Sting Ten Summoners Tales

10 Best Sting Songs

Sting’s reputation is a little shaky as a solo artist – after leading The Police to the status of the biggest band in the world in 1983, he pursued a high-brow, jazzy direction in his solo career.

When I first became interested in pop music, Sting was enjoying a wave of renewed success in the early 1990s. Hits like ‘Fields of Gold’, ‘If I Ever Lose My Faith In You’, and two different versions of ‘It’s Probably Me’ were all over the radio. I never had the aversion to Sting’s solo career that older listeners may have, and I adored my $2 cassette copy of 1991’s The Soul Cages.

Lapses in Sting’s judgement began to creep in during the 1990s – the collaboration with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart on ‘All For Love’, and Puff Daddy’s 1997 remix of ‘Roxanne’. By 1999’s Brand New Day I lost interest – in particular ‘Perfect Love… Gone Wrong’ is a regrettable concoction that mixes terrible dog puns with French verses. But his early solo career is very enjoyable for me – in particular The Soul Cages and 1987’s …Nothing Like The Sun are excellent.

Here are my ten favourite songs from Sting’s solo career:

#10 – Fields of Gold

from Ten Summoner’s Tales, 1993
I’ll let Mr. Gordon Sumner explain the meaning behind this lovely acoustic track. “In England, our house is surrounded by barley fields, and in the summer it’s fascinating to watch the wind moving over the shimmering surface, like waves on an ocean of gold. There’s something inherently sexy about the sight, something primal, as if the wind were making love to the barley.”

#9 – When We Dance

from Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting 1984–1994, 1994
Sting recorded two new songs for his 1994 greatest hits – ‘The Cowboy Song’ is also worth hearing. ‘When We Dance’ is romantic adult contemporary, but it’s gorgeous anyway with Sting using his higher register to great effect.

#8 – I Hung My Head

Sting Mercury Falling

from Mercury Falling, 1996
1996’s Mercury Falling is the last Sting album I enjoy enough to own – it’s patchy, but the opening pair of ‘Hounds of Winter’ and ‘I Hung My Head’ is excellent. ‘I Hung My Head’ is a tale of accidental murder and redemption, and was later covered by Johnny Cash. It’s in compound 9/8 time, with alternating bars of 4 beats and 5 beats.

#7 – Englishman in New York

from …Nothing Like The Sun (1987)
‘Englishman in New York’ was written about English writer and actor Quentin Crisp, who’d recently moved to New York. Over dinner, he’d explained to Sting what it had been like growing up as a homosexual in a homophobic UK. Branford Marsalis plays soprano saxophone, while the unexpectedly energetic drum solo is a nice touch.

#6 – Jeremiah Blues (Part 1)

Sting The Soul Cages

from The Soul Cages (1991)
I love this deep cut from The Soul Cages – Sting leading his amazing band through a jazzy romp. The addition of guitarist Dominic Miller to Sting’s band provides a rock edge, as the guitar competes for attention with Branford Marsalis’ sax and the piano. The most memorable hook is the bridge – “Sometimes they tie a thief to the tree/Sometimes I stare, sometimes it’s me.”

#5 – The Wild Wild Sea

from The Soul Cages (1991)
The Soul Cages is a concept album, Sting wrestling with his father’s death and Catholic faith. ‘The Wild Wild Sea’ starts with a Northumbrian pipe motif carried over from opening track ‘Island of Souls’. It’s a lengthy narrative with no chorus – varying the song between two different verse melodies keeps it interesting. ‘The Wild Wild Sea’ takes the father and son story, set in Newcastle’s boat building industry, and takes it into the realm of fantasy.

#4 – If I Ever Lose My Faith In You

from Ten Summoner’s Tales (1993)
The lead single from Ten Summoner’s Tales was this bright, jazzy song. Sting deliberately kept it ambiguous: “”You” could be my producer, it could be faith in God, it could be faith in myself, or it could be faith in romantic love. It could be all of those things, I don’t define it. I think it’s important not to define it, because once you can define something it evaporates.” The title Ten Summoner’s Tales was a pun of Sting’s surname, Sumner, and a character from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

#3 – Why Should I Cry For You?

from The Soul Cages (1991)
Sting suffered from writer’s block for several years after his father’s death, and the beautiful ‘Why Should I Cry For You?’ was the song that allowed him to start writing again. In his lyrics book in 2007, Sting wrote “We’d had a difficult relationship, and his death hit me harder than I’d imagined possible. I felt emotionally and creatively paralysed, isolated, and unable to mourn.”

#2 – Fortress Around Your Heart

from The Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985)
‘Fortress Around Your Heart’ recalls the Police at their best, marrying a sophisticated chord sequence to driving energy and a big chorus. Sting switched to playing guitar for his first solo album, with Darryl Jones playing bass. Incidentally, how many songs about hearts did Sting release in his early solo career? At least four: ‘Fortress Around Your Heart’, ‘Be Still My Beating Heart’, ‘The Lazarus Heart’, and ‘Shape of my Heart’.

#1 – They Dance Alone (Cueca Solo)

from …Nothing Like The Sun (1987)
Lots of Sting’s solo songs are reminiscent of a less eccentric Peter Gabriel; in particular ‘They Dance Alone’ a stately track that addresses injustice. It’s about the widows and daughters of men tortured and killed by Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile. The women would dance the Cueca, the national dance of Chile, with photos of their lost loved ones as a political demonstration. The song features three all-star guitarists – Eric Clapton, Fareed Haque, and Mark Knopfler. The bridge is especially gorgeous; “one day we’ll dance on their graves/One day we’ll sing our freedom/One day we’ll laugh in our joy/And we’ll dance.”

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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.

Aphoristic Album Reviews features many Reviews and Blog Posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

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  1. Overall, I feel Sting is a compelling artist. Like most other artists who have been around for such a long time he has had his ups and downs.
    Personally, I’m least fond of his lute, Christmas and seamen songs period, though I think he deserves credit for pushing into new territory.
    If I had to pick my favorite Sting solo album, I would probably go with “Ten Summoner’s Tales.”
    In terms of songs, I like your selection.
    Another standout from Blue Turtles is “Russians”, though it has suffered from overexposure, at least in Germany.
    I agree “They Dance Alone” is the crown jewel on “…Nothing Like the Sun.” Another gem from that album is “Fragile,” which still gives me goosebumps when listening to it.
    From “The Soul Cages,” I also dig “All This Time” and the title track.
    A more recent tune I like following the sinking of Sting’s musical is “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You”. It’s from “57th & 9th” – Sting’s rock-oriented return to pop music.
    And, believe it or not, I also find some of the songs he did with Shaggy catchy, for example “Just One Lifetime” – great summer tune!

    • You’re clearly a knowledgeable Sting fan! I have heard that 57th and 9th is good but I’ve never been brave enough to check it out after a series of weird albums.
      Fragile is very good, although the videos from the era are so weird – Sting with long hair looks really bizarre.

      • I guess I prefer Sting with short hair as well, though I seem to recall at least some ladies who thought he looked really handsome with long hair. I never cared much about his hair do!😀
        As for “57th and 9th,” that’s an album I would encourage you to check out. It really marked a nice return to pop, in my view!

        • I remember him being featured in a women’s magazine, and appearing topless as a “special treat” for his female fans. I’ll try and remember to check in on 57th and 9th sometime.

  2. I knew more of his songs than I thought when I went down your list. I always liked Fields of Gold, Fortress Around Your Heart, and If You Love Somebody Set Them Free.

    • My second Sting album was 1994 Greatest Hits. For some reason the international edition doesn’t have ‘Fortress Around Your Heart’, which is bizarre – sounds way more like a hit than anything else before 10 Summoner’s Tales.

      • That is very odd…it’s one of his best known songs…but I will say…
        When you did the Police list I actually forgot that Fortress Around Your Heart was a Sting solo song…but that is me being dumb. I was thinking it was on Synchronicity…it would have fit on that album…well at least to me.

  3. I only have one favorite Sting song and I’m not even sure of the name of it, but it’s the one that they used in a commercial about 15 or 20 years ago. I think it was a car commercial.

  4. All excellent choices, Graham. As we’ve probably discussed before, The Police were a HUGE band for me in high school. I saw them twice and love pretty much everything they recorded. I know we disagree about whether they’re a singles or albums band (I feel it’s the latter) but at least we have common ground in loving much of their music, and that carried over into Sting’s solo career. I saw him on the Soul Cages and Ten Summoner’s Tale tours. I loved those first four solo albums as well as the amazing double-live album but I haven’t revisited them in a long time (other than four years ago when I featured that live album in my Thirty Year Thursday series on my favorite releases from 1986). Not sure why I’m not drawn to them anymore but I know that one day I will give them another spin and still love them. Around the time of Mercury Falling his music was no longer doing anything for me, and that’s the last album of his I own.

    • My friend was a big fan, and lent me Mercury Falling. We were real excited for Brand New Day, but that record was a big letdown for us – a couple of good songs, and a lot of bad taste.

  5. Ok, it surprises me you did this post given all the “he’s an arrogant prick” stuff you provided when I wrote about him. You seemed to hate the guy and be more hung up on his personality than anything. If I’m honest.

    • I like Sting a lot up to 1999’s Brand New Day – The Soul Cages has been a long-term favourite. It doesn’t seem uncommon for Sting fans to abandon him in the 1990s – Rich Kamerman said something similar in the comments too.
      Sting actually had a pretty long run at the top – he was still relevant and selling lots of records in the early 1990s – but when he fell, he fell harder than most. This century he’s released a Christmas album, a lute album, a Broadway musical, an album of orchestral reworkings of his earlier work, and an album titled Sacred Love.

      • Ok, but is it fair to judge someone because maybe half their career ain’t so good? Case in point- I wrote about Rod Stewart and you’d think he was an ax murderer. Did he do some crappy disco and has he devolved into a crooner? Yes and yes. But his solo albums, stuff with Jeff Beck and Faces are great. That more than makes up for the latter years and that’s the Rod the Mod I celebrate. So likewise Sting. Or McCartney

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