segment with Jules Holland on 'The Police in Montserrat' was worth buying the DVD for. "Chocks away"
  • Fletch from Buffalo, NyI was told that this song is about Pete Townsend trying to ween himself off of heroin. He went to a secluded island to get away from it and a boat with crate of coccaine capsized and the coccaine washed upon the shore, thus the Message in a Bottle. There's much more irony than people think. Listen to the lyrics and most of it makes sense. This makes the song that much more enjoyable whether it's true or not.
  • Luke from Charlottesville, VaThis is a great song when done by the police, however, I like Matisyahu's version a little better.
  • Anderson P Faleiro from Lagoa Santa, NvI never get bored to listining to this song.It is deeper than we imagine. I sometimes picture myself in the place of the castaway. It is amazing how a song can tell so much with so little words. It is more than a song, it is a great poetry.
  • Lp from New York, NyRegatta does mean a boat race but you have to consider that the on the album it's spelled "reggatta" -- with two G's. Maybe just a typo. But maybe it's intentional...
  • Rick from Humboldt, IaThe best part about this song is how it sounds like it's about a castaway until the last verse in which you discover the whole song is just a massive metaphor for loneliness.
  • Joe from Hoffman Estates, IlGod this song is amazing. Awesome guitar, amazing drums, and the singing is great. The lyrics are so awesome too, I think everyone can relate to this song in some way.
  • Ben from Nyc, MsHe better than lennon. heck Ray daies of the Kinks is better than Lennon
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaSting is a great songwriter. I compare him to the likes of John Lennon and Bob Dylan for the 80's
  • Will from Schoharie, NyTo expand on John's comment, what I think the song is about is a man who has suffered the devastating loss of a significant other, probably through a break-up. The "S.O.S. to the world"/"Message in a Bottle" probably signify his attempt to reach outside of himself and try to find new love. This is a great risk that comes with a great reward if one is successful, as evidenced by the line "Love can mend your life/But love can break your heart."
  • John from Brooklyn, NyThe writer seems to have "More loneliness
    Than any man could bear" due any number of things, a break up, loss of friend, depression etc. Most probably it is over a failed relationship, "Love can break your heart." He starts to reach out to other people with "a message in a bottle." To his surprise he finds out that one hundre million people (and perhaps everyone in the world) has the same problem as him. We've all suffered a loss in our lifes and we must remember that everyone else has too. The problem is not unique. He is a figurative "castaway" after his loss of love.
  • Kd from Chicago, IlThe album title doesn't mean "White Reggae." The first three album titles were just nonsense titles that sounded cool. "Blanc" does mean white but "regatta" is a boat race.
  • Allan from Greebock, ScotlandThis song always reminds me of my holidays, this song was playing on the plane radio and I thought i was just singing to myself, but i was singing the song very loudly and everybody was looking at me. lol
  • Hannahbaby from Eugene, OrJohn Mayer covered this song and is by far one of the best covers by anyone. He sounds almost exactly like Sting when he does now with out the band.
  • Marc from Brooklyn, NyOne of the greatest rock classics. Cool riff, great harmonies and progressions, and lyrics with a spin on em. The bus fact was from a documentary, "Police in Montserrat" which is featured in the Every Breath You Take DVD.
  • Matt from KrakÃ?w, PolandNow, this piece really kicks ass. It is a masterpiece (funny to learn it was written in the back of the bus)
  • Luke from Manchester, EnglandMAchine Head are not an Industrial Metal band, they are thrash metal - There is a difference
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