Classic Rock Wiki

"Message in a Bottle" is a song by English rock band The Police. It was released as the lead single from their second studio album, Reggatta de Blanc (1979). Written by the band's lead singer and bassist Sting; the song is ostensibly about a story of a castaway on an island, who sends out a message in a bottle to seek love. A year later, he has not received any sort of response, and despairs, thinking he is destined to be alone. The next day, he sees "a hundred billion bottles" on the shore, finding out that there are more people like him out there.

Rolling Stone ranked it number 65 on its list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time".



  • 1 Background
  • 2 Composition
  • 3 Personnel
    • 3.1 Track listing
    • 3.2 Charts
    • 3.3 Year-end chart
  • 4 Samples and covers
  • 5 Appearances in other media
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


According to the band's guitarist, Andy Summers, the guitar riff that "Message in a Bottle" is centered around was originally used for a different song.[1] During the band's first American tour, however, he reworked the song and slightly altered the riff, becoming the final version of the song. In addition to the core riff, Summers came up with, as Sting described, "lovely arpeggiated shiver" during the break prior to the third verse.[1] Sting praised this addition saying, "He'd [Summers] do that - the song would be quite raw and he'd just add these lovely colours."[1] Stewart Copeland's drumming, praised as his "finest drum track" by Summers, was "overdubbed [from] about six different parts."[1]

The Police debuted the song on live television on the BBC's Rock Goes to College, filmed at Hatfield Polytechnic College in Hertfordshire, England.[2] The Police donated all money earned from the show to the school.

The song was released as the first single from Reggatta de Blanc in September 1979. The song was a massive success in Britain, becoming The Police's first number one hit in the UK Singles Chart,.[3] Despite its popularity in the U.K., the single only reached number 74 in the United States. An alternative "classic rock" mix is available on Every Breath You Take: The Classics.

The song's B-side, "Landlord," was written by Sting (lyrics) and Copeland (music). Sting said of its inspiration, "I wrote that after Frances and I were thrown out of the house we were renting in London. I hated the idea of somebody fucking my life up like that. Stewart [Copeland] wrote the music."[1] The song originally featured lyrics by Copeland, but they were replaced by Sting's.[1]

"Message in a Bottle" is also a personal favourite of the members of the band. In addition to saying it was his favourite song in an interview with Jools Holland of the BBC, Sting described it as a "good song," and also said that he was "very proud" of it.[1][4] Copeland said it was "one of our [The Police's] best moments in the studio and always great on stage."[1] Summers described the track as a personal favourite in his book One Train Later, and said, "For me, it's still the best song Sting ever came up with and the best Police track."[1]

The Police performed at Live Earth, a 2007 charity concert to raise awareness of global warming and other environmental hazards, and performed "Message in a Bottle" as the US finale, with John Mayer playing guitar with Andy Summers and Kanye West performing a rap verse over the chorus of the song.


The song exemplifies the reggae/post-punk style of early Police. It is composed in the key of C-sharp minor with a chord progression of C#m9-Amaj9-B7-F#m. The song's structure is verse-chorus-verse-chorus-outro.


  • Stewart Copeland – drums
  • Sting – bass guitar, lead and backing vocals
  • Andy Summers – guitar

Track listing[edit][]

A&M / AMS 7474
  1. "Message in a Bottle" (edit) – 3:50 (This edit has yet to appear on CD anywhere)
  2. "Landlord" – 3:09


Chart (1979–80) Peak


Australian Kent Music Report[5] 5
Austrian Top 40[6] 24
Belgian Singles Chart 6
Canadian RPM Top Singles[7] 2
Dutch Singles Chart[6] 2
French Singles Chart 3
German Singles Chart[6] 35
Irish Singles Chart 1
Italian Singles Chart 21
New Zealand Singles Chart[6] 11
South African Singles Chart 5
Spanish Singles Chart 1
Swedish Singles Chart[6] 20
UK Singles Chart[3] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[8] 74

Year-end chart[edit][]

Chart (1979) Peak


UK Singles Chart 13
Dutch Top 40 37
Belgian VRT Top 30 53
French Singles Chart[9] 19
Chart (1980) Peak


Spanish Singles Chart 6
Canadian RPM Top Singles 34
Australian Kent Music Report 40
Italian Singles Chart 80

Samples and covers[edit][]

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (March 2014)
  • The Crossover thrash band Excel on their 1989 album The Joke's on You.
  • The punk band Leatherface on their 1991 album Mush.
  • The groove metal band Machine Head on their 1999 album The Burning Red.
  • The Filipino rock band Wolfgang included a live version on their 2001 album Black Mantra.
  • The pop-rock artist John Mayer often performs the song during his live performances. A recorded performance appears on his 2003 album Any Given Thursday.
  • Sander van Doorn released the song under his alias Filterfunk in 2005 as "S.O.S. (Message in a Bottle)".
  • The Hasidic reggae singer Matisyahu covered the song with an additional verse for his 2006 record No Place to Be.
  • The American band Thirty Seconds to Mars performeded the song live in 2006. The performance was released on their live extended play AOL Sessions Undercover.
  • The John Butler Trio covered it live in 2007 on Europe2 TV.[10]
  • The Filipino band named The Dawn covered it on their 2008 album The Later Half of Day.
  • The African American rapper Pastor Troy sampled the background in his 2008 song "Street Law".
  • The rap artist Charles Hamilton sampled it heavily in the song "Verbal Vicodin", on the 2008 mix tape Intervention.[citation needed]
  • The metal band Graveworm released a cover on the 2009 album Diabolical Figures.
  • Morgan Page released his own version of the song on his 2012 studio album, In the Air.
  • The Swedish jazz guitarist Ulf Wakenius released a version on his 2012 album Vagabond, featuring the singer Na Yoon-sun.[citation needed]
  • Guy Sebastian released a version of the song in 2012 to raise awareness of Mount Franklin's "Message" campaign for the breast cancer charity, the McGrath Foundation.[11]
  • Lower Than Atlantis covered the song in 2013 prior to their UK tour.[citation needed]
  • Bruno Mars for the 2014 Kennedy Center Honors [12]

Appearances in other media[edit][]

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  • The song is used as a playable cover track in the video game Guitar Hero II for the PS2 and Xbox 360, a playable track in Rock Band Unplugged for the PlayStation Portable. It also appears in the games Guitar Hero: Smash Hits for full band play[13] and Guitar Rock Tour for the Nintendo DS, iPhone and Java ME. It is a downloadable track for the Rock Band series as a master track.
  • "Message in a Bottle" is the closing song of the documentary film Bring on the Night, which documents the forming of Sting's first band after going solo. Sting performs the song as the encore of the Paris concert that is featured throughout the film. The song is performed as a solo with Sting accompanying himself on a white Fender Telecaster.
  • Sting also performed "Message in a Bottle" solo at the 1981 Amnesty International show The Secret Policeman's Other Ball, playing a black Stratocaster.
  • Wayne Brady and Chip Esten sang a version of the song in the game "Greatest Hits" on the US version of Whose Line Is It Anyway?
  • The song plays during the theatrical trailer for the 2008 film Fool's Gold.
  • Sting performed the song during the Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together telethon on 2 November 2012.
  • The cover of chapter 703 in the manga series One Piece refers to the song, by saying "We'll send an SOS to the world".
  • In 2012, the song was released as downloadable content for the game Rocksmith.