Spirits in the Material World – The Police


[Verse 1]
There is no political solution
To our troubled evolution
Have no faith in constitution
There is no bloody revolution

We are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world[x2]

[Verse 2]
Our so-called leaders speak
With words they try to jail you
They subjugate the meek
But it’s the rhetoric of failure


Where does the answer lie?
Living from day to day
If it’s something we can’t buy
There must be another way

We are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world


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[1] and No. 11 in the US in early 1982.[2]

File:Spirits in the material world UK Single.jpg


“Spirits in the Material World” was written by Sting on a Casio keyboard while in a truck.[3] It was his first experience using a synthesizer.[3]

‘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[3]

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.[4] In live performances this part was played on guitar only, with synthesizer used only for background chords.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.[3] 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.”[3] 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.[5] [6]

Live performances

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.[7]


Track listing

7″: A&M / AMS 8194 (UK)

  1. “Spirits in the Material World” – 2:59
  2. “Low Life” – 3:45

7″: A&M / AM 2390 (US)

  1. “Spirits in the Material World” – 3:01
  2. “Flexible Strategies” – 3:44


Chart (1981–82) Peak
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[2] 11
US Billboard Top Rock Tracks 7

Cover versions

  • 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[9] 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.



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