Gordon Sumner, the English songwriter and musician known as Sting, celebrates his 70th birthday tomorrow.
Between 1977 and 1986, Sting was the lead singer, bass guitarist, and principal songwriter for the band, The Police. Later, his solo career blossomed. Sting’s songs are filled with fascinating harmonic complexity and depth. Here are a few examples. There are many others that are equally interesting, including the jazz-infused Englishman in New York (a track which features Branford Marsalis on soprano saxophone) and the dark ballad, I Hung My Head, with its persistently irregular 9/8 meter. Please share your own favorites in the comment thread below.
“If I Ever Lose My Faith in You”
If I Ever Lose My Faith in You was released in 1993 as the lead single from Sting’s fourth studio album, Ten Summoner’s Tales. In the song’s introduction, a rising chromatic sequence culminates in a tense tritone before breaking into the sunshine of the verse. The chorus emerges over a distinctive four note rising bass line. After a series of adventurous modulations, the final chorus features a sudden, transfiguring expansion of this powerful rising bass line.
“King of Pain”
King of Pain comes from Synchronicity, the fifth and final studio album of The Police, released in 1983. With the use of marimba and pulsating patterns, there are echoes of the minimalism of Steve Reich, especially in the song’s bridge section.
“When We Dance”
When We Dance opened Sting’s 1994 album, Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting 1984–1994. The verse hovers in the Lydian mode. The vocal line rises over a rhythmic countermelody in the accompaniment. Interestingly, when the verse returns, the original melody fades into the background and the vocal line picks up a new, improvisational rhythmic line. The brief chorus brings a spectacular, sudden harmonic turn. When the chorus returns later in the song, notice the way it restlessly, but unsuccessfully, attempts to pull us into yet another modulation (2:12).
“A Thousand Years”
A Thousand Years opened Brand New Day, Sting’s sixth solo studio album from 1999. The melody has a melancholy, Middle Eastern flavor. Subtle harmonic changes punctuate its hypnotic sense of motion.
“Fields of Gold”
This sensuous melody was first released in 1993 on the album, Ten Summoner’s Tales. This intimate acoustic version comes from the 2006 album, Songs From The Labyrinth, on which Sting performs music of the sixteenth century English composer, John Dowland.
- Sting: Ten Summoner’s Tales Amazon
- The Police: Synchronicity Amazon
- Sting: Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting 1984–1994 Amazon
- Sting: Brand New Day Amazon
- Sting: Songs From The Labyrinth Amazon
Featured Image: Photograph by Mayumi Nashida
5 thoughts on “The Artistry of Sting: Five Great Songs”
What a surprise this morning to read this. Most of my classical music friends don’t listen to pop music. I don’t appreciate Sting as much as you but thank you for the insight to the song Lydian structure. It was a very nice listen.
Always enjoyed progressive left message with the “unusual “ ( fir Rick music ) meters and chord progressions. Pink Floyd, Rush, and Yes all credit their classical music training
I too was very surprised to see this selection this morning. I am actually a huge Sting fan, and have been since I was 13. “Thousand Years” is one of my favorite songs and I agree with you insights. I would also draw attention to,”I Burn For You” from the album ‘Bring on the Night’.
I have enjoyed some of Sting`s music in the past.- but the constant banging of the percussion throughout was very irritating, and spoiled the recording. why modern bands have to hammer out their songs beats me. It does nothing to enhance the melodies.
I totaly agree — and I’m an eary 60’s/70’s rock drummer sans hearing aids : ]
ps. Just found TLC while searching for Shostakovich’s 8th. Your coverage of that masterpiece is excellent. So far, love your site!
I like Sting, but find his solo work from the 1990s and 2000s hasn’t aged nearly as well as the earlier tunes with The Police (which still sound fresh and exciting, to my ears at least)