Hi Everybody! Robert is back again to continue the ‘Going Solo’ series! We have an interesting one today. I do like most of the songs The Police did. But, I was never a big fan of his solo stuff. There are only a few songs that I like from his solo years. So, I was looking forward to Robert’s take on these songs, and he does not disappoint! He got me thinking about, and listening to these songs differently. There are even a couple of songs on here that I had never heard before, and enjoyed. Maybe the same will happen to you. Enjoy!
Sting – English Teacher, Famous Band, Solo Superstar
When I was in eighth grade, a family friend, who was also a DJ for Armed Forces Radio (AFN) gave me an album. This was not an unusual occurrence because he knew I loved music and had brought albums to me before. This one was different – it started my love for an amazing songwriter and a group of supremely talented musicians. The album was Synchronicity by the Police. I was to learn later that this would be their last studio album together and that the vocalist, Sting, was about to launch an impressive solo career that is still going today.
As the main lyricist and vocalist, Sting with the Police had a very successful, albeit short lived career. The Police were formed by Sting, whose real name is Gordon Sumner (vocals and bass), Stewart Copeland (drums), and Andy Summers (guitar) in 1977 and recorded their first album in 1978, Outlandos D’Amour. This album spawned no hit singles in the United States, but does contain the now famous song “Roxanne” that was beautifully performed by Eddie Murphy in his first film 48 Hours. The Police would soon become staples on the American charts. Their second album Reggatta de Blanc did not have any hit singles in the States either, but the album did reach #25 on Billboard’s album charts. In 1980 they released Zenyatta Mondatta which reached #5 on the album charts and had the hits singles “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da.” They followed this with The Ghost in the Machine (1981) and the iconic Synchronicity (1983). The hits singles “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”, “King of Pain”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, and the mega-smash hit “Every Breath You Take” all come from these two albums. The Police have sold over 100 million albums worldwide – 22 million in the United States alone.
Despite this, the band and lead singer Sting seemed less than content. After a failed attempt at a follow up to Synchronicity, Sting decided to part ways with the band and embark on a solo career. Sting, who began his adult life as an English teacher, was always the main lyricist for the Police. He was never short on ideas and continued to write songs. In 1985 Sting released his first solo album Dream of the Blue Turtles. This album reached #2 on Billboard’s album charts and sold 3 million copies – not a bad debut. In addition to receiving several Grammy nominations, the album contained four top 40 hits: “If You Love Someone Set Them Free” #3, “Love is the Seventh Wave” #17 “Fortress Around Your Heart” #8, and “Russians” #16. It is safe to say that with this album, Sting was able to maintain the success that he achieved with the Police.
After Dream of the Blue Turtles, Sting continued to produce quality music as a solo artist and not as a member of the Police. Before his second solo album, Sting made appearances with Phil Collins the song “Long Long Way to Go” and with Dire Straits with the opening line,“I want my MTV” from “Money for Nothing.” Sting released his second album Nothing Like the Sun in 1987. This album increased Sting’s worldwide popularity with four more charting singles and being certified double platinum. Personally I love this album because the title is an allusion to a famous Shakespearean sonnet. Sting will continue to produce quality solo albums as well as write music for films and, most recently, a successful Broadway musical The Last Ship.
Sting has produced such an eclectic blend of music that some people find him hard to listen to on a regular basis. His first solo effort, Dream of the Blue Turtles, is a must for any fan of ‘80s music. He combines rock and reggae from his days with the Police, but he does not stop there; he writes meaningful lyrics and combines them with jazz, rock, reggae- you name it. Sting is a true artist and this album puts his talents on full display. I will do my best to not sound too much like an English teacher, but Sting is such a good writer that I am not sure I can avoid it.
The clearest memory I have of this song, other than liking it, is how much my girlfriend (now wife) hated this song. When I asked her why, her response was always, “It is just so stupid. You can’t just let go of someone you love. That’s dumb.” Clearly I disagree. Sting’s sentiment in this song is not original, he is just restating the idea that to see if you truly love someone, let them go; if they come back the love is true. Already in this first track, Sting’s way with words shows, “You can’t control an independent heart / Can’t tear the one you love apart / Forever conditioned to believe that we can’t live / We can’t live here and be happy with less / So many riches, so many souls / With everything we see we want to possess.” Sting is able to take an idea that is usually stated as a cliche and give it an original, well written slant. This is a great way to begin the first solo album.
Here is the first (of many) songs by Sting that needs a little explanation. A strange part of me has always liked to do research – I think this is part of why I became an English major. The title and chorus of this song refers to a sailor’s belief that, in a series of waves, the seventh one was always the strongest and would wash away anything in its path. Sting is being unusually optimistic when he writes, “Feel it rising in the cities / Feel it sweeping overland / Over border, over frontiers / Nothing will its power withstand.” Love is the force that will defeat all of the bad in the world. Sting experiments with musical styles throughout this album; this song has a clear reggae element to it.
I have very fond memories of the time I spent looking up all of the references in this song (and remember, these were pre-internet days). This song was all too real for a teenaged boy living on an army base in Germany only a few thousand miles away from our enemy (at the time) the Soviet Union. This song is another example from the ‘80s of our fear of nuclear war. This song, like the movie The Day After, captured American and European fears of Russia using nuclear weapons aggressively, placing all civilization at risk. The deep musical tone of the music (Sting credits Sergei Prokofiev) gives this song a haunting feel and the lyrics serve only to emphasize the fear of an impending nuclear holocaust, “How can I save my little boy / From Oppenheimer’s deadly toy / There is no monopoly of common sense / On either side of the political fence.” Our only hope lies in the chorus of the song, “ Believe me when I say to you, I hope the Russians love their children, too.”
Sting is not one to shy away from controversy and in this song, like “Russians”, Sting is very clear about his message. Most of the verses in this song are about the English soldiers who fought in World War I. England copied most countries and sent young men into battle. The poppies mentioned a number of times in this song are traditional symbols of death and are used today as a form of remembrance of any soldiers who have died in war. Sting does not hold back in criticizing the, “Corpulent generals safe behind lines / History’s lessons drowned in red wine” – typical Sting. The last verse makes a sudden change and draws on the idea of poppies being the source of opium and all of the young lives that are hurt by it. This is a powerful song that may polarize listeners.
This song is a cover of a song that Sting first recorded in 1980 as a member of the Police from the album Zenyatta Mondatta. The Police version is a slow, bass heavy, reggae influenced song. As a solo artist, Sting reinterprets this song and it becomes a jazz composition. He changes none of the lyrics, just the tempo and instrumentation, but it is a completely different song.
Here is another song where Sting speaks for the voiceless. This song captures the hardships of those who worked in coal mines for a living. The setting of this song is unclear, but that does not matter; the outcome for the workers is very clear, “Our blood has stained the coal / We tunneled deep inside the nation’s soul / We matter more than pound and pence / Your economic theory makes no sense.” This is not the last song in which Sting will defend the people that the mainstream media ignores. He draws our attention to a deserving situation, making us more aware of a group of people who have gone unnoticed for generations.
As the title suggests, this song has the simple appearance of a break up song. In typical Sting fashion, he does so with good writing that does not always make an appearance in contemporary music. To describe the break up, Sting uses this imagery, “Roses have thorns / Shining water’s mud / And cancer lurks deep / In the sweetest bud / Clouds and eclipses / Stain the moon and sun / And history reeks / Of the wrongs we have done.” Once again – just great writing.
I do not listen to instrumentals on a regular basis. In fact, off the top of my head I can name only a handful, but this is one of them. This track is an upbeat jazz composition that highlights the expert musicians that Sting surrounded himself with featuring the likes of Omar Hakim on drums, Kenny Kirkland on keyboards, and Branford Marsalis on the saxophone. This is a cool little song that will help listeners experience a little more jazz than normal.
This is another fascinating song whose lyrics I pored over and became fascinated with. With this song, Sting may have been a bit ahead of his time by beating the vampire craze by a few decades. As the title suggests, the setting of the song is New Orleans. The first person narrator is a vampire who is struggling with the curse laid upon him. His frustration lies in the isolation that life has forced upon him. He is in pursuit of a woman, but “I must love what I destroy and destroy the thing I love.” I have always liked this song and now when I listen to it I hear the haunting qualities that it possesses. The video is a live performance with the Berlin Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Here is my favorite song from this album. This is a beautifully written love song that uses war imagery – not your typical romantic ballad. It seems as if the speaker in this song has spent some significant time in protecting his love – perhaps too much. He has been so concerned with ‘protecting’ her that he has lost sight of why she is important. He is now coming to terms with this and realizing that he may not be able to hold on to her. Sting writes, “I had to stop in my tracks for fear / Of walking on the mines I’ve laid.” The chorus continues, “If I’ve built this fortress around your heart / Encircled you with trenches and barbed wire / Then let me build a bridge / For I cannot fill the chasm / Let me set the battlements on fire.” He is hoping that it is not too late to save the relationship. I am not sure that there are many better written hits from the ‘80s.
The Police, soundtracks, pop, jazz, rock, reggae, Broadway, acting, member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – you name it and Sting has done it. It is rare that such a talented individual comes along. Even rarer that one is able to sustain a musical career over so many years. Sting is a unique artist who uses his music to entertain and draw attention to problems in the world. For some, this makes him unappealing. Your thoughts on Sting as a person or artist aside, Dream of the Blue Turtles is an excellent album from a decade of excellent albums. Sting’s solo work belongs on every ‘80s fan list of must haves.Follow @returntothe80s