Spirits in the Material World
|"Spirits in the Material World"|
|Single by The Police|
|from the album Ghost in the Machine|
"Low Life" (UK)|
"Flexibile Strategies" (US)
11 December 1981 (United Kingdom)|
1982 (United States)
|Format||Vinyl record (7")|
|Genre||Ska, New wave|
|Label||A&M – AMS 8194|
|The Police singles chronology|
US 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 No. 12 in the United Kingdom and No. 11 in the US in early 1982.
'Spirits in the Material World' was written on one of those Casio keyboards while I was riding in the back of a truck somewhere. I just tap, tap, tap and there it was, just by accident. That was the first time I'd ever touched a synthesizer, that album.— Sting, Synchronicity Tour Program, 1983
Andy Summers' 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. In live performances this part was played on guitar only, with synthesizer used only for background chords. The bass part for the song is distinctively complex, with music producer and cognitive psychologist Daniel Levitin writing that it "takes this rhythmic play to such an extreme that it can be hard to tell where the downbeat even is." The track was recorded at Air Studios Montserrat.
The lyrics comment on the nature of man's existence and the failure of his earthly institutions.
"Spirits in the Material World" eventually saw single release in 1981 as the follow-up to "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," making it the third single from Ghost in the Machine in Britain and the second in America. The single, while not as successful as its predecessors, peaked at No. 12 in Britain and No. 11 in America. It was followed up by "Secret Journey" in America.
The UK B-side of "Spirits in the Material World," "Low Life," was written by Sting around 1977 in the back of a German tour bus. Although the band's drummer Stewart Copeland claimed to have "always loved the song," guitarist Andy Summers claimed that "Neither Stewart or I liked 'Low Life.' I thought the lyric was snobby and it had a kind of corny jazziness to it." The American B-Side, an instrumental song titled "Flexible Strategies", was recorded in Canada while the band jammed for ten minutes while working on Ghost in the Machine, when word came for them to create a B-Side. According to Stewart Copeland, recording this particular song was a disgrace. 
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 break-up 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 live versions of the song, Sting starts playing the original bassline, then switches to a more simplified one to play while singing.
- Sting – bass guitar, synthesizer, saxophone, lead and backing vocals
- Andy Summers – guitar
- Stewart Copeland – drums
- Olaf Kubler – saxophone on "Low Life"
7": A&M / AMS 8194 (UK)
- "Spirits in the Material World" – 2:59
- "Low Life" – 3:45
7": A&M / AM 2390 (US)
- "Spirits in the Material World" – 3:01
- "Flexible Strategies" – 3:44
|Australian Kent Music Report||50|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||13|
|Dutch Singles Chart||6|
|French Singles Chart||4|
|German Singles Chart||44|
|Irish Singles Chart||6|
|UK Singles Chart||12|
|US Billboard Hot 100||11|
|US Billboard Top Rock Tracks||7|
This section needs additional citations for verification. (October 2014) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
- 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 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.
- The Police in the UK Charts, The Official Charts.
- "The Police – Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
- "Spirits In The Material World, 7"". sting.com. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
- Summers, Andy (2007). One Train Later, 1st Edition (St. Martin's Griffin), page 295-6.
- J., Levitin, Daniel (2006). This is your brain on music : the science of a human obsession. New York, N.Y.: Dutton. ISBN 0525949690. OCLC 65197831.
- The Police Message in a Box booklet Page 58.
- Sutcliffe, Phil (1993). "The B-sides and Other Obscure Releases". In Message in a Box: The Complete Recordings (pp.57–59) [Boxed set booklet]. A&M Records Ltd.
- UK Singles Chart for the week of January 20, 1996, The Official Charts.