King of Pain

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"King of Pain"
European 7-inch sleeve
Single by the Police
from the album Synchronicity
ReleasedAugust 1983 (1983-08) (US)
  • 6 January 1984 (1984-01-06) (UK)[1]
RecordedDecember 1982, January–February 1983
GenreNew wave
Police UK singles chronology
"Synchronicity II"
"King of Pain"
"Don't Stand So Close to Me '86"
Police US singles chronology
"Every Breath You Take"
"King of Pain"
"Synchronicity II"
Alternative covers
North American 7-inch sleeve
"King of Pain" on YouTube

"King of Pain" is a song by British rock band the Police, released as the second single from their fifth and final studio album Synchronicity (1983). Written by the band's lead singer and bassist Sting as a post-separation song from his wife, "King of Pain" conjures up symbols of pain and relates them to a man's soul. A&M Records released "King of Pain" as the album's fourth single in the UK, while in many other countries it was released as the second single.

The song received acclaim from music critics, many of whom praised Sting's lyrics and cited the song as a highlight from Synchronicity. It reached No. 3 in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in October 1983, and No. 1 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart for five weeks in August 1983. In the United Kingdom, it reached No. 17 in January 1984, becoming the band's last UK Top 20 hit.

Multiple artists have covered "King of Pain". Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette covered the track for her MTV Unplugged album (1999) and released it as the second single from the album.

Background and release[edit]

"King of Pain" was released as the second single in the US and the fourth single in the UK, taken from their fifth and final album, Synchronicity (1983). The song was released after the eight-week appearance of "Every Breath You Take" on top of the charts. Sting's fascination with Carl Jung and, to a greater extent, Arthur Koestler inspired him to write the track. As a Hungarian-born novelist who resided in England, Koestler was enthralled with parapsychology and the unexplained workings of the mind (he wrote the book titled The Ghost in the Machine in the late '60s, after which the Police named their fourth album).[3] A music video was made but only released in Australia.[4]

Engineer/co-producer Hugh Padgham remembers this song as being one of several songs that had been heavily reformed and edited during the mixing stage.[5][6] He explains:

"I remember this one song on Synchronicity, called "King of Pain", which had basically everything going all the way through it. If you listen to it now, it's very stripped down, bits and pieces coming in here and there. Literally everything was recorded all the way through and I really remember that one well — sitting down with Sting coming in one day, when we were mixing and [Sting] going, "This is shit" and I went, "I think you're probably right." The thing at the back of my mind always is trying to keep things simple so you can then hear what's there, as opposed to the kitchen sink style, which is cool, sometimes. Some people do it incredibly well."[6]

The multitrack recording bore little or no resemblance to the final mix that was included on the album. The introductory section with the piano and vocals was recorded separately on a different date and was edited into the main song.[7]

Composition and lyrics[edit]

"King of Pain" was written by Sting, while production was done by The Police and Hugh Padgham. The song was inspired by Sting's then-recent separation from his first wife. He remarked, "I conjured up symbols of pain and related them to my soul. A black spot on the sun struck me as being a very painful image, and I felt that was my soul up there on the sun. It's just projecting your state into the world of symbolism, which is what poetry's all about, really."[8]

Actually, it was something I said. I'd just left my first wife – a very painful break – and I went to Jamaica to try and pull myself together. I was fortunate to be able to go to Jamaica, I have to say, and stayed at this nice house and was looking at the sun one day. I was with Trudie who is now my current wife and said 'Look, there's a little black spot on the sun today'. And there's a pause. I said, 'That's my soul up there'. I was full of hyperbole. I said that! I went back in and wrote it down on a piece of stuff, and wrote some other stuff.

— Sting, In The Studio Radio Show[8]



The song received acclaim from music critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic retrospectively picked the song as a highlight from the album, writing that "King of Pain" and "Wrapped Around Your Finger", "are devilishly infectious new wave singles."[9] Sputnikmusic website picked it as an "essential track", writing that "King of Pain", "Every Breath You Take" and "Wrapped Around Your Finger", "rely on gorgeous, understated melodies, embracing the primary sonic overtones encompassing the record."[10] Michael Roffman of Consequence of Sound chose the track as "one of his personal favorite Sting-led tracks," pairing it next to his other works like "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You" or "Fields of Gold".[11] Ultimate Classic Rock critic Mike Duquette rated "King of Pain" as the Police's 5th best song, saying "that singsong piano hook, the melodic bass and a simple, effective solo by Summers make what could have been a pity party into a sterling pop/rock offering that not even "Weird Al" Yankovic could improve upon."[12] In its contemporary review of the single, Cashbox said that the song "doesn’t connect as immediately as 'Every Breath You Take' but grows in evocative power," as "primeval rhythms and gruesome natural imagery seem to place the darkly complex piece in another world."[13]


The song was a success in the United States, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart, while also reaching No. 33 on the Adult Contemporary chart.[14] "King of Pain" entered Canada's RPM chart at No. 48, on the edition of 20 August 1983.[15] The song climbed to No. 1 on the edition of 15 October 1983.[16]

Elsewhere, the song performed modestly. In the United Kingdom, the song reached No. 17, one of the lowest charting-singles since their first single, "Fall Out" (1979).[17] In Ireland, the song proved to be more successful, reaching No. 7, becoming their third top-ten single.[18] In Belgium (Flanders) and Germany, the song became their lowest charting-single.[19][20]

Track listing[edit]

7": A&M / AM 176 (UK)[edit]

  1. "King of Pain" – 4:59
  2. "Tea in the Sahara" (Live) – 5:05

7": A&M / AM-2569 (US)[edit]

  1. "King of Pain" – 4:59
  2. "Someone to Talk To" – 3:08

7": A&M / AMS 9722 (NL)[edit]

  1. "King of Pain" – 4:59
  2. "Once upon a Daydream" – 3:28

12": A&M / AMX 176 (UK)[edit]

  1. "King of Pain" – 4:59
  2. "Tea in the Sahara" (Live) – 5:05



Chart (1983–1984) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[21] 44
Belgium (Ultratip Bubbling Under Flanders)[19] 19
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[16] 1
Ireland (IRMA)[18] 7
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[17] 17
US Cashbox[22] 5
US Billboard Hot 100[14] 3
US Billboard Adult Contemporary[14] 47
US Billboard Mainstream Rock[14] 1
West Germany (Official German Charts)[20] 57


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada 50,000[23]

Alanis Morissette version[edit]

"King of Pain"
Single by Alanis Morissette
from the album MTV Unplugged
Released19 April 2000
Recorded18 September 1999
GenreAcoustic rock
Producer(s)Alanis Morissette
Alanis Morissette singles chronology
"That I Would Be Good"
"King of Pain"
"You Learn (acoustic)"

Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette covered "King of Pain" for her MTV Unplugged album, on 18 September 1999. The song was released as the album's second single on 19 April 2000. Morissette shifted the word "king" to "queen" towards the end of the track. Critics gave the track favourable reviews, with some calling a "tender" ballad, and others naming it outstanding. The song only managed to chart in Brazil and Netherlands.

Background and writing[edit]

"King of Pain" was one of the songs Alanis selected to perform on her MTV Unplugged special on 18 September 1999. "King of Pain" was released as the second single from the album on 19 April 2000.[24] The CD Single features "King of Pain" and three songs recorded for the Unplugged special, but not included on the album: "Thank U", "Baba" and "Your House".[25]

Critical reception[edit]

Neva Chonin of Rolling Stone wrote that "songs with lusher orchestral backdrops – "You Oughta Know," "Uninvited" and the Police's "King of Pain" – still carry lengthy, vocalcentric intros."[26] Beth Johnson of Entertainment Weekly called it " a tender cover".[27] Chris Massey of PopMatters called it a "folksy cover which comes across exceedingly well." Massey commented that, "Sting's haunting vocals on the original song by The Police are almost overshadowed by the similarly chilling vocals of Alanis herself —almost. When the band kicks in – the bass is almost overpowering – and Alanis belts out the familiar chorus 'I have stood here before inside the pouring rain / With the world turning circles, running around my brain,' the power is outstanding."[28]

Track listing[edit]

  1. "King of Pain" (MTV Unplugged) – 4:05
  2. Thank U (MTV Unplugged) – 4:11
  3. Baba (MTV Unplugged) – 5:11
  4. Your House (MTV Unplugged) – 4:37


Chart (2000) Peak
Brazil (Hot 100)[29] 54
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[30] 92

Other cover versions[edit]

American alternative metal band Mudvayne released the track on their album By the People, for the People in 2007. American recording artist Lady Gaga performed the track along with Sting at iHeart Radio Festival in 2011; they also performed the track "Stand by Me". Their rendition of "King of Pain" was lauded by critics. Louis Virtel of The Backlot called it "the best version of the song you'll ever hear," praising Gaga for "sporting teal streaks and some Stevie Nicks drapery, and Sting is (of course) wearing Under Armour, basically. Excellent performance."[31]

"Weird Al" Yankovic parodied the song as "King of Suede" in his 1984 album "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "News: Predictions 1984". Record Mirror. 31 December 1983. p. 4. Retrieved 16 December 2020 – via Flickr.
  2. ^ Buskin, Richard (March 2004). "Classic Tracks: The Police's 'Every Breath You Take'". Sound on Sound.
  3. ^ DeGagne, Mike. "King of Pain – The Police: Allmusic". Allmusic. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
  4. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "The Police - King of Pain (music video)". YouTube.
  5. ^ "ICON Episode 032 The Police: Synchronicity". (Podcast). 11 December 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  6. ^ a b Crane, Larry (September 2006). "Hugh Padgham: The Police, XTC, Yes, Peter Gabriel, more...". Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  7. ^ Denyer, Ralph (March 1984). "The Producer Series - Hugh Padgham" (PDF). Studio Sound. p. 42.
  8. ^ a b " THE POLICE: King Of Pain, 12". Retrieved 3 April 2014.
  9. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. King of Pain at AllMusic. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
  10. ^ "The Police Synchronicity: Sputnikmusic". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
  11. ^ Roffman, Michael (1 June 2013). "Dusting 'Em Off: The Police – Synchronicity". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  12. ^ Duquette, Mike (6 May 2022). "All 70 Police Songs Ranked Worst to Best". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved 5 June 2022.
  13. ^ "Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. 20 August 1983. p. 8. Retrieved 20 July 2022.
  14. ^ a b c d "The Police – Awards – Allmusic". Allmusic. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
  15. ^ "Item Display – Top Singles – Volume 38, No. 25, August 20, 1983". RPM. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
  16. ^ a b "Item Display – Top Singles – Volume 39, No. 7, October 15, 1983". RPM. Archived from the original on 29 January 2016. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
  17. ^ a b "Police | Artist | Official Charts". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
  18. ^ a b "The Irish Chart Placement". Note: Sting must be searched manually.
  19. ^ a b "The Police – King of Pain" (in Dutch). Ultratip.
  20. ^ a b " – The Police – King of Pain" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  21. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 235. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. N.B. The Kent Report chart was licensed by ARIA between mid-1983 and 12 June 1988.
  22. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2014). Cash Box Pop Hits 1952-1996. Sheridan Books, Inc. ISBN 978-0-89820-209-0.
  23. ^ "'Synchronicity' Sets A&M Sales Mark". 24 December 1983. p. 83. {{cite magazine}}: Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  24. ^ " King of Pain: Music". Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  25. ^ "Alanis Morissette – King of Pain (CD) at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  26. ^ Chonin, Neva (3 February 2000). "Rolling Stone: Alanis Morissette: MTV Unplugged". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 27 May 2007. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  27. ^ Johnson, Beth (22 November 1999). "MTV Unplugged Review | Music Reviews and News |". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  28. ^ Massey, Chris. "Alanis Morissette: MTV Unplugged | PopMatters". PopMatters. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  29. ^ "Hot 100 Brasil (PDF)" (PDF). Hot 100 Brasil. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  30. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Alanis Morissette" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40.
  31. ^ Virtel, Louis (9 July 2013). "Watch: Lady Gaga Destroys "King Of Pain" With Sting". The Backlot. Retrieved 4 April 2014.