Peter Gabriel

TrackAlbum
Solsbury HillPeter Gabriel 1
Here Comes The FloodPeter Gabriel 1
Mother Of ViolencePeter Gabriel 2
IndigoPeter Gabriel 2
White ShadowPeter Gabriel 2
IntruderPeter Gabriel 3
I Have The TouchPeter Gabriel 4
The Family And The Fishing NetPeter Gabriel 4
San JacintoPeter Gabriel 4
Washing Of The WaterUs

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Contributor: Stacy Harris

For an artist with such a lean back catalogue, Peter Gabriel’s influence should not be understated, indeed the effect he had on a certain Kate Bush which resulted in the seminal Hounds Of Love speaks for itself. This is very much the toppermost of a hardcore fan, expect no Sledgehammer here. The impact of Gabriel’s music upon my own life is unrivalled. Any artist who can get you through a 15,000 word dissertation deserves his own Toppermost Top Ten.

I will always refer to the albums as PG1/2/3/4 although some fans (and critics) have chosen to stick with the sleeve images – designed by Hipgnosis – of Car, Scratch, Melt and Security.

Following his departure from Genesis in 1975 Gabriel retreated into family life, returning into the public arena with the first track on my list. Solsbury Hill tackled his feelings about leaving Genesis; emotive lyrics such as “I walked right out of the machinery” and “Open doors would soon be shut” are a case in point. With its glorious melody, not including this track would’ve been a crime. We stick with Gabriel’s first solo outing for the second track, Here Comes The Flood. He was unhappy with the version of this track on PG1, producer Bob Ezrin turning what was supposed to be a sensitive piano and vocal piece into a roaring crescendo of drums and guitars. This aside, lyrically it’s imaginative, Gabriel’s vocal almost biblical in its proportions. I would suggest going to the Hits album for the Gabriel-favoured version, however.

Moving on to PG2 now, produced by Robert Fripp who had played guitar on PG1 and also toured the album but remained in the shadows like the ethereal figure he is. We start with Mother Of Violence. Co-written by Peter and his wife Jill, his voice cracks throughout in a sombre, childlike fashion, with Roy Bittan of the E Street Band’s accompanying piano adding intensity. I stay at PG2 taking Indigo next, a track which my last.fm stats tell me I’ve listened to 156 times in the last 12 months. And for good reason. I’ve always considered Gabriel an autobiographical writer, and this is never more evident than on Indigo. His naive vocal coupled with Larry Fast’s synthesizer and lyrics such as “Not like the start / I was good at the art of survival” see Gabriel in honest, reflective mode, and like much of PG2, Indigo is scattered with regret. My final track from PG2 is White Shadow. It’s Frippertronics at their insane best; on the original vinyl the end of the track played continuously into the run-off groove, to mess with the listener’s head? Who knows. Or cares.

Although I will defend PG2 to the death, it was not a success and for PG3 Gabriel called upon Steve Lillywhite to produce, his old mate Phil Collins to play drums on several tracks, and Kate Bush for backing vocals. Intruder is bursting with malevolence and anxiety, the track expanding through the speakers, almost like it’s desperate to escape and fill the room. Collins’ first use of the ‘gated-drum’ effect adding to the atmosphere. When Gabriel’s voice finally appears it’s stunningly haunting.

PG4 next, an entirely digital recording from 1982, thanks to the Fairlight CMI used to record and sample sounds which were then interspersed with vocals and percussion. I Have The Touch is an uplifting, pounding track, Gabriel’s vocal extremely forthright and confident. The subject matter – human contact. The Family And The Fishing Net is a scathing track with cynically charged lyrics about marriage: “Vows of sacrifice / headless chickens”. And finally the last choice from this album is San Jacinto. It’s not so much the lyrical aspect of this track but more the delivery of the vocal and the boom of the drums shortly before the first chorus. For a singer to make the words hit you in the gut like this is rare, yet he manages it seamlessly.

I end this chart on 1992’s Us. Littered with personal lyrics, and three successful singles, Us is, in my opinion, Gabriel’s last really good album. Washing Of The Water is a worthy number 10, an emotionally stunning vocal performance proving that it really is quality, not quantity, when it comes to Peter Gabriel.

 

Peter Gabriel official site

Peter Gabriel biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #187

11 Comments

  1. Stacy Harris
    Feb 4, 2014

    Hi Peter, Thanks for your comment. I expected some questions re. the exclusion of all material from So! Personally speaking, I have the album, I’ve seen him perform the album live, I’ve seen documentaries on the album so it isn’t that I think the material is poor – in fact its production values are amongst some of the best in the history of modern popular music. I suspect I treat So as Springsteen fans treat Born In The USA in that ‘some’ people see the previous works as experimental nonsense and therefore think So is his only credible effort. I toyed with including Mercy Street as lyrically it is beautiful and performed live is hypnotising but the tracks I have included mean a lot more to me. I don’t for one moment want to slate Gabriel’s best selling LP but the simple fact is I play PG 1-4 and Us a whole lot more than I play So! I can’t speak for all PG fans but those who first heard him in Genesis I think appreciate the more commercially unfriendly nature of his first few solo outings.
    I’d imagine Evo and Xplora would play if you found an old machine?! I’ve seen clips of gameplay on YouTube, quite ahead of its time, but as you point out nowhere near perfect!
    As for PG’s videos, we all know what a pioneer he was in this field, maybe we could start a Toppermost for videos?!

  2. Peter Viney
    Feb 4, 2014

    Excellent article, Stacy, and one that leads me to ask questions. Why no “So”? You say “the Toppermost of a hardcore fan, expect no Sledgehammer here” and that sent me to amazon to look at the “So” reviews and I read there that “hardcore fans see So as a sell-out to commercialism.” Another way of looking at it, is that it’s his most successful album because it’s his best album. When I saw last night that Peter Gabriel was due today, an automatic mental list started rolling, starting with the towering Don’t Give Up, then Fallen Angel (which is on the Robbie Robertson Toppermost), Excellent Birds (with Laurie Anderson) and I hadn’t thought, ‘that’s three duets.’ It’s also two from So.

    I just found and took down those two CD-Rom adventures, Explora 1 and Evo. Will they play at all on a modern computer? I haven’t tried for years and am wary about posting them into my drive. I assume not. I thought Explora, with the slider controls for each instrument to remix a track, was the future of recorded music, well for about a month anyway. Where Gabriel screwed up was that you had to mess around with annoying game-like screens to get to it every time, while I just wanted to play with the sliders. It also consumed so much space on a CD-Rom that you couldn’t have an album. It might work on DVD, probably would on Blu-ray. So … or rather, so, that took me to “Play: The Videos” because Peter Gabriel was such an innovator in rock video, and just audio was too confining for him, and I like the DVD compilation very much. Can you have a DVD video track for Toppermost? Anyway … Sledgehammer (sorry), Red Rain, Don’t Give Up, Shock The Monkey, Games Without Frontiers, Digging In The Dirt all loom up. I also went for those big soundtracks, OVO and Passion.

    The “Scratch My Back” project didn’t convince me on part one except maybe on Heroes, though I haven’t heard Part 2 (but just typing this makes me think I’ll try). But I am interested. I also didn’t get New Blood, and I’m not sure why. Looking today, it seems that Peter Gabriel’s most loyal fans eschew So. So …what’s the issue with it, apart from selling vast quantities?

  3. Peter Viney
    Feb 4, 2014

    Thanks, Stacy. I have 1-4 on LP, but “So” was the “Wow!” moment for me moving him from “always fascinating” to “stellar.” I very much take your Born in The USA analogy, which as a fan of early Springsteen, I understand, though with Bruce too, I love “Born in The USA.”

  4. Stacy Harris
    Feb 4, 2014

    Ah, now I do love all of Springsteen’s work, including BITUSA, I sense a lot of fan snobbery with Bruce though! Think Darkness will always be my favourite Bruce LP. I should have said also re. So – I think it was the first LP where PG’s voice sounded ultra smooth, although he hits an exceedingly high note in Don’t Give Up… I think throughout Genesis and during the earlier solo years he stretched his vocal chords to the point where I once heard someone refer to him as a ‘strangled cat’… I totally disagree of course! So, I think perhaps his voice became more listenable? And obviously, making some groundbreaking vids means you’re instantly onto a winner! Pondering doing a Gabriel-era Genesis top 10 but will take a lot of work…

  5. Keith Shackleton
    Feb 4, 2014

    So might be the best selling, but Melt made it to #1 too… surely one of the most challenging records ever to do so, and my personal favourite.
    Nice work, Stacy.

  6. Stacy Harris
    Feb 4, 2014

    Thanks!

    If I could’ve had, say a top 15 I’d have included Biko & Games Without Frontiers for sure. Purely for the subject matter, PG is one of the few artists who makes the listener actually think…

  7. Ian Ashleigh
    Feb 4, 2014

    Many thanks Stacy for the essay and the list. I was never a Genesis fan and for that reason, apart from hearing the singles on the radio I didn’t think to explore PG’s solo work. How many years late am I? You have motivated me to listen to the first 4 albums with fresh ears. I was aware that Solsbury Hill is an allegory of PG’s decision to leave Genesis and Biko is one of the best songs of its era. Mr Gabriel, here I come!

    • Stacy Harris
      Feb 4, 2014

      Thanks Ian! Glad I’ve inspired you to go back and listen to the first 4 LPs, each one of them has its own personality. I think the second PG quit Genesis he felt so much more able to go in the direction he wanted to without having to ask for four other opinions. A born solo artist in my opinion, Enjoy!

  8. Bob McLean
    Feb 4, 2014

    Tweeted this earlier but it does deserve a post here too!
    Great list Stacy, a true fan. I was secretly hoping my favourite PG track would be included, Of These, Hope from the Passion soundtrack. I do think it’s his emotional high point. So difficult (pun intended) choosing just 10 tracks from such a body of work.

  9. David Lewis
    Feb 5, 2014

    First, great list of a great artist. Second: one of the things that makes Solsbury Hill such a great song is its time signature:7/4. Like Hey Ya in 11/4, you don’t notice the odd meter until you count it. And yet it’s perfect.

  10. Ian Ashleigh
    Feb 5, 2014

    I’ve been exploring Peter Gabriel’s music today and remembered this cover of Secret World by Show of Hands on their album Arrogance Ignorance & Greed.

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