Peter Gabriel | SO | A 30th Anniversary Retrospective.
Label : Geffen Records
Release Date: May 19, 1986
Country : United Kingdom
Genre: Crossover Progressive/Art/Pop/Eclectic Rock
Track Listing From CD (U.S.): Geffen 9 24088-2
1. Red Rain (5:39)
2. Sledgehammer (5:16)
3. Don’t Give Up (6:33)
4. That Voice Again (4:53)
5. In Your Eyes (5:30)
6. Mercy Street (for Anne Sexton) (6:21)
7. Big Time (success) (4:29)
8. We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37) (3:22)
9. This Is The Picture (excellent birds) (4:18)
Band Members/Guest Musicians
Peter Gabriel Lead Vocal Piano Keyboards Synthisizers Percusion etc on All Tracks
Jerry Marotta –Dums Track 7 Drumstick Bass Track 7
Chris Hughes – Linn programming Track 1
Stewart Copeland – Hi-hat Track 1, Drums Track 7
Tony Levin – Bass Tracks 1-5, Drumstick Bass Track 7
David Rhodes -Guitar Tracks 1-5 & 7-8, Background Vocals 1& 5
Daniel Lanois – Guitar Tracks 1-2 & 4, Tambourine Track 2, Surf Guitar (Track 7), 12-String Guitar Track 9
Manu Katch? – Drums Tracks 2-5, Percussion Tracks 3-5, Talking Drums Tracks 5 & 9
Wayne Jackson – Trumpet Tracks 2 & 7, cornet Track 7
Mark Rivera – Saxophone Track 2
Don Mikkelsen – Trombone Tracks 2 & 7
P.P. Arnold, Coral Gordon, Dee Lewis – Background Vocals Tracks 2 & 7
Richard Tee – Piano Tracks 3/ 5 & 6
Simon Clark – Chorus CS80 Track 3/ Hammond, CMI, Bass Track 7
Kate Bush – Guest Vocal Track 3
L. Shankar – Violin Tracks 4 & 8
Jerry Marotta – Additional Drums Tracks 5 & 8
Larry Klein – Bass Tracks 5-6
Youssou N’Dour – Guest Vocal Track 5
Michael Been, Jim Kerr – Background Vocals Track 5
Ronnie Bright – Bass & Vocals Track 5
Djalma Correa – Surdu, congas, triangle Track 6
Mark Rivera – Processed Saxophone Track 6 , Alto, Tenor and Baritone Saxophones Track 7
Jimmy Bralower – Linn Kick Track 7
Laurie Anderson – Voice Track 9
Bill Laswell – Bass Track 9
Nile Rodgers -Guitar-Track 9
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Intelligent Path Of A Iconic Genius
The day was August, 15, 1975 and then Genesis front man Peter Gabriel decided it was time to part ways with the band. Along with his other brethren in Genesis, Peter Gabriel would be one pioneers of the first wave of progressive rock to come out of the United Kingdom along with Yes, King Crimson and Emerson Lake & Palmer. This would not be the only time Peter Gabriel would be pioneer in the music industry either. His departure from Genesis was not the end to the career of Peter Gabriel, it would be the start of the making of a icon and revolutionary genius.
When Peter Gabriel went solo it was far from easy for him even though he did come from an established band in Genesis. During his time in Genesis, Peter Gabriel was highly flamboyant with various stage costumes or face paint on stage. However it would go over the bands’ and some of the fans heads. Gabriel was basically a moving human stage prop on stage. This really did not go over in the visual department. However within the next 6 short years a new medium would provide Peter Gabriel to be as creative as he wanted to be. This new medium would be MTV .
While Gabriel struggled and his ex Genesis band mates were having continued success, it would be the release of the video in 1982 on MTV called ‘Shock The Monkey’ that would bring Gabriel back for the older Baby Boomer generation of fans that followed him in Genesis and at the same time introduce Gabriel to a whole other younger generation of fans in Generation X that would come to know him through his solo work. Meanwhile at the same time as ‘Shock The Monkey’ was out you had Yes out with Owner of a Lonely Heart and prog rocks’ second supergroup ASIA out with Heat of The Moment.
The technological means was there for progressive rock. Granted they had to make the songs from 20-30 minute epics to 3-5 minutes for acceptable airplay but since there were no definitive blueprints for making videos back in that day, bands could explore and craft mini 3-5 short films to accompany their songs. This new medium and concept would certainly not be lost on Peter Gabriel going forward. As a matter of fact, he was one of the few of his old progressive rock contemporaries that would totally embrace the music video. In 1986 he would release his top selling album ever in SO.
The Manifestation of A Genius
The Inside Look At Peter Gabriel’s SO
Before SO Peter Gabriel would release 4 self titled albums called Peter Gabriel. He really did not like particular titles on albums and felt they were too distracting. However these four albums would garner nicknames to them. 1977’s Car, which gave the world his first popular solo hit ‘Solsbury Hill‘ , 1978’s Scratch which did not receive too much critical nor fan fare. It would be the release of 1980’s Melt that would establish Peter Gabriel as a progressive rock solo artist with the songs Bilko and the popular ‘Games Without Frontiers. Finally there was the fourth Peter Gabriel solo project nicknamed 1982’s Security —also released in German as the Deutsches Album (1982)—saw success with Gabriel’s music video for the eye-opening “Shock the Monkey”
SO was written by Gabriel in 1984 in between sessions for the writing for the Alan Parker film Birdy. What became of the writing and recording sessions afterward and away from the soundtrack for Birdy would manifest themselves as a collective that the world now knows as 1986’s SO. Gabriel had this to say initially about the creation of SO “crash open at the front”, meaning he wanted instant impact with the public and listener. Gabriel more than exceeded the world’s expectations. Now we will see just how much it had and still does impact the progressive rock, art rock and world music scenes. SO would also go on to be certified Diamond or 10 times platinum, meaning 10 million units worldwide.
Red Rain is a subtle opening ambient piece. It was inspired by a recurring dream where Gabriel was swimming in a sea of red water. Gabriel explained to Mojo magazine September 2013: “‘Red Rain’ was written after a dream I’d had about the sea being parted by two walls. There were these glass-like figures that would screw themselves into each wall, fill up with red blood and then be lowered across the sand, as it were to the next wall, where they’d unload the blood on the other side. I used to have these extremely vivid dreams that scared the hell out of me.” Hi-hat cymbals performed bt The Police’s Stewart Copeland were used to simulate rain.
This was the song that shattered the glass top and took Peter Gabriel from cult progressive hero to worldwide iconic status. Sledgehammer was released as a single in a era where you had to have a music video on MTV to give that single a opportunity to gain any traction in the music race back in that time. It is MTV’s most played music video of all time. In 1987, the video swept up at the MTV VMAs winning 9 awards including, Video of the Year. This is the most awards a single video has won.The video also won Best British Video at the Brits whilst the song was nominated for 3 Grammys (including Song of the Year). It was directed by Stephen R. Johnson who had previously helmed the Talking Heads video Road To Nowhere which also utilised the lip-sync stop-motion style. Sledgehammer knocked Invisible Touch by Genesis off the No. 1 slot in the US Billboard Hot 100. Peter Gabriel used to front the band until 1975, when he left and Phil Collins took over vocal duties. It has never left radio rotation since the ‘Classic Rock’ format came to being in the early 1980’s.
Don’t Give Up – Featuring Duet w/ Kate Bush
Jill Gabriel, who was Peter’s wife at the time, said “I saw an article in a newspaper about a woman who jumped out of a huge block of flats with her child and killed herself. I gave it to Peter and it was the original inspiration and he was heartbroken to read it. However his lyrics are always multi-layered with many different influences.” Peter has also cited a TV show about unemployment and family life, and a photo of a family in the dust bowl depression as influences on the song.Peter had some kind of nervous breakdown in 1985, and he wrote this song to reward the support he got from his family. This album provides a glimpse of Gabriel’s state of mind: it’s a mixture of excessive enthusiast songs (“Big Time,” “Sledgehammer”) and depressive ones (“Don’t Give Up,” “Mercy Street”). Paula Cole sang this with Gabriel on his 1994 album Secret World Live. This also became a very popular hit with high school kids going to prom and graduating at the time.
That Voice Again
Peter Gabriel was once quoted about this track saying, About judgmental attitudes being a barrier between people”. This was so appropriate for the time. We had the Cold War, two very different countries for the first time with the capacity to destroy every living soul through nuclear warfare. The political divide in some parts of the world was at a all time high.
This is based on the book of poems of the same name by Anne Sexton. An American mental patient, she wrote as a form of therapy. Gabriel was impressed that she wrote entirely for herself rather than an audience.Sexton made five suicide attempts, the fifth being successful: she died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1974.The title came from Anne Sexton’s 1969 play 45 Mercy Street. She was also working on a poem with the same title at the time of her death.Gabriel could relate to Sexton as a deep thinker with a troubling depression who searches for meaning through her art. He used the image of darkness on Mercy Street to signal her depression.The end of this song was very intense when Gabriel performed it during live shows, where he used a high-pitched wail to simulate Sexton’s death. The video was a subdued black and white piece. It was quite different from his extravagant “Sledgehammer” video. The song also came out of an experience that Gabriel had on a plane. He told Mojo magazine September 2013: “Pan Am had started doing mileage programs. I got up to 100, 000 miles from touring, so I booked a free flight from LA to Rio. The catch was that I had to travel economy. “On the way onto the plane, I said hello to the bass player in Earth Wind & Fire Verdine White.”
This was another one of those songs where Gabriel stretched the boundaries in the visual area of video. Gabriel said about Big Time, “A satirical story about a basic human urge… success.” This tells the story of a man from a small town who grows to be larger than life. The ending is heavily processed as Gabriel’s voice gets deeper and deeper, creating a sense of size until it ends cold. Stewart Copeland appears again on drums.
We Do What We Are Told To Do (Milgram’s 37)
This is a heavily ambient yet fuzzy track simulating how the powers that be in the world try and control humanity. It is also based on the true story based on the social experiments of Stanley Milgram, a Yale professor who had subjects administer electric shocks to a person if they answered a question wrong. The person being shocked was an actor who writhed in pain as the shocks got larger. Milgram wanted to see if the subjects would administer the shocks when the experimenter told them to, even though they were causing apparent pain in the person. Almost all subjects administered the highest level of shock despite the actor pounding the wall in apparent agony. The instrumental in the backdrop gives a melodic sense of a people coming under control of something that goes against their own will.
This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)
This track barely made the album. It was only submitted with the album master to the record label 48 hours before it went to pressing. The track contains many neo progressive elements providing well crafted keyboard atmospheres with a power progressive drum/bass rhythmic section. This is a Darkhorse Gem on SO. It was co-written by Laurie Anderson who was a known songwriter in the World Music scene.
In Your Eyes
There is not much more than can be said about this one. I think “In Your Eyes” achieved iconic status after its appearance in the John Cusack movie Say Anything. Remember the part at the end where John Cusack attempts win his love back played by Ione Skye. That part where he has his boombox over his head and the sweet sounds of In Your Eyes coming out it. Well this track managed to finally win over of of the toughest generations in Generation X and further solidify Peter Gabriel from Baby Boomer Progressive Cult favourite to a transcendent internationally known and multi generational superstar. Since then this is well played at high school proms, weddings and engagements.
I did not want to simply just talk all about the music like I would during a album review. I wanted to really display the mindset Peter Gabriel was in at that time. My intentions were to display to a whole other generation the true significance of how Peter Gabriel’s SO has impacted both instrumentally and lyrically within the world as a whole. Just as we sit here 30 years later still talking about this ‘Sheer Masterpiece’ , I believe this album will still be talked about and gain more appreciation for future generations to come.