The One Where Sting Set Himself Free From The Police
May 31, 2020 6:02 PM   Subscribe

 
**This track may be a bit confuddling for some of those reading here.

Back in 1985, Ronald Reagan was president and the Cold War was in full swing, and the Iron Curtain was across central Europe (often in literal no man's land land-mined sniper-tower-watched borders). During this time Reagan was trying to develop his "Star Wars" project or the Strategic Defense Initiative.

This SDI system was meant to shoot down incoming Soviet missiles aimed either at Europe or across Europe and the Atlantic at the US. The US was threatening to deploy this anti-missile system into European countries without necessarily their permission ([then West] Germany I recall protesting strongly about this)... this led to a big Cold War argument about systems deployment and stuff. I don't remember the end of this argument but the system I don't think was ever really made (due to technological lack of know-how) and then the Berlin Wall came down and so, yeah oh well.

That's why we hope the Russians love their children too. Because nuclear war could have happened on a whim at that time.

posted by hippybear at 6:04 PM on May 31 [14 favorites]


I loved this album when it was first released. I must have played it nonstop for months. I decided to listen to again after seeing this post and I'm glad it still holds up for me. Love the jazz influence.
posted by Qubit at 6:09 PM on May 31 [6 favorites]


I loved this album back in the day too, though funny enough I was never into the big hit singles “If You Love Somebody” or “Love is the Seventh Wave.” I always thought of “We Work the Black Seam” as the unsung hero of this album. Haven’t listened in a long time, will do so again now!
posted by ejs at 6:18 PM on May 31 [10 favorites]


I can still remember all the lyrics to "Shadows in the Rain". Weird.
posted by Catblack at 6:19 PM on May 31 [4 favorites]


Include me with those who listened to this over and over. I still know all the lyrics to all the songs.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:21 PM on May 31 [6 favorites]


Wow, I’d forgotten that this album even existed, but I had this on CD & listened to it endlessly as well. I must have lost it in a domestic realignment, because now I don’t have it, but I need to fix that. Fortress Around Your Heart is a great song. I do recall being basically disappointed that it wasn’t a Police album, but that’s just because I’d loved the Police & was unhappy about their breakup. Nice to hear these again after all these years.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:22 PM on May 31 [6 favorites]


"Shadows In The Rain" is interesting in that, according to an interview I read years ago, it is pretty close to the demo that Sting brought to The Police for their third album. Comparing the fairly normal blues shuffle version here to the weird, spiky, syncopated Police recording helps you appreciate how much Summers and, especially, Copeland transformed Sting's material.
posted by thelonius at 6:25 PM on May 31 [8 favorites]


This was one of the first two albums I bought with my own money (the other was Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual). A surprising amount of it still holds up, though Moon Over Bourbon Street is hilarious in retrospect-- it was the 80s and everyone was reading Anne Rice, like, intensely, man.

I hadn't heard any of the bonus B-sides, but I saw Sting sing Mack the Knife when he played Macheath in a production of The Threepenny Opera in 1990 in DC. The translation was very sweary, and I was there with my parents, who Disapproved. Apparently George HW Bush didn't like it any better. But I do remember Sting's rendition of the Ballad of the Easy Life as being quite good.

(The show went to Broadway, got terrible reviews and closed. Apparently Sting shaved off his mustache onstage at the final performance.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:26 PM on May 31 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I had this on tape in like eighth grade, listened the hell out of it.

Here’s a live version of “We Work the Black Seam Together.”
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:28 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


I hadn't heard any of the bonus B-sides

I found myself astonished to learn that William Orbit was doing remixes back in 1985, truly.
posted by hippybear at 6:28 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]


It's amazing that back then a song like "Russians" got released as a single, with a video, and made it to 16 on the Billboard charts. It's based on a classical piece, sounds orchestral, and has minimal percussion. I can't imagine something like that being popular today.
posted by epimorph at 6:38 PM on May 31 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I listened to this about 9000 times in early adolescence.

That documentary had one of those telling moments that you can never un-recognize afterwards, where someone (Branford Marsalis?) basically accuses Sting of having huge secret lounge lizard tendencies.
posted by praemunire at 6:40 PM on May 31 [6 favorites]


Keep these up! Killer posts.
posted by j_curiouser at 6:42 PM on May 31 [4 favorites]


. . .the unsung hero of this album. . .
,
The unsung hero of this record, and of that track, and of the Blue Turtles generally has to be Omar Hakim, who absolutely kills it on the drums, track after rhythmically complex track. Shadows In The Rain starts with just his drums and Branford (?) shouting "What key is this in? Wait! Wait! What key is it in?" and Sting comes in singing and then you get the Sax riff. It's magic, and Omar is the backbone of the whole thing.
posted by The Bellman at 6:46 PM on May 31 [13 favorites]


Omar Hakim

Who, btw, also replaced almost all the drums on the recently hb-featured Brothers In Arms album.

The thing that I always found funny was that, when Hakim and the late Victor Bailey were in Madonna's band, she would evidently yell "Don't play that Weather Report shit!" at them when they , I don't know, started playing over the bar lines or something. It kind of made me wonder if she hired Weather Report's rhythm section just to do that.
posted by thelonius at 6:54 PM on May 31 [9 favorites]


Hello my adolescence. I imprinted on Sting thanks to That Scene in Dune, so of course I got this album. And that opening to the Fortress Around Your Heart video is stupidly pretentious but I would watch it anyway because it ended with that long shot of Sting looking directly through the camera and into my soul, eeeeeeeee.....

Children's Crusade was also my jam. I've heard a possibly apocryphal story that the producer almost completely missed Branford's sax solo because he'd been listening to the drums or something totally different, but the engineers had captured it, and so when the producer tried asking Branford to do another take everyone else was all "uh....dude, you may want to listen to this".

And I have spoken before of how I delighted my first-year voice coach at the acting conservatory by selecting "Moon Over Bourbon Street" as my study piece, and thus sparing him yet another rendition of "On My Own" from Les Miserables.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:08 PM on May 31 [9 favorites]


I loved this album at the time. In later years Sting pretty much ruined himself for me though. I'm not sure when I last listened to a solo Sting effort on purpose. I was just listening to Klark Kent last week, though.
posted by fedward at 7:21 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]


I like this album. But I like ...Nothing Like the Sun and Ten Summoner's Tales better.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:22 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]


Whenever I think of post-Police Sting, I think of Bill Bailey's description of him as "tantric lute-botherer".
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:40 PM on May 31 [24 favorites]


Oh, man. I'm a huge Police fan, and I love a lot of Sting's solo work, but I always thought that Dream of Blue Turtles is the perfect example of how Sting works against himself, and neuters some of his best music.

Compare the same songs on Bring On The Night - where he is work-shopping them with his then-new band of mostly Black American Jazz musicians - to the versions on the Bring On The Night soundtrack album, which was recorded later with most of the same line up, to the versions that appear on Dream Of Blue Turtles. You'll hear a lot of what I think are really cool outside influences being sanded down, and made more boring.

Remember that this is the guy who was notorious for hiring background singers to sing harmony parts, and then overdub his own voice over them once he was happy with the arrangement.

Not trying to shit on Sting too much - I genuinely love a lot of his music, especially Soul Cages and the wonderful MTV Uplugged set he did shortly afterward - but it's hard not to find a lot of his hijinks ridiculous. I still get more joy than I should out of the song "On Any Other Day" on The Police's Regatta De Blanc, which was Stewart Copeland making fun of Sting's songwriting.
posted by Anoplura at 7:46 PM on May 31 [16 favorites]


Oh, and my favorite Omar Hakim trivia is that producer Roy Thomas Baker said that he used a young Omar - uncredited - to replace all of the drums on the first Cars record - except for the big, boomy tom fills - in order to get a steadier feel. When you listen to the record it sounds extremely plausible, as the basic drum tracks and the fills were clearly recorded separately.

Unfortunately, I'm unable to find the interview where he says this online anywhere...
posted by Anoplura at 8:01 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]


And I have spoken before of how I delighted my first-year voice coach at the acting conservatory by selecting "Moon Over Bourbon Street" as my study piece, and thus sparing him yet another rendition of "On My Own" from Les Miserables.

I sang “Moon Over Bourbon Street” at my high school class night show.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:10 PM on May 31 [6 favorites]


No mention of Omar Hakim in a thread about Sting should be without a link to his fantastic drum solo in "I Burn for You". I was going to link to just the solo, but you need to hear how he smoothly builds into it, so listen to the whole song. Then you get Branford Marsalis fantastic solo, as well.
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:49 PM on May 31 [12 favorites]


I lived in England from 1986 to 1989 while my dad was stationed on an American nuclear (cruise) missile base. I played this tape, and especially Russians, endlessly which started me on the path to being aware of and empathic to the rest of the world. (And led me to have Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament literature mailed to our (officer's housing) house. My dad shut that one down real fast.)

I never got around to watching Bring on the NIght but I'm watching it now. Thanks hippybear!
posted by bendy at 9:19 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


O Sting, where is thy depth?
posted by kirkaracha at 9:52 PM on May 31 [19 favorites]


Because nuclear war could have happened on a whim at that time.
At that time? There hasn't been a day since he took office I would've been surprised to hear Trump had nuked some random country.

posted by kirkaracha at 9:54 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


Yes, Hakim on "I Burn for you" is def a highlight of Bring on the Night.
Also "Driven to Tears" with Branford Marsalis doing fine sax.
posted by storybored at 9:54 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


Bring On The Night is a remarkable document. OMG, Marsalis is SUCH A KID and still has had HOW MANY YEARS of experience already? And watching Sting be so full of himself at first but sort of dissolving into the other musicians as he works with them. He has definite ideas, but things seem to shift with him as things go along.
posted by hippybear at 10:01 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


Is there a Godwin's Law analog for kirkaracha's post above?
posted by fairmettle at 10:55 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


To illustrate storybored's point: I Burn For You (from Bring on the Night)
posted by koucha at 11:41 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


"Russians" has been a favorite since it was on the charts, and I've often thought about it when politics got tense. (Which has been... often.)

I'd hadn't thought about much of the rest of the album, though, and it surprised me how much I remembered. I used to have it on tape, and it was on the charts during one of the few stretches when I had regular access to MTV--I remember thinking "Love is the Seventh Wave" was hokey (I never liked mid-80's scribble-art animation) but "Fortress Around Your Heart" was cool, if a bit bleak. (I don't mean "the content was emotionally stark." I mean it had substantial black-and-white footage.)

"Shadows in the Rain" is the only song on the album that doesn't immediately bring to mind the tune. Huh. Apparently I listened to it more than I thought.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:47 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


I loved this album and also Soul Cages. I remember when Soul Cages was released it was produced in “3D sound” or something, and I’d listen to the cassette for hours trying to hear in 3D. Ah well, it was still a great album.
posted by simra at 11:57 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


I've always liked "Fortress Around Your Heart" -- try learning to sing that song (try learning it by ear on guitar!) and your respect for Sting's vocal skill may go up a few notches.
posted by straight at 2:16 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia has quite an interesting page about how "Russians" came to be written. Sting had a an inventor friend Ken Schaffer who dabbled in wireless guitar interfaces and satellite technology (as well as being Jimi Hendrix's one time publicist). Sting recalls going to a rooftop with Schaffer to try to pick up Russian TV signals. He remembers being able to pick up the Russian equivalent of Sesame Street - and being impressed by how well the shows were made. Hence the sentiment "I hope the Russians love their children too". Here is Sting telling the story.

Anyway - the orchestral theme used in "Russians" is the Romance theme by Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kijé//Romance" - in case that sounded familiar.
posted by rongorongo at 2:18 AM on June 1 [6 favorites]


hippybear: "Because nuclear war could have happened on a whim at that time."

Ah, the good old days.
posted by chavenet at 4:13 AM on June 1 [3 favorites]


I remember listening to this album one jillion times, and I still love it.

But it was "Nothing Like the Sun" that was my first CD purchase -- the Marsalis and assorted guitar performances were a sort of benchmark for audio performance for a while. Lovely music, and then Mister Sumner took a fancy to bothering the lutes...
posted by wenestvedt at 6:31 AM on June 1


Whenever I think of Sting now, I think of this old bit from the Onion; it was worth a few chuckles back in the day, but I've come back around to admitting that, yeah, I dug this record, although my favorite of his post-Police work would still be "Mad About You" (apologies for the shameless Orientalism) from The Soul Cages. ...Nothing Like the Sun was also good; he did a cover of Hendrix's "Little Wing" that I caught live on SNL which, while not a patch on the original, was still quite respectable.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:56 AM on June 1


Count me as another for whom this was my first ever album purchase, with money earned from my paper route (remember those?). I’m not even sure why I bought it, except maybe because the videos were on heavy rotation on MTV at the time.

Anyway, like others I played the hell out of that LP. As a suburban American teenager I didn’t really have any context for songs like We Work the Black Seam, but I still found it haunting and compelling.

Russians always makes me think of my best friend at the time, a girl named Connie, who moved across the country to Arizona because her stepfather thought they would be safer there than in NY, because of the impending nuclear war.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 6:58 AM on June 1


Okay, the Lute Phase gets some sniggers, but I think it was a necessary thing. Hear me out.

Like a year after this album, Sting's mother died, and it (understandably) shook him up because they were close - he's said one of his first memories is sitting under the piano while she played it, and he was watching her feet on the pedals. …Nothing Like The Sun was him processing that. And then his father died a little bit after that; Soul Cages was him processing his father's death.

But I also think it was a sign of him starting to process the whole "who am I where do I come from and how does that fit into who I am now" thing that a lot of people go through when they lose their parents. He started out playing jazz, but he grew up by a shipyard, and was used to hearing a very different kind of music. He had a childhood out of one of those stereotypical British films about the north of England where the brilliant son is super-studious because he's determined to do something other than the working-class drudge stuff everyone else does, and it causes friction with his father who doesn't understand how hoity-toity his kid is any more. Jazz was egghead music, rock was even more frivolous.

And so Soul Cages was influenced by the kind of folky sea-shanty stuff that was probably around when he was a kid, and I think that was part of him trying to explore the "who am I where do I come from" stuff. So arguably, the Lute Phase was just him overshooting a little - "okay, I'm checking out these folk songs, but let's check out what was even earlier than that?" - and then he course-corrected ("okay, got it, but that's more English music history rather than my own personal music history") and came back to the shipyard with The Last Ship. And just to bring things back around full circle, he also did a reunion tour with the Police and then did a collaboration with Shaggy to explore the reggae that had influenced him with the Police so much.

So if you think about it, Sting's work since about 1987 has been a deep exploration of "what music has been shaping what and who I am", and that's kinda cool.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:06 AM on June 1 [14 favorites]


The Battlefield Band did a nice cover of "We Work The Black Seam" on 1987's "Celtic Hotel".
posted by offog at 7:28 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]


I am loving all of these 1985 posts, hippybear, so thank you for bringing some joy here amidst the horror of the week. This album was a huge hit for me, and I listened over and over. Such love.
posted by blurker at 7:31 AM on June 1 [6 favorites]


The thing that I always found funny was that, when Hakim and the late Victor Bailey were in Madonna's band, she would evidently yell "Don't play that Weather Report shit!" at them when they , I don't know, started playing over the bar lines or something. It kind of made me wonder if she hired Weather Report's rhythm section just to do that.

This is my new favorite thing. Thank you, thelonius!
posted by The Bellman at 7:33 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]


I lost my virginity to "I Burn For You". That song and the rest of the Bring on the Night album still bring back fond memories.
posted by widdershins at 7:54 AM on June 1 [4 favorites]


Thanks for all the talk about Omar Hakim; I'm mostly ignorant of drummers and don't think about what they add. Listening to Sting and particularly Brothers in Arms thinking about the drummer is like a new appreciation. I linked to the worst song on that album IMHO, "Your Latest Trick", a sort of syrupy smooth jazz number. But the drums elevate it to at least a plausible song. The drumming styles change all over the album too, it's fun listening to Hakim do straight up rock, up tempo stuff, this jazz fill..

(Sorry for the derail, but Brothers in Arms did come out literally two weeks before Blue Turtles. And has a lot of spiritual similarities IMHO.)
posted by Nelson at 8:00 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Bring on the Night / When the World is Running Down from the live album is a barn-burner, with a smokin' keyboard solo by Kenny Kirkland and a bonus rap by Branford at 8:00.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:03 AM on June 1 [7 favorites]


I can't add much to what has already been said. But I do think the big hit (If You Love Somebody) is the weakest song on the album. I always skipped it when playing the LP.

Maybe it was just overplayed.
posted by wittgenstein at 8:04 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


I feel that happens to a lot of albums. The single really is good, but you hear it too much to appreciate it anymore.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:17 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]


I was always baffled why he ruined the otherwise lovely "Love is the Seventh Wave" with that bizarre every cake you bake every leg you break riffing at the end.
posted by tavella at 8:39 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]


Oh god this was so foundational for me. I feel like I must have the cassette still stuffed in a drawer somewhere.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:03 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]


me too, widdershins
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:25 AM on June 1


tavella, quoting and riffing on his own earlier songs is a Sting tic, love it or hate it. The line “it’s a big enough umbrella” comes up at the end of multiple recordings. In the case of “Love is the Seventh Wave” he was writing and performing from a happier perspective than when he wrote “Every Breath You Take”. I’m sure I remember Sting describing “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” in particular as a correction to the dark, controlling, stalker’s perspective of “Every Breath You Take”, and I think that’s where this particular riffing is coming from too.
posted by Songdog at 9:30 AM on June 1 [3 favorites]


Mrs. MQ Blank may be the biggest Sting fan on Planet Earth, even lurked outside Threepenny Opera in DC (hi, Pallas Athena!) to get his autograph, so I've heard all the solo records and albums and developed much respect for him for working with Branford and Omar and that band, but...

My most vivid memory of this album is listening to local FM radio and "Love is the Seventh Wave" fades out, and then the DJ come on and says, "But... what does it mean, Sting? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?"
posted by martin q blank at 9:52 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think he's spent decades trying to apologize for "Every Breath You Take."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:00 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


I was once on a small boat in the Marshall Islands as an LDS missionary and we had to wait for a lull in the waves to make our way under the bridge that marked the entrance to the Majuro Lagoon. Someone had told me prior to this that "love is the seventh wave" referred to every seventh wave being a lull, or smaller wave, a momentary break.

Dream of the Blue Turtles was the first album I bought with my own money in high school.
posted by mecran01 at 11:11 AM on June 1


Seventh wave surfer lore. I never realized this.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:16 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]


I've heard a possibly apocryphal story that the producer almost completely missed Branford's sax solo because he'd been listening to the drums or something totally different, but the engineers had captured it, and so when the producer tried asking Branford to do another take everyone else was all "uh....dude, you may want to listen to this".

Rolling Stone or one of the other music magazines of the moment reported that incident as well.

For me, the first three solo albums are essential stuff. Yeah, maybe some of the jazz is sanded off but this is truly inspired music and lyrics, wonderful hook-filled songs.
posted by Ber at 11:21 AM on June 1


Rolling Stone or one of the other music magazines of the moment reported that incident as well.

I think it may have been "Musician". Anyway, I recall reading it.
posted by thelonius at 11:27 AM on June 1


Whenever I think of post-Police Sting, I think of Bill Bailey's description of him as "tantric lute-botherer".
"Unyoked from Copeland, Sting was free to become what he is today: one-third spirit in the material world, two-thirds scented candle," remains one of the most savagely memorable put-downs I have ever read in a piece of music journalism.
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:34 PM on June 1 [7 favorites]


Oddly enough, Youtube served me up a lute rec just the other day....complete with, what is that, a special lute-playing garment?
posted by thelonius at 3:39 PM on June 1


Regarding the album under discussion -- I recall quite enjoying the singles from this solo debut when they came out in the mid-80s but they really haven't aged all that well.

For example it's a mystery to me how "Love is the Seventh Wave", at only three minutes and twenty seven seconds in length, can feel like it's at least ninety seconds too long (though I still enjoy the self-mockery on the fade-out and give Sting some credit there..) Really. Sit and listen to it. See how much time is left on the clock when you're ready for it to end.
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:39 PM on June 1


Speaking of Urgh! Stewart Copeland was a pretty unique force of nature. This was Sting lyrically at his most relevant, too.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:03 PM on June 1 [2 favorites]


Hey Devil's Rancher - was this your intended link?
posted by thelonius at 7:00 PM on June 1


Oh, man, rewatching Bring on the Night is a trip. I must've worn out the VHS I had.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:29 PM on June 1


Hey Devil's Rancher - was this yt your intended link?

Yes it was! & it worked when I previewed the comment. Something burped.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:30 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I remember watching the doc several times but decades ago, of course. This evening I watched a couple of minutes for that pure mid-80s style (yes, sure, let's prepare for the tour in a French chateau). Michael Apted (!) directed, and I'd forgotten that Dolette McDonald (known for her work with the Talking Heads) was one of the back-up singers!
posted by praemunire at 6:53 PM on June 2


"...one-third spirit in the material world, two-thirds scented candle"

I own most of Sting's solo albums (and to be fair to myself, all of the Police) and I wholly endorse this description. God bless.
posted by peakes at 3:57 AM on June 3


I think it's okay to like both "So Lonely" and "Fields of Gold." People can contain multitudes.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:05 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]




Rick Beato on Sting.
Rick Beato's take is interesting because he is somebody who is aware of just how much fiendishly clever musical shit it going on in the writing and performance of Sting (and of the Police). Back in 1976, when the band came together, there were not many resources that would train you how to make pop music - and certainly nothing that could tell you what it would mean to write a catchy pop song using the Dorian Mode. The Police - with their many influences form jazz to prog rock - must have been a hothouse for learning all that stuff.

(Here is Rick looking at "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" in his "What Makes this Song Great" series. Catchy as hell but with a Lydian mode baseline.)
posted by rongorongo at 2:46 PM on June 4 [3 favorites]




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