It was released as a worldwide single by A&M Records. It was the second single from Synchronicity in the US and the fourth single in the UK.
Reaching number 3 in the US charts in October 1983, and number 1 on the BillboardTop Tracks chart for five weeks in August 1983, the single is The Police's most successful US single (together with "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic") after "Every Breath You Take" based on chart position. In the UK, it reached number 17 in the charts in January 1984.
In a retrospective review of the single, Allmusic journalist Mike DeGagne praised the song as being "a solid masterpiece." He wrote: "Sting's references to painful yet everyday occurrences (a butterfly caught in a spider's web, a seagull with a broken back, etc.) symbolize how the physical world regards death and pain as insignificant and minute in the grand scheme of things, whereas the human perception is dealt with an abundance of sorrow and anguish."