King of Pain – The Police

Lyrics:

[Verse 1]
There’s a little black spot on the sun today
It’s the same old thing as yesterday
There’s a black hat caught in a high tree top
There’s a flag pole rag and the wind won’t stop

[Chorus]
I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running ’round my brain
I guess I’m always hoping that you’ll end this reign
But it’s my destiny to be the king of pain

[Verse 1]
(That’s my soul up there)

There’s a fossil that’s trapped in a high cliff wall
(That’s my soul up there)
There’s a dead salmon frozen in a waterfall
(That’s my soul up there)
There’s a blue whale beached by a spring tide’s ebb
(That’s my soul up there)
There’s a butterfly trapped in a spider’s web
(That’s my soul up there)

[Chorus]

There’s a king on a throne with his eyes torn out
There’s a blind man looking for a shadow of doubt
There’s a rich man sleeping on a golden bed
There’s a skeleton choking on a crust of bread

[Solo]
King of pain

There’s a red fox torn by a huntsman’s pack
(That’s my soul up there)
There’s a black-winged gull with a broken back
(That’s my soul up there)
There’s a little black spot on the sun today
It’s the same old thing as yesterday

[Chorus]

[Outro]
King of pain
I’ll always be

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). 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, reaching number three in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in October 1983, and number one on the Billboard Top Tracks chart for five weeks in August 1983. In the United Kingdom, it reached number 17 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.

File:KingofpainUS.jpg

Background and release

“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, after which the Police named their fourth album).[2] A music video was made but only released in Australia.[3]

Composition and lyrics

“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.”[4]

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[4]

Reception

Critical

The song received acclaim from 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.”[5] 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.”[6] 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“.[7]

Commercial

The song was a success in the United States, peaking at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number one on the Mainstream Rock chart, while also reaching number 33 on the Adult Contemporary chart.[8] “King of Pain” entered Canada’s RPM chart at number 48, on the edition of 20 August 1983.[9] The song climbed to number-one on the edition of 15 October 1983.[10]

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).[11] In Ireland, the song proved to be more successful, reaching number seven, becoming their third top-ten single.[12] In Belgium (Flanders) and Germany, the song became their lowest charting-single.[13][14]

Track listing

7″: A&M / AM 176 (UK)

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

7″: A&M / AM-2569 (US)

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

12″: A&M / AMX 176 (UK)

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

Personnel

Charts

Chart (1983–84)Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratip Flanders)[13]19
Brazil (ABPD)[15]54
Canada (Nielsen SoundScan)[10]1
Germany (Official German Charts)[14]57
Ireland (IRMA)[12]7
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[11]17
US Billboard Hot 100[8]3
US Billboard Adult Contemporary[8]33
US Billboard Mainstream Rock[8]1
Preceded by
Don’t Cry” by Asia
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

Alanis Morissette version

File:Alanis-morissette-king-of-pain.jpeg

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

“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.[16] 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”.[17]

Critical reception

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.”[18] Beth Johnson of Entertainment Weekly called it ” a tender cover”.[19] 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.”[20]

Track listing

  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

Charts

Chart (2000)Peak
position
Brazil (Hot 100)[21]54
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[22]92

Other cover versions

American rock 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 Underarmour, basically. Excellent performance.”[23]

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

 

 

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