Sting not only began composing music of a far deeper substance than his Police work, he also hired some of the best jazz musicians of the time period to record and perform his music. The sound of Sting’s music starting in 1985 with the Dream of the Blue Turtles album was truly unique. The only other rock artist that featured brilliant jazz musicians fusing so many different elements of music together was Frank Zappa.
Sting once said in an iTunes interview that he could not pick out his best song. Sting expressed that his music should just stand as one song representing an entire body of work. So in order to honor Sting’s personal judgments of his music, we have decided to create an essential list rather than a top 10 best list. Since Sting had done so many interviews over the past 35 years, we have written this list with an ear to Sting’s own thoughts about his music. We have chosen the songs and made up the list, but we will let Sting indirectly tell you why we have chosen these works.
# 10 – It’s Probably Me
If we wanted to pick a song that represented Sting’s flirtation with the silver screen and the cinematic quality that defined some of Sting’s greatest arrangements, then selecting the song “It’s Probably Me,” is probably the best choice. The song had been released as a single in 1992 before the Ten Summoner’s Tales album came out.
The cinematic quality of Sting Songs and especially, “It’s Probably Me,” was easily justified by the fact that it was featured in the opening credits of the motion picture Lethal Weapon 3. The song also featured Eric Clapton on guitar on the single, but not on the album version.
# 9 – I Was Brought To My Senses
The Mercury Falling album was at least in this writer’s opinion, Sting’s greatest record. It was an album filled with hope and acceptance. In a Boston Globe interview in 1996 Sting described Mercury Falling as an album that defined his acceptance of things that cannot be changed.
The song’s deep harmonic structure in which the chorus featured the use of ninths and elevenths stands as one of Sting’s most interesting and beautiful arrangements. The song’s introduction, verses, and chorus are completely different from each other in terms of melodic ideas, chord changes and rhythm. Yet no matter how radical the differences are between the various sections of the song, Sting makes it work.
The song “I Was Brought to My Senses,” is a true presentation of a master songwriter craftsman at the top of his game. It should serve as an example of great songwriting based on the understanding of music harmony and theory. It’s all about practice and dedication to being the best. “I Was Brought to My Senses,” is easily one of the most essential Sting Songs, and also one of the best-written pieces of popular music over the past fifty years
# 8 – If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free
In an interview with the newspaper magazine, “The Record,” in 1985, Sting explained that he was not sure how his new music would be accepted because it was not jazz or mainstream pop. However, it’s quite obvious that Sting knew his music would be accepted for the simple reason that he wrote great music regardless of the arrangements or production. The fact that Sting hired Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland away from Wynton Marsalis’s band only elevated the music to a level not previously heard on the popular music scene.
“If You Love Somebody, Set Me Free,” was the single that proved Sting’s success with the band The Police would continue for the singer as a solo artist for many more years to follow. All the Sting Songs released from that point in time would defy classification, yet still celebrate tremendous commercial success.
# 7 – All This Time
At No. 7 on the Top 10 Essential Sting songs list is the first single released from his 1991 Soul Cages album. The song “All This Time,” reached No.5 on U.S Billboard top 100 singles charts. However, it hit No. 1 on both the Billboard Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts.
The song was composed by Sting after breaking a writer’s block that plagued Sting for close to three years. Sting confessed that it was the death of his father that had probably caused the writing block. Sting had even spoken to Bruce Springsteen for advice on how to handle the writer’s block, even asking Springsteen if he had any bad songs he could spare. However, Sting eventually emerged from his writer’s block and presented his fans with the most heartfelt and deeply emotional album of his career.
The song “All This Time,” was one of the many standout tracks on the LP, and the song’s lyrical content defined the issues of life and death in an inspiring and healing fashion. The song’s deep lyrical concepts that were presented afloat a rhythmic river of soul, translated into one of the most essential Sting songs of the composer’s career.
# 6 – If I Ever Lose My Faith in You
As time matured the artist, the concepts of faith and trust began to seep deeper within the lyrical content of Sting’s compositions. At No. 6 on the Top 10 Essential Sting Songs list is a song that resonated with ideas of faith, love, and trust.
The first single “If I ever lose My Faith in You,” from the Ten Summoner’s Tales album brought home Sting a Grammy for Best Pop Male Vocal Performance in 1993. The album itself has been regarded as Sting’s moist upbeat work, especially after the previously released Soul Cages LP that dealt with the death of Sting’s father.
In talking about the Ten Summoner’s LP, Sting compared his work to the legendary Canterbury Tales. Sting has said that both works were a series of stories and songs that stood on their own, yet were connected by the journey it took to complete them. On an album that contained some of the best Sting Songs of the legendary artist’s career,” If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” would become the hardest and most upbeat of the singles released from the album. It featured Sting’s soaring trademark vocal sound over one of the composer’s most memorable choruses of his career.
# 5 – Fragile
One of the most beautiful Sting songs of the artist’s career was released on his second solo album, Nothing Like the Sun. Sting’s composition “Fragile,” was an ode to the works of Antonio Carlos Jobim. While the music of “Fragile,” clearly was inspired by the Brazilian styles of Jobim, the lyrical content of the song was a homage to the American engineer Benjamin Linder who had been killed by the contras in Nicaragua in 1987.
The guitar and bass work on the song were both performed by Sting which depicted Sting’s extraordinary level of musicianship. The tender lyrics and beautiful melodic line gave birth to a song that would become a new standard. Sting has performed the song “Fragile,” as an encore in many of his concerts. I saw Sting perform the song “Fragile,” in 1995 at New York’s Academy concert hall. It was one of the most spell-binding performances I have ever witnessed. It was an encore performance and it blew the house away.
# 4 – I Hung My Head
Sting has always been a great interview for so many journalists because the man just loved to talk. At the heart of his passion for talking and performing lay the simple concept of storytelling which in so many circumstances Sting thrived at. One of Sting’s greatest stories was about the foolishness of a young man playing with his rifle and aiming carelessly at an innocent man riding on his horse.
With a strong Celtic vibe and a brilliantly written verse and chorus, Sting’s “I hung My Head,” stands as one of the composer’s greatest achievements and one of the most essential Sting Songs. The song was released on Sting’s great album, 1995’s Mercury Falling.
# 3 – Englishman in New York
The Sting song, “Englishman in New York,” stands as one of the three most essential Sting songs. The song’s brilliance stems from various dynamics presented within the framework of the song’s lyrical ideas, early twentieth-century rhythmic structures, and the glorious musicianship on the tune featuring Branford Marsalis. Sting may have been an exceptionally strong bandleader, but the best band leaders understand how to utilize talent, and it was clear that Sting recognized that Branford Marsalis was himself a legend in the making.
It would be interesting to have been in those studios to watch the dynamics between Sting and the fabulous and talented jazz players he had hired to perform his music. We have all seen the documentary of the early recording sessions. However, documentaries never really depict the real scenarios that develop in the recording process. Nonetheless, the recordings Sting created with those jazz musicians are of such depth and brilliance, that it leaves no doubt that Sting’s first two albums were the result of a collective effort of some of the most brilliant talent in the music business during the nineteen-eighties.
# 2 – Fields of Gold
As much of an effort had just been given to give credit to the musicians on the first two Sting albums, it can be easily argued that the end product of these fabulous albums all started with the brilliant compositional skills of Sting the songwriter. Many people will argue that the true test of a song is how well it sounds performed on a solo instrument like a piano or guitar.
Production values based on arrangements, and performances can greatly enhance the beauty of a well-written song, but none of that will matter if there is little to work with at the start. Sting has always been an exceptional musician and performer. However, it is in this writer’s view that regardless of his musical talent, Sting’s greatest contribution to pop culture will be as a songwriter.
Great songs should be able to stand alone and apart from the original performer’s production. Sting’s song “Fields of Gold,” is one of his most essential compositions because it has become one of the few new standards written in the past thirty years. The song has been covered many times by a wide range of artists from many different musical genres and is easily the most covered of all Sting Songs.
From the soft folk sounds of Eva Cassidy, to the Celtic interpretations of Mary Black and onward to the smooth jazz styles of the band Fourplay; the beauty of the song “Fields of Gold,” defies boundaries. If this list had been a top 10 best Sting Songs list, than Fields of Gold would have landed at the number one spot. However, since this list was written to determine the top 10 essential Sting songs, there is one more song that completely defined the sounds of Sting and his attempt to merge genres within a framework that produced some of the most enjoyable music of the past thirty-five years.
# 1 – Shadows in the Rain
Of all the essential Sting songs in the artist’s catalog, no one song defined the fusion of jazz, rock, and pop styles like Sting’s “Shadows in the Rain.” Furthermore, the song “Shadows in the Rain,” was the ultimate blending of Sting’s unique songwriting skills and the band’s superior musicianship. The genre of jazz is defined in large part by the improvisational nature of the music. Jazz music represents live group playing. It is not a genre that is recorded by the use of many overdubs and the structuring of tracks. The feel of the music comes from the musicians feeding off each other in a live situation. The spirit of the music fuels the improvisations that occur in the live setting.
When listening to Sting’s “Shadows in the Rain”, it can be easily observed that it is the live element that made the recording so special. Instantly, you could hear it in Sting’s voice as the strain of live singing on top of a band of dynamic musicians took its toll on Sting’s vocal cords. Yet, Sting’s vocal performance in “Shadows on the Rain,” is as organic as it gets. The recording captures the essence of Sting’s soulfulness and bares his commitment to the art form of real music. While Sting’s vocal performance stands as one of his best on record, the song’s improvisational sections is what carried the song to the top of the essential Sting songs list.
The Yamaha DX 7 was one of the most popular FM synthesizers of the 1980s. FM synthesizer technology was used on thousands of recordings. However, Kenny Kirkland’s keyboard solo on the DX7 halfway through “Shadows in the Rain,” stands as the greatest improvisational solo utilizing the DX7 in the history of the instrument. It should also be recognized as one of the best solos on any of Sting’s recordings. The song is even further elevated by the Branford Marsalis solo that responded to Kirkland’s brilliant run. As the solos come to an end Sting returns at the top of his game and takes the song home.
The song “Shadows in the Rain,” was released on Sting’s 1985 album The Dream of the Blue Turtles. In an interview with International Musician magazine in 1985, Sting had said that he was not aiming to record a Jazz album or a pure rock album, but rather a hybrid of both. Sting also explained that the jazz musicians were not just improvising based on chord changes and melodies, but also on lyrical content. Sting noted that Branford Marsalis was very much in tune with the subject matter of the material and that was defined in the saxophone player’s improvisational sensitivity to the compositions.
In Sting’s song Shadows in the Rain,” all of the composer’s ideas about creating a new sound came to fruition. It is very difficult to choose Sting’s best work. Over the past thirty five years Sting has delivered a substantial collection of songs that represent some of the best moments in popular music culture. However, based on the substance and performance of the song “Shadows on the Rain, the song has been chosen to serve as the best representation of Sting’s unique sound and closes this list at the No. 1 spot on the Top 10 Essential Sting Songs list.
More Essential Sting Songs that were not listed in the top 10
Fortress Around Your Heart from Dream of the Blue Turtles.
Russians from Dream of the Blue Turtles
They Dance Alone (Gueca Solo) from Nothing Like The Sun
The Lazarus Heart from Nothing Like The Sun
Mad About You from The Soul Cages.
Mercury Falling from Mercury Falling
I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying from Mercury Falling
Brand New Day from Brand New Day
Desert Rose from Brand New Day
Send Your Love from Sacred Love
I Can’t Stop Thinking About You from 57th & 9th
If It’s Love from The Bridge
Top 10 Sting Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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