When one thinks of the Police, the word "soul" does not immediately leap to mind. Yet a single off their 1980 album Zenyatta Mondatta transformed into a staple of "Chicago-Style Steppin'," a dance made popular in Chicago's African-American clubs. "Voices Inside My Head" features heavy rhythmic elements, scratchy guitar, and Sting's eerie voice, adding up to a surprisingly soulful track that represents the Police's take on rhythm and blues.
Recorded over four weeks in the Netherlands, Zenyatta Mondatta may be most famous for the classic songs "Don't Stand So Close to Me" and "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da," along with deep cuts such as "When The World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around" and "Driven to Tears." Indeed, "Voices Inside My Head" distinctly departs from the ska, rock, and punk feel of the album--it stands as largely an instrumental, and it relies on the insistent beat and rhythm guitar. It can be seen as an extension of "When the World Is Running Down" in that it also features a heavy bass line; however, "Voices" requires the listener to focus on the beat rather than politically aware lyrics.
Not surprisingly, "Voices" gained fans through club airplay, peaking at number three on Billboard's Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart in 1981. Today, the song entices dancers to the floor, specifically in the Chicago-Style Steppin' art form. This type of dance requires partners to remain in perfect sync, smoothly executing intricate--but not flashy--footwork. A club will play a selection of songs called "steppers' sets"; the mid-tempo, prominently percussive playlists prove perfect for what is often termed "urban ballroom," a form rooted in Jitterbug and its direct predecessor, the Bop. While R&B artists largely dominate Steppers' Sets, a DJ often weaves in less likely acts such as Maroon 5, Loggins and Messina, the Spencer Davis Group, and Phil Collins. In other words, any mid-tempo song meeting the rhythmic requirements of steppin' is eligible, and "Voices" is no exception.
Deceptively simple, "Voices" functions as a groove that fluctuates between mellow and more assertive. Sting occasionally croons the song's sole lyrics: "Voices inside my head / Echo the things that you said." While Sting's voice creates a haunting effect, the instrumentation is the true star of this track. Stewart Copeland effortlessly alternates between an easy beat and furious drum rolls, while Andy Summers' guitar riff also provides the rhythm. An underrated bassist, Sting performs admirably on the track, working with the bass and guitar in understated yet perfect synchronization. The overall effect is hypnotic, both as a moody piece and a dance song. Its lengthy instrumental section proves tailor made for club play; not surprisingly, "Voices" has been the basis of innumerable remixes. Interestingly it has also been sampled by hip hop artists such as Wyclef Jean ("Year of the Dragon) and even Malcolm McLaren and World's Famous Supreme Team ("Romeo and Juliet").
Soul and rhythm and blues music encompass several styles, and the Police embodies this fact. The British trio may be primarily known for rock and ska, but their affinity for soul music is most evident in "Voices Inside My Head." Their willingness to embrace various genres contributes to their legend as well as Zenyatta Mondatta's status as one of the best rock albums ever recorded. Along with "When the World Is Running Down," "Voices" allowed the Police to temporarily shed their punk image and just groove.