Spirits in the Material World

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"Spirits in the Material World"
Single by The Police
from the album Ghost in the Machine
B-side "Low Life" (U.K.)
"Flexibile Strategies" (U.S.)
Released 1981 (United Kingdom)
1982 (United States)
Format Vinyl record (7")
Recorded 1981
Genre New wave
Length 2:58
Label A&M - AMS 8194
Writer(s) Sting
Producer(s) Hugh Padgham, Stewart Copeland, Sting, Andy Summers
The Police singles chronology
"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"
"Spirits in The Material World"
"Secret Journey"
Ghost in the Machine track listing
"Spirits in the Material World"
"Every Little Thing She Does is Magic"
Greatest Hits track listing
"Invisible Sun"
"Spirits in the Material World"
"Synchronicity II"
Alternative covers
U.S. 7-Inch Single cover

"Spirits in the Material World" is a song by rock trio The Police, written by Sting. It is the opening track for their 1981 album Ghost in the Machine. The song features bass, guitar, synthesizer, drums, saxophone, and vocals. It has a Jamaican Ska beat which changes to a swaggering rock beat in the chorus. It was released as a single in 1981 and reached #12 in the United Kingdom[1] and #11 in the U.S. in early 1982.[2]

Background and recording[edit]

Andy Summers's presence on the studio track is considerably less pronounced than on the vast majority of Police songs, and in fact, Sting wanted to record it without him entirely. Having written the song on a synthesizer, he wanted for it to use synthesizer instead of guitar, and to play the synthesizer part himself. Summers thought the synthesizer part should be replaced by guitar, and after considerable argument, they compromised by recording the part on both instruments, with a mix such that the synthesizer drowned out much of Summers's guitar.[3] In live performances this part was played on guitar only, with synthesizer used only for background chords.

The lyrics comment on the nature of man's existence and the failure of his earthly institutions.


Live performances[edit]

The band performed the song live during the Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity tours (the latter of which was included on their Live! album) and it was also included on their first North American setlist during their reunion tour.

Since the breakup of the Police, Sting has often performed the song on solo tours.

In all live performances, the song is played in a different key from the studio version. In most instances, Sting alters the original bassline to a more simplified one in order to play while singing.[citation needed]

Cover versions[edit]

  • In 1991, Michael Manring did an instrumental version of the song on his album Drastic Measures.
  • In 1995, reggae artist Pato Banton covered the song for the soundtrack to Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. Sting is featured in the song. The song entered the UK charts at number 36 in January 1996[4] and stayed there for two weeks. Banton later rerecorded the song (without Sting) for his greatest hits album in 2008.
  • The Puerto Rican metal band Puya did a Spanish-language version called "Almas" for the Police tribute album Outlandos d'Americas.
  • On the 2007 Six Degrees Records compilation Backspin, A Six Degrees 10 Year Anniversary Project Karsh Kale covered "Spirits in the Material World".
  • In 2006, Q magazine issued a CD "Q Covered - The Eighties" on which Cord covered the song.

Track listing[edit]

7": A&M / AMS 8194 (UK)[edit]

  1. "Spirits in the Material World" -2:59
  2. "Low Life" - 3:45

7": A&M / AM 2390 (US)[edit]

  1. "Spirits in the Material World" - 3:01
  2. "Flexible Strategies" - 3:44


Chart (1981/1982) Peak
Dutch Top 40 6[5]
French Singles Chart 4
German Singles Chart 44
UK Singles Chart 12[1]
US Billboard Hot 100 11[2]
US Billboard Mainstream Rock 7


  1. ^ a b The Police in the UK Charts, The Official Charts.
  2. ^ a b "Spirits in the Material World" Billboard Chart History, Billboard.com.
  3. ^ Summers, Andy (2007). One Train Later, 1st Edition (St. Martin's Griffin), page 295-6.
  4. ^ UK Singles Chart for the week of January 20, 1996, The Official Charts.
  5. ^ "Spirits in the Material World" in the Dutch Top 40, Dutch Top 40 website.

External links[edit]