If You Love Somebody Set Them Free

Album: The Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985)
Charted: 26 3

Songfacts®:

  • Written by Sting, this was the first single released from his debut solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. His band The Police took some time off in 1984 following their Synchronicity tour, which is when he made the album. The Police regrouped in 1986, but lasted just three concerts and an aborted album. They didn't tour again until 2007 and never made another album. Sting had loads of creative energy that he was able to direct into his solo work where his musicians were session players and not band-members, a relationship that better suited him at this time. The other Police-men, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland, did very well in their endeavors, with Copeland becoming a top soundtrack composer and Summers making acclaimed music for a more niche audience.
  • Sting wrote this in response to "Every Breath You Take," his monumental hit with The Police. He explained in Lyrics By Sting: "This song was as much a hymn to my newfound freedom as it was an antidote to the brooding issues of control and surveillance that haunted 'Every Breath You Take.' Perhaps the highest compliment you can pay to a partner is 'I don't own you - you're free.' If you were to try to possess them in the obvious way, you could never appreciate them in the way that really counts. There are too many prisons in the world already."
  • Sting assembled a group of jazz musicians, including bass player Darryl Jones (who went on to join The Rolling Stones in 1993), sax player Branford Marsalis, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland and drummer Omar Hakim, and headed to Barbados to record this album at Eddy Grant's studio.
  • The album's title was inspired by an odd dream Sting had when he first arrived in Barbados. He remembered in Lyrics By Sting: "I dreamed I was sitting in the walled garden behind my house in Hampstead, under a lilac tree on a well-manicured lawn, surrounded by beautiful rosebushes. Suddenly the bricks from the wall exploded into the garden and I turned to see the head of an enormous turtle emerging from the darkness, followed by four or five others. They were not only the size of a man, they were also blue and had an air of being immensely cool, like hepcats, insouciant and fearless. They didn't harm me but with an almost casual violence commenced to destroy my genteel English garden, digging up the lawn with their claws, chomping at the rosebushes, bulldozing the lilac tree. Total mayhem: I woke up to the sound of Branford in the room upstairs, riffing wildly on the tenor sax, followed by his unmistakable laughter."
  • The music video was directed by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, the team that made The Police the most popular group on MTV in 1983 with the videos for "Every Breath You Take," "Wrapped Around Your Finger" and "Synchronicity II."

    Shot on a soundstage in Paris, the "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" video uses compositing, with the musicians digitally layered. It was done by first doing a traditional shoot with locked-down cameras on a normal set, then covering the set in green and shooting the individual performances, which were then combined in post production and manipulated to change their speeds or looks. Green-screen was very hard to get right in this era, but this one holds up better than most. In a Songfacts interview with Kevin Godley, he said: "The finished product, although it works really, really well, would have certainly benefitted from existing technology, but digital editing didn't exist yet, so each time we added a layer, we lost quality, which is a shame. So, it's kind of grainy, it's kind of scratchy, but it still works."
  • This song reflected Sting's fear of commitment. He told Musician in 1985: "In relationships I feel very susceptible to entrapment. I see the bars go up and I try and escape, usually in the most violent and vicious way. I've destroyed one person totally; I've left people in a bloody pulp as I've felt the bars go up. If anything, 'Set Them Free' is a kind of warning. I'm not really into the idea of permanent relationships. I find that phoney, shallow and unrealistic in many ways. That's not to say the relationships I have are in any way inferior. I think they're more intense because of that belief."
  • Sting told Rolling Stone in 1985: "I've been through periods of wanting to be possessed, by my parents, my girlfriends. I don't want to be owned anymore."
  • This is one of several Sting songs to feature the word "love" in the title. Others include "Love is the Seventh Wave," "Sacred Love," and "Send Your Love."

    In Daniel Rachel's book The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters, Sting spoke about the power of the word: "It's an easy word to say, love. It's shorthand for something that's very complex. There's a huge spectrum of meaning within the word love. What is love, from lust to devotion to worship? It's not something I'm very conscious of. I wasn't aware that I used the word love a lot."

Comments: 1

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn this day in 1985 {July 28th} "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" by Sting peaked at #3 {for 2 weeks} on Billboard's Top 100* chart, for the two weeks it was at #3, the #2 record was "Every Time You Go Away" by Paul Young and at #1 was "Shout" by Tears For Fears...
    As noted above, "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" reached #26 on the United Kingdom's Singles chart...
    Between 1985 and 2006 the Wallsend, Northumberland, England native, as a solo artist, had twenty-one records on the Top 100 chart, five made the Top 10 with one reaching #1, "All For Love", with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart, for three weeks in January of 1994...
    Besides the above "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" and "All For Love", his three other Top 10 records were "Fortress Around Your Heart" at #8 {for 2 weeks} in October of 1985, "We'll Be Together" for one week in December of 1987, and "All This Time" for one week in March of 1991...
    Two of his twenty-one charted records were duets, one with Toby Keith {"I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying", #87 in 1997}, and one with Sheryl Crowe {"Always On Your Side", #33 in 2006}...
    Sting, born Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, will celebrate his 69th birthday in three months on October 2nd, 2020...
    * And from the 'For What It's Worth' department, the remainder of Billboard's Top 10 on July 28th, 1985:
    At #4. "You Give Good Love" by Whitney Houston
    #5. "Glory Days" by Bruce Springsteen
    #6. "Never Surrender" by Corey Hart
    #7. "Power of Love" by Huey Lewis & The News
    #8. "Sentimental Street" by Night Ranger
    #9. "Get It On (Bang A Gong)" by The Power Station
    #10. "Who's Holding Donna Now" by DeBarge
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