Walking on the Moon was released as the second single from The Police’s second studio album, Reggatta de Blanc (1979) on the 4th November 1979. The song became the band’s second number one single following Message in A Bottle, released two months previously on the 21st September 1979 and also taken from Regatta de Blanc.
The song was written by the band’s lead vocalist and bassist Sting when he was drunk following a concert in Munich. Of writing Walking on the Moon, Sting said in the biography L’Historia Bandido in 1981:
“I was drunk in a hotel room in Munich, slumped on the bed with the whirling pit when this riff came into my head. I got up and started walking around the room, singing ‘Walking round the room, ya, ya, walking round the room’. That was all. In the cool light of morning, I remembered what had happened and I wrote the riff down. But ‘Walking Round the Room’ as a stupid title so I thought of something even more stupid which was ‘Walking on the Moon’.
In his 2003 autobiography, Broken Music: A Memoir, Sting alludes that the song was partially inspired by an early girlfriend, saying:
“Deborah Anderson was my first real girlfriend … walking back from Deborah’s house in those early days would eventually become a song, for being in love is to be relieved of gravity”.
In an interview with The Telegraph in 2013, he added:
“Walking on the Moon seemed a useful metaphor for being in love, that feeling of lightness, of being able to walk on air. It’s an old idea”.
Walking on the Moon started out life in a rockier format but was reworked. Sting described the songs eventual sound in Q Magazine in 1993, saying:
“Very sparse. As a three piece what was intelligent about us was, instead of trying to pretend we were a bigger band, we used that limitation to our advantage: Less is more. There were some big black holes in Walking on the Moon and you get those on the radio and people are immediately sucked in. Same with Roxanne [Outlandos d’Amour, 1978] …
… That guitar chord Andy came up with for Walking on the Moon [following the bass notes] was just mind-blowing. And that weird jazzy bassline”.
In the 2007 book Lyrics by Sting, the songwriter says:
“I came up with a melody that felt light and airy – in fact, lighter than air … Nine years before, Neil Armstrong had walked on the moon and said the famous words that everyone misquotes. Giant Steps [Giant Steps, 1960] is also one of my favourite John Coltrane tunes …
… Songs are built by whimsy, faulty memory, and free association”.
Appropriately for a song called Walking on the Moon, the music video for the single’s release was shot at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the 23rd October 1979. It features the band members miming to the track amidst spacecraft displays, interspersed with NASA footage. Both Sting and Andy Summers strum guitars in the video, as opposed to Summers playing guitar and Sting playing bass, whilst drummer Stewart Copeland strikes his drumsticks on a Saturn V moon rocket.