King of Pain

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This article is about the song by The Police. For the album by Loudness, see King of Pain (album).
"King of Pain"
Single by The Police
from the album Synchronicity
Released August 1983 (1983-08) US
January 1984 (1984-01) UK
  • 7"
  • 12"
Recorded December 1982 at AIR Studios, Montserrat for basic tracks, then January–February 1983 at Le Studio, Quebec, Canada for overdubs and mixing[1]
Genre New wave
Length 4:59
Label A&MAM 176
Writer(s) Sting
The Police singles chronology
"Synchronicity II"
(UK, 1983)
"Every Breath You Take"
(US, 1983)
"King of Pain"
"Don't Stand So Close to Me '86"
(UK, 1986)
"Synchronicity II"
(US, 1983)
Alternative covers
US 7-inch single cover

"King of Pain" is a song by English rock band The Police, released as the final single from their fifth and final studio album Synchronicity (1983). The song was 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 North America, it was released as the second single.

The song received critical acclaim from music critics, who praised Sting for his writing on the song, as well as the song's melody, while most critics agreed it was a highlight from the album. Reaching number 3 in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in October 1983, and number 1 on the Billboard Top 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.

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 "Every Breath You Take"'s eight-week appearance 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, which the Police named their fourth album after).[2]

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 his 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 there on the sun. It's just projecting your state into the world of symbolism, which is what poetry's all about, really."[3]

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[3]

According to Allmusic's Mike DeGagne, ""King of Pain" harbours an odd-sounding rhythmical structure, but it fits in well with the album's philosophical and psychological concepts." DeGagne analysed that, "With its eerie, semi-shaded introduction that works into a crawling tempo, King of Pain's haunting, isolated appeal is bred by the lone piano in the background and the coldness of the vocals at the front. Just as Stewart Copeland's wispy percussion and the ghost-like vocal backing come into play, the chorus abundantly kicks in, and the song begins to take flight."[2] The song is composed in the key of B minor with a chord progression of Bm-A-Bm-A-Bm-A-Bm-A-G-A-G-A-C#sus-C#m-Gmaj7[4] The chorus is in D major. The song concludes in D major, the relative major of B minor.

Critics were impressed with the song's lyrical meaning. Stephen Holden of Rolling Stone wrote that, "The rejected narrator in 'King of Pain' sees his abandonment as a kind of eternal damnation in which the soul becomes 'a fossil that's trapped in a high cliff wall/ ... A dead salmon frozen in a waterfall'."[5] Mike DeGagne of Allmusic found out that, "Although the lyrics are a little obscure and metaphoric, 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."[2]



The song received acclaim from most music critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic 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."[6] 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."[7] 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.[8]


The song was a success in the United States, peaking at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number-one on the Mainstream Rock chart, while also reaching number 33 on the Adult Contemporary chart.[9] It was the band's highest charting-single, only losing to their number-one hit "Every Breath You Take". "King of Pain" entered Canada's RPM chart at number 48, on the edition of 20 August 1983.[10] The song climbed to number-one on the edition of 15 October 1983.[11]

Elsewhere, the song performed moderately. In the United Kingdom, the song only reached number 17; one of the lowest charting-singles, since their first single, "Fall Out" (1979).[12] In Ireland, the song proved to be more successful, reaching number 7, becoming their third top-ten single.[13] In Belgium (Flanders) and Germany, the song became their lowest charting-single.[14][15]

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

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

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

Cover versions[edit]

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 Underarmour, basically. Excellent performance. American metal band Mudvayne covered the song on their album "By The People, For The People" in 2007."[16]

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

Alanis Morissette version[edit]

"King of Pain"
Single by Alanis Morissette
from the album MTV Unplugged
Released 19 April 2000
Format CD single
Recorded 18 September 1999
Genre Acoustic rock
Length 4:05
Label Maverick Records, Reprise
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, while 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. The set included songs from her previous albums, Jagged Little Pill and Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, as well as previously unreleased tracks. After releasing the acoustic version of "That I Would Be Good" as the lead single from the album, "King of Pain" was selected as the second single, released on 19 April 2000.[17] 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".[18]

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."[19] Beth Johnson of Entertainment Weekly called it " a tender cover".[20] 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."[21]

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)[22] 54
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[23] 92


Chart (1983–84) Peak
Belgium (Ultratip Flanders)[14] 19
Canada (Nielsen SoundScan)[11] 1
Germany (Official German Charts)[15] 57
Ireland (IRMA)[13] 7
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[12] 17
US Billboard Hot 100[9] 3
US Billboard Adult Contemporary[9] 33
US Billboard Mainstream Rock[9] 1
Preceded by
"Don't Cry"
Billboard Mainstream Rock number-one
27 August – 17 September 1983
Succeeded by
"How Can I Refuse" by Heart
Preceded by
"Maniac" by Michael Sembello
Canadian "RPM" Singles Chart number-one single
15 October 1983
Succeeded by
"One Thing Leads to Another" by The Fixx
Preceded by
"How Can I Refuse" by Heart
Billboard Mainstream Rock number-one
1 October 1983
Succeeded by
"Suddenly Last Summer" by The Motels


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Buskin, Richard (March 2004). "Classic Tracks: The Police's 'Every Breath You Take'". Sound on Sound. 
  2. ^ a b c DeGagne, Mike. "King of Pain – The Police: Allmusic". Allmusic. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  3. ^ a b " THE POLICE: King Of Pain, 12". Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  4. ^ "The Police "King of Pain" Sheet Music". Retrieved 1 October 2014. 
  5. ^ Holden, Stephen (23 June 1983). "The Police Synchronicity – Rolling Stone". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  6. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. King of Pain at AllMusic. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
  7. ^ "The Police Synchronicity: Sputnikmusic". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  8. ^ Roffman, Michael (1 June 2013). "Dusting 'Em Off: The Police – Synchronicity". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d "The Police – Awards – Allmusic". Allmusic. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  10. ^ "Item Display – Top Singles – Volume 38, No. 25, August 20, 1983". RPM. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  11. ^ a b "Item Display – Top Singles – Volume 39, No. 7, October 15, 1983". RPM. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  12. ^ a b "Police | Artist | Official Charts". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  13. ^ a b "The Irish Chart Placement".  Note: Sting must be searched manually.
  14. ^ a b " – The Police – King of Pain" (in Dutch). Ultratip.
  15. ^ a b " – The Police Single-Chartverfolgung" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH.
  16. ^ Virtel, Louis (9 July 2013). "Watch: Lady Gaga Destroys "King Of Pain" With Sting". The Backlot. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  17. ^ " King of Pain: Music". Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  18. ^ "Alanis Morissette – King of Pain (CD) at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  19. ^ Chonin, Neva (3 February 2000). "Rolling Stone: Alanis Morissette: MTV Unplugged". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  20. ^ Johnson, Beth (22 November 1999). "MTV Unplugged Review | Music Reviews and News |". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  21. ^ Massey, Chris. "Alanis Morissette: MTV Unplugged | PopMatters". PopMatters. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  22. ^ "Hot 100 Brasil (PDF)" (PDF). Hot 100 Brasil. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  23. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Alanis Morissette search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.

External links[edit]