During my sophomore year of high school a friend, Mike, and I had an ongoing argument. He thought the Police was the best band and I defended REO Speedwagon as being on top. Honestly, we were both speaking in ignorance; neither of us listened to the other band. I knew nothing about the Police other than a few songs I heard on the radio and he was completely deaf to the sweet sounds of REO. He wore me down and I reluctantly borrowed Zenyatta Mondatta . . . and loved it. I had Synchronicity in my album collection -a gift from a family friend, but I had yet to listen to it, so I did . . . and loved it even more.
And then Sting breaks with the Police and releases Dream of the Blue Turtles. I had been set up. I had just started to listen to and enjoy the Police and now Sting, with his first solo effort, made me completely fall in love with his music. Dream of the Blue Turtles was revelation for me. It had lyrics that were, at times, difficult to figure out, but beautifully written and music that was a major departure from my usual fare. This classic album is 30 years old now and still packed a powerful punch that truly launched Sting into the stratosphere of international music success.
Dream of the Blue Turtles was released in June of 1985 and climbed it’s way up to #2, selling a total of three million copies and winning the Grammy Award for album of the year and best male pop vocal. It was a landmark album that helped add an eclectic feel to pop music by blending rock, reggae, and jazz into smooth musical compositions that accompanied lyrics which ranged from love songs to politically charged poetry. There is even an instrumental (title track) that is pure jazz with clear improvisation and a clear musical theme. With the likes of Branford Marsalis the music can never be bad.
Ignoring the title track because it contains no lyrics, Dream of the Blue Turtles could lyrically be divided into two categories: songs about relationships and songs with a political or social theme – oh, and one cover of a Police song.
Relationship songs: There are thousands upon thousands of love songs out there, but Sting’s are typically something a little different. These songs take a somewhat different, even literate approach and represent the most successful songs from the album. The first single If You Love Somebody Set Them Free climbed to #3 on the U.S. charts. In this song Sting’s takes the unusual approach of suggesting that we let the one we love go – if he/she comes back, then the love is strong and long lasting. My clearest memory of this song is my girlfriend liking the song, but thinking the lyrics were “stupid.”
Track 2 is another love song, Love is the Seventh Wave. This catchy tune reached #17. Sting says of the song, “‘I was at Eddy Grant’s studio, watching the surfers, and they told me that the seventh wave was the strongest wave: they get stronger and stronger until the seventh wave, then start again.” Not as deep as many listeners may have thought, but pretty cool. My personal favorite song is another of the love songs, Fortress Around Your Heart which topped out at # 8 on the Billboard charts. This song takes a unique approach to a love song – war imagery. The speaker wants to protect his love, but is worried that too much protection will cause her to feel trapped. The chorus is one of my all time favorites:
And if I have 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
The songs Children’s Crusade, We Work the Black Seam, and Russians are the songs that make a clear political or social statement. The best of these is Russians which had a profound impact upon me as a teen growing up on a military base in Germany. The serious nature of the song released during a tense period of the Cold War clearly resonated with fans as it sold very well and reached #16 on the singles chart. My instinct is to quote the entire song, but I will force myself so share only the chorus: “We share the same biology regardless of ideology / Believe me when I say to you, I hope the Russians love their children too.” Honestly, this songs freaked me out a little.
Shadows in the Rain is the fifth song on Dream of the Blue Turtles and is a cover of a song by the Police that appeared on the 1982 album Zenyatta Mondatta. Sting’s version reduced the reggae influences and adopted an upbeat jazz rhythm. The one song from Dream of the Blue Turtles that defies categorization is Moon Over Bourbon Street. When I was young I listened to this song constantly, trying to figure it out – I even typed out the lyrics on my Commodore 64. This quiet, haunting song is about a vampire walking the streets of New Orleans and struggling with the realization that he is forever trapped in a life that he has no control over. Sting does a masterful job in adopting the vampire’s voice and showing his endless struggle, “The brim of my hat hides the eyes of a beast / I’ve the face of a sinner and the hands of a priest / Oh, you’ll never see my shade or hear the sound of my feet / While there is a moon over Bourbon Street.”
Sting once said that being a member of the Police was like wearing golden handcuffs. This album was his first chance to fully express his musical talents. Dream of the Blue Turtles was my awakening to lyrics. I now have two categories of favorite music. First, I judge on the sound- guitars, keyboards, drums – does the music move me? Second, I judge on the lyrical content – is there more than just simple words put together to rhyme? Sting was the first to make me really pay attention to lyrics and I have, especially to his, since this excellent album released 30 years ago.