This song is about a man who falls in love with a prostitute. Sting got the idea after walking through the red-light district of Paris when the band was in town to play a club called The Nashville, where he saw prostitutes for the first time. He imagined what it would be like to fall in love with one of them, figuring some of them must have boyfriends.
This was the first major-label release by The Police, who were struggling at the time. A year earlier, they released the single "Fall Out" on an independent label owned by Stewart Copeland's brother (and the band's manager), Miles. It was a flop, and the group felt a lot of pressure to produce something that would keep them off the dole.
When they convened at Surrey Sound Studios outside of London in January 1978, they recorded the song with producer Nigel Gray, who owned the studio. Sting liked the song but didn't think it would be a hit, as it was far more brooding than their other material. Miles Copeland thought differently - he was far more impressed with "Roxanne" than with anything else they recorded at those sessions, and insisted it be the single. Miles got a distribution deal for the song with A&M Records, getting no advance, only royalties from sales.
The song was released in the UK on April 7, but didn't garner much attention. It was also largely ignored in the US when it was released there on February 24, 1979, but The Police soldiered on with a tour of America anyway. When a disc jockey in Austin stared playing the song, it got a great response and other radio stations added it to their playlists. The song became a minor hit, peaking at #32 on April 28. The song also got some attention in the UK around this time, and it made #12 about a year after it was first released.
The intro to the song contains one of the great happy accidents in rock history. There was an upright piano in the studio, which Sting sat on thinking the lid was closed. Tape was rolling for his vocal, so the sound of his butt hitting the piano and his subsequent laughter were recorded. These sounds were mixed into the intro, providing a unique texture.
Sting chose the name Roxanne because it has a rich history behind it. Roxanne was the name of Alexander The Great's wife and Cyrano de Bergerac's girlfriend.
Police guitarist Andy Summers made a key contribution to this song. In our interview with Summers, he explained: "'Roxanne' is so identified by that guitar at the beginning - the first verse before he starts singing. It's immediately identifiable."
The Police performed this when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. With the exception of a drunken jam at Sting's wedding in 1992, it was the first time they played together since they broke up in 1986 over personal differences. At the ceremony, guitarist Andy Summers joked, "I'd like to make it very clear that there is no ego in our band whatsoever."
The beat on this song is a classic fusion of rock and reggae, but Sting considers is more of a tango.
In 1987, Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah starred in the movie Roxanne, which is based on the Cyrano DeBergerac story of a dramatist with a big nose who falls for a beautiful woman. The song was not used in the film.
A remake of this song was featured in the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge. Christian (Ewan McGregor) sings this about Satine (Nicole Kidman) when he becomes enraged in a fit of jealousy. And guess what? They made it into a tango, so this song can no longer be mistaken for a reggae beat... Sting must be very proud.
Suggestion credit: Kristy - La Porte City, IA
Sting performs this at most of his concerts, as it's one of his favorites and it always gets a great audience response. He played it at Live Aid in 1985.
In the 1982 movie 48 Hours, Eddie Murphy sings a very off-key version of the song in a jail cell.
This song is the basis for a popular drinking game of the same title: men drink when it says "Roxanne," women drink when it says "Red Light."
Suggestion credit: Alex - Charleston, WV
When The Police reunited in 2007, their first public performance came at the Grammy Awards, where they played this to open the show.
A version by San Francisco singer-songwriter Juliet Simms debuted at #86 on the Hot 100 in April 2012 after she performed the song on the reality music show The Voice.
The original sheet of lyrics for this song is decorated with Sting's random doodles, most dealing with the passage of time. They are "three clocks - one at five to four, another at ten past six, and one sidelong that looks to be showing eight o'clock - a sundial, an hourglass, five sets of five-bar gates that prisoners use to mark the passing of days, some kind of whirlwind vortex spinning in the top right-hand corner, and a spear or an arrowhead. I imagine I was drawing these as I was listening back to various takes of the vocals, but I don't know what they mean," Sting wrote in Lyrics By Sting. (These illustrations can be seen on the back cover of the book).
"I sing 'Roxanne' every night," Sting told Daniel Rachel for the 2013 book The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters. "There's always a little inflection that is new or a possibility that opens it out. It's not my job to reproduce a record that was made thirty years ago. I use that and I respect that, but it's only a template. It's that jazz mentality. You use the head of the song just as a starting point."
Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 25th 1979, the Police performed "Roxanne" on the BBC-TV program 'Top of the Pops'... Two months earlier on February 18th it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #82; and on April 22nd it peaked at #32 (for 2 weeks) and spent 13 weeks on the Top 100... Between 1979 and 1997 the trio had thirteen Top 100 hits; with six making the Top 10 and one reaching #1 ("Every Breath You Take" for 8 weeks in 1983).
Steve from Grand Island , NeGeorge Michael also has a "Roxanne" and video that was shot in Amsterdam's Red light district.
Esskayess from Dallas, TxBob Rivers made a spoof of this called 'Roseanne,' about chunky Roseanne Barr. 'You don't have to put on the red light' was replaced by 'You don't have to pick up that next bite.'
Jorge from Bronx, NyThis band played with a reggae sounds later knew called as SKA,First saw them,in the early 80's I believe The Go Go's were opening act and i was working in MSG in New York City,Since then,they were part of my collection,Best album ever Zenyatta Mondatta!
Breanna from Heber, UtDude this is the cruelist drinking game ever. I was listening to it with one of my friends and he was like, "Ok picture this, every time he says Roxanne or put the red light on, imagine drinking to it, then tell me if you would die or not." He was right, this song is deffinetly a cruel drinking game so note to everyone out there don't do it! I sure know I won't.
Roxanne from Pittsburgh, PaThis is a wonderful song. I love it. It puts a smile on my face everytime someone starts singing it to me. How could it not. I hope someday to watch Sting perform this in person. Before this song came out my name was rarely heard. Sting, thanks for making my name well known & liked. Roxanne, Pittsburgh, PA
Craig from Newport Beach, CaSting accidentally fell on a keyboard in the studio and laughed in embarrassment, both of which you hear at the very beginning of the song.
Thegripester from Wellington, New ZealandHey Don from Phoenix, that was "Walking On The Moon," not "Roxanne." At least in the interview I heard.
Cristina from Long Beach, CaI love this song it is the best, and one of my aunties named her baby roxanne without knowing that there was a song so (ummm whats the word) right....dirty but yeah i love this song yeah and this song is so addictive it is impossible not to sing to it
Roxanne from Dallas, TxI used to run and hide every time i heard this song, being as how i didn't enjoy the attention or repetition of my name. Then when i learned it was about a prostitute, my hatred for the song grew. However, now I have grown to love the song and feel awesome that I have a song with my name in it, (cause not every one does) It is also an impossible drinking game. There is just something about knowing people are getting drunk in the honor of "Roxanne" hahaha And my favorite question is, "have you ever heard that song?" my sarcastic reply.."No, i have no idea what you're talking about, how does it go?"
Don from Phoenix, AzI was amused by Sting's reminiscence in an interview about the moment they knew they had really "arrived" as legitimate recording artists: They were staying in a hotel in Amsterdam and a window washer was working his way up the exterior of the building, and they could hear him whistling "Roxanne."
Paul from Austin, TxI was at the police concert on 3/22/83 at the Special Events Center in Austin and I heard Sting say to the audience why Austin was special to them - "There was a record called Roxanne, which came out in England. Nobody gave a f*** about it. Nobody played it. By accident it ended up in a radio station in Austin, Texas. I'm not bullsh***ing, this is true. They played it on the radio station and people phoned up and said they liked it. The radio station next door picked it up and the town next to that picked it up. And we found ourselves with a hit. This all happened in Austin, Texas." The radio station they were referring to was KLBJ-FM.
Phil from Bradford, United KingdomThe Police's flagship song. Knocks spots off 'Dont stand...', 'Walking on moon', 'Message in bottle', 'Every breath...'. Was there a donkey in 'Every little thing she does is magic'? Eeyore, Eeyore, Eeyore, Eeyore.
Vanessa from St, Louis, IlI absolutely love this song. I met my husband to this song, it was our first song at our wedding (yes, I know, weird song for a wedding.. but hey!).
Rebecca from Vancouver, BcThey are really great in concert. I saw them in June. The only thing was Sting couldn't go high when he sang the chorus, so he sang it lower. Oh well I respect him, and i know it is probably because he doesn't have the same range he used to anymore, but when they played in in June it was still great!
Rebecca from Vancouver, BcI like this song a lot. I have been listening to it for as long as i can remember and I don't really care that it is about a guy who loves a prostitute, it is still a great song with a great beat and nice bass.
Roxanne from Denver, CoI hate this song, when it first came out I was teased so bad that it turned me against it. Now some 30 some years later I still hate this song. Some guy just came into the office and when he heard my name, he started singing this song. GOD HOW I HATE THAT.
Michaela from Brooklyn, NyJust like Molly,MA. I thought the same thing about this song.
Chris from Brisbane, AustraliaI just saw their concert in Brisbane and WOW. This was probably one of the only crowd-moving song played, this and Every Breathe You Take. This song is so awesome!
Roxanne from Dover, DeI HATE this song.I was born before it was released and my brother named me,but I hate meeting someone and the first thing they do is sing this song. My husband thinks it is so funny that i get so mad.
Drake from Monroe, LaJust as most people have songs they love and will go out of their way to hear, there are those songs people hate with a passion. For me, this song is one of those that will make me get up and turn the radio off the minute I hear it. Most of the songs the Police made, I like immensely. Why people like this is beyond me. I think Sting (and the rest of the Police) were right to be amazed by its promotion. Regardless of what this song means or seems to mean, its a piece of terrible music history.
Frank from Best, United StatesThe First sounds of the song aren't 'in time' with the rest, due to a delayed start of the Mastertape. Listen! And indeed, Sting fell over the piano. What a great start of a career!!
Molly from Boston, Mai think fall out boy did this song too. but FOB's version sucked. i never knew it was about a prostitute thought it was 'bout some girl he met.
I. Orta from Austin, Txwhy the heck is every song eventually connected to the same F-ing songs, if people have different tastes and likes then why is every song connected to the same songs the ones above. this site is some how rigged
Shannon from Bakersfield, CaI never knew that this song was about a prostitute.Until my father told me that was very awkword.
Mike from Hueytown , AlThis song never gets old. Kick ass song !
Roxann from Austin, Txi love this song and so did my mother that she named me after this song. but i dont have an "e" at the end!!! she loved hearing him say Roxanne and so do i!!!!
Danielle from Palm Coast, Flsting and his shocking romances first he writes of a teacher an student, than a man falling for a prostitute. good song lyrics are not the great but good beat.
Shane from Perth, Wa10 years after hearing it for the first time and still loving more than ever
Karol from Toronto, Canadadoes anyone know if this has to do with daniel defoe's novel, "roxana"?
Karol from Toronto, Canadain moulin rouge, isn't it the argentinian who sings roxanne, not christian?
Ted from Indianapolis, InI don't know if this is true, but I heard it was a DJ on KLBJ in Austin, Tx that kept playing this song over and over and it eventually caught on all the way to national prominence. Can anyone confirm this?
Sean from Brockton, MaJust before the laughing at the beginning, there is an off key "bong" which sounds like a synthesizer being leaned on by accident. I always thought this was an accident and the laugh was as a result of it (and they left it in to stay true to their original "punk" roots). I now wonder if this was added after Sting's trip or if it was as a result of his trip over the "piano" on the way into the studio.
Rob from Vancouver, Canadajohnny=well
Johnny from Los Angeles, Carob=sick. Jeez. This Song Rocks!!!
Rob from Vancouver, CanadaAnd didn't Eddie Murphy showcase his huge musical potential when he sang this in "48 Hours"?
Rob from Vancouver, Canada"Don't stand so close to me" wasn't about a pro....sting was an english teacher before the Police and it was about one of his students...but i'm almost sure that "mother" was about a hooker
Rob from Vancouver, CanadaWas it a tear?....or maybe something else.heheh
Juan Loire from Vallarta, MexicoI remember I went up to Tijuana Mexico, and they played this song at a brothel... it was such a trip... brought a tear to my eye.
Tay from Ltown, NeFall out Boy did a cover for this song its great!
Jo-c from Lima, PeruOne of the best songs in history! And watching it on Moulin Rouge was simply mind-blowing. Classic.
Amy from Melbourne, AustraliaActually, the song 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' was also about a prostitute... Amy, Melbourne, Australia
Lexie from Sydney, AustraliaThis song is sorta refered to in Episode 10, Season 8 of Friends, Pheobe wants Ross to get tickets to a Sting concert because Ross's son goes to the same school as Stings (apparently) anyway she says Rosssssssssssssssssssssss cann.. like Roxxxxxxannnneee.. hmm
Saralysette from Ashland, OrI used to go by Roxy till this song came out again
Dave from Cardiff, WalesThis song was featured in an episode of the popular action series "The 'A'-Team" in 1985, where B.A. Baracus throws Murdock's radio off an elevator when they were pretending to be window cleaners. No wonder the song became a firm favourite of radio stations in the 1980s!
Amanda from Canberra, AustraliaI would like to say that ever since Moulin Rouge had the "tango" version of this song, it has become very additctive! I love it - Thanks to Sting for writing it!
Adam from Jupiter, FlI was in an English Pub a short while ago and they played a drinking game when this song came on. Every time the name 'Roxanne' is mentioned, the patrons tipped their beers. Think about it - that's a lot of tipping! No wonder they were such a jolly lot.