Happy Wednesday and I’d like to welcome you to another installment of Song Musings, in which I take a closer look at a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. This week, my pick is Shape of My Heart by Sting, a gem off his fourth studio album Ten Summoner’s Tales. And guess what, today happens to be the 30th anniversary of that very album, which I feel is Sting’s artistic Mount Rushmore. A dear friend reminded me of the anniversary last week after I had earmarked the tune for today’s post – so, yes, I suppose the stars were aligned!
Co-written by guitarist Dominic Miller and Sting (credited with his birthname Gordon Sumner), Shape of My Heart first appeared as the 10th track on Ten Summoner’s Tales. Five months later, on August 23, 1993, it was also released separately as the album’s fifth single. While unlike If I Ever Lose My Faith In You and Fields of Gold, the album’s first and fourth singles, respectively, Shape of My Heart didn’t gain much traction in the charts, Wikipedia notes the tune has become a “pop classic” and one of the songs that are most closely associated with Sting’s solo career.
The official music video for Shape of My Heart (see below), filmed at Sting’s lake house in Wiltshire, southern England, was directed by Doug Nichol. Apart from Sting, the American filmmaker and video director also worked with the likes of David Bowie, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and U2 and was the director of photography on Madonna’s 1991 documentary Truth or Dare. Nichol won the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video for Ten Summoner’s Tales.
Upon its release as a single, Shape of My Heart reached an underwhelming no. 57 on the UK Official Singles Chart. In Canada, it did somewhat better, climbing to no. 44. Elsewhere, including the U.S., Australia and various European countries other than the UK, the single didn’t chart at all. I find that a bit mind-boggling. Perhaps, audiences felt it was too mellow!
When it comes to the album, fortunately, the picture looks very different. Ten Summoner’s Tales topped the Austrian charts, reached no. 2 in the UK, the U.S., France and Germany, no. 3 in Norway and Switzerland, and no. 5 in The Netherlands, among others. It also became one of Sting’s best-selling albums, gaining 3x and 2x Platinum certifications in the U.S. and the UK, respectively, as well as Platinum status in each Australia, Canada, Spain and Switzerland. The album was also nominated for multiple awards in the U.S. and UK, and won three Grammy Awards and one Brit Award.
Following are additional insights from Songfacts:
Sting talked about “Shape Of My Heart” in a 1993 promotional interview: “I wanted to write about a card player, a gambler who gambles not to win but to try and figure out something; to figure out some kind of mystical logic in luck, or chance; some kind of scientific, almost religious law. So this guy’s a philosopher, he’s not playing for respect and he’s not playing for money, he’s just trying to figure out the law – there has to be some logic to it. He’s a poker player so it’s not easy for him to express his emotions, in fact he doesn’t express anything, he has a mask, and it’s just one mask and it never changes.”
This is one of the rare songs that is co-written by Sting’s longtime guitarist, Dominic Miller. In Lyrics By Sting, the singer remembered Miller bringing him the “beautiful guitar riff” and going for a walk along the riverbank and through the woods to figure out the lyrics. “When I got back, the whole song was written in my head. Dominic now thinks that I find lyrics under a rock somewhere… He could, of course, be right,” Sting wrote.
This song was edited into the end of the 1994 movie Leon: The Professional.
Both the Sugababes and Craig David sampled this and had hit singles with it in 2003 in the UK. The Sugababes’ “Shape” made #11, and Craig David’s “Rise And Fall” made #2. On the latter, Sting even made an appearance in the video and performed the track with Craig David on live music shows.
15 years later, US rapper Juice WRLD had a worldwide hit with “Lucid Dreams (Forget Me)”, which also makes major use of this track.
Renowned harmonica player Larry Adler played on this song. Before collaborating with popular musicians like Sting, Elton John and Kate Bush in his later career, Adler worked with composers like George Gershwin, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Darius Milhaud – many of whom composed works specifically for him. Unfortunately, he would be blacklisted during the anti-Communist crusade led by Senator Joe McCarthy in the ’50s.
This was featured on the TV crime drama Hustle in the 2011 episode “The Delivery.”
Miller was just warming up his fingers by playing Chopin-style chords on the guitar when he happened to catch Sting’s ear. He explained in a 2018 interview at Jazzklub Divino in Denmark: “I was just playing that in front of the fireplace at Sting’s house in England and he said, ‘What’s that?’ ‘Oh, it’s nothing, it’s just a little movement.’ He said, ‘That’s a song.’ I went, ‘Really? Are you kidding me?’ Then ten minutes later we went into the studio – ’cause we were at his studio anyway in his lake house – and we put a drum machine up, just the two of us. And then he went out in the garden for a walk and he came back with those lyrics. And so we recorded it! It was just an acoustic guitar and it was finished in one day – it was written in one day and recorded.”
He continued: “It’s one of those nice moments that happen in your life when things just fall on top of each other naturally, like nature. It’s not always like that… Sting’s genius with lyrics made it into a very, very ambiguous kind of narrative, which really goes well with that kind of arpeggio, with those Chopin-esque chords, you know? That Chopin-esque harmony kind of lends itself to those kind of lyrics, with Sting’s timbre of his voice and the sound of my guitar and just a little bit of a groove. It was the perfect storm.”
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfact; YouTube