Music: Peter Gabriel

"Ladies and gentlemen, our first reading is from the early part of Genesis, which many scholars argue is the definitive part of Genesis, because that's when they still had Peter Gabriel."

Born in Surrey, England, Peter Brian Gabriel (born 13 February 1950) is the former frontman of the influential Progressive Rock band Genesis (for details on his time with them, visit their page) and currently a solo artist.

After leaving the band, he first gained a hit with "Solsbury Hill," which was, appropriately enough, about his breakup with them. He then went on to release four increasingly experimental solo albums from 1977-1985, all of which were initially named Peter Gabriel, but have since been re-titled based on their cover art. They were fairly successful, producing multiple hits, such as "Games Without Frontiers", "I Don't Remember", and "Shock the Monkey".

Then came 1986, and his album So along with it. It was a smash hit that gave Gabriel his greatest mainstream success, featuring some of his most famous songs (particularly "Sledgehammer" and "In Your Eyes"). Six years later came Us, followed (almost ten years later) by Up, with his most recent being a Cover Album, Scratch My Back. He has also done work for various films, most famously "Down to Earth" for Wall E.

Gabriel is a pioneer in many respects: he was one of the first popular artists to start including World music (particularly African) influences into his music, and was the first to use the "gated drum" sound as well (it was invented by former bandmate Phil Collins for a track on one of Gabriel's self-titled albums). He is one of the founders of On Demand Distribution, which has become the leading downloadable music platform in Europe, and is a big supporter of the WOMAD world music movement, in addition to work for Amnesty International and various other charities.


  • Peter Gabriel 1/Car
  • Peter Gabriel 2/Scratch
  • Peter Gabriel 3/Melt
  • Peter Gabriel 4/Security
  • So
  • Birdy (the score for the eponymous Nicolas Cage film)
  • Passion (the score for The Last Temptation of Christ)
  • Us
  • OVO (the UK Millennium Dome show)
  • Up
  • Long Walk Home: Music from the Rabbit-Proof Fence
  • Big Blue Ball (a WOMAD collaboration album he did some songs for)
  • Scratch My Back
  • New Blood (a collection of his songs rearranged and re-recorded for orchestra, done similar to Scratch My Back)

Scratch My Back has a companion album, And I'll Scratch Yours, with the artists whose songs Gabriel covered covering some of his in turn, including Lou Reed, Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, Arcade Fire, and more; these covers were released as singles, coupled with the corresponding artist's cover, before it was announced that the project would be released on September 23, 2013.

Both So and New Blood have come out in Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition sets as well.

Oh, won't trope for me?/I will trope for you:

  • Absurdly Long Limousine: One appears in the intro to Steam.
  • Album Title Drop: "Only Us", from Us.
    • And "Growing Up" from Up.
  • Award Bait Song: While it doesn't exactly fit the typical stereotype, "Down to Earth" was actually nominated for an Oscar.
  • Bald of Awesome: Infamously shaved a swath of his hair on top in his 1972-73 Genesis period; he shaved it entirely in 1978 and on occasion since in the early 1980's. His hair naturally receded and went grey at least since the late 1990's.
  • Book Ends: The song Big Time starts and ends with an American voice saying 'Hi There!'
  • Breakup Breakout: Zigzagged. After leaving Genesis, Gabriel was just as popular if not more so, but Genesis rose to considerable mainstream success that (with the exception of So) he never quite matched.
  • B-Side: Many are special remixes of songs from their respective albums, but some tracks have come out as B-sides and have yet to appear in any collected form (aside from fan-made compilations). Notable ones include:
    • "Me And My Teddy Bear", released as a B-side to "D.I.Y" from Peter Gabriel II;
    • "Soft Dog", released as a B-side to "Shock The Monkey", from Security;
    • "Curtains", released as a B-side to "Big Time", from So;
    • "Courage" and "Sagrada", two songs from the So sessions that didn't see the light of day until that album's Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition;
    • He has also contributed single tracks to tribute & benefit records, and to many movie soundtracks, including Babe, WALL•E, Gremlins, and The Wild Thornberrys Movie, which for many fans (especially due to the long gap between albums) take on the rarefied air of B-sides as well.
      • An example is "Across The River' a track with Stewart Copeland & Ravi Shankar which appeared initially on a WOMAD benefit record, before appearing multiple times as a B-side, and a live performance appearing on Secret World Live. It was re-released in 2014 on a benefit album to help provide humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
  • Concept Album: While none of his albums are this in the sense that the songs all form a story or narrative (with the exception of OVO), they almost always have some kind of idea or theme behind them, whether conceptually or musically, particularly his post-So albums.
    • Us is mostly about relationships, especially those between lovers and family.
    • Up is concerned with birth and death (especially death).
    • There is actually a series of songs that appear on different albums ("Down the Dolce Vita", "Here Comes the Flood", "On the Air", "Exposure", "Red Rain", "Big Blue Ball") that form a song cycle concerning the character Mozo, though they don't really form a story/narrative either. The original plan was to create a movie about him, but it never panned out.
  • The Cover Changes The Meaning: Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields had this to say about Gabriel's cover of "Book of Love":
    It’s a totally different interpretation. My arrangement and recording of it is emphatically skeletal and all about the insufficiency and helplessness [of love], whereas his sounds like he’s God singing to you about his creation.
    • Scratch My Back is all over this Trope. His cover of David Bowie takes "Heroes" from cynical to a bittersweet Tear Jerker.
  • Darker and Edgier: While his albums have always tended to be rather dark (with the exception of most of So), Security is noticeably more so.
  • Downer Ending: "In Your Eyes" was written to win back a woman Gabriel had lost. It didn't work. That woman was Rosanna Arquette.
  • Epic Rocking: "Red Rain", "Signal to Noise", "Down the Dolce Vita". "Here Comes the Flood" was originally this, but Gabriel thought it was too over-the top and later reworked it into a piano-only acoustic version.
    • Up consists almost exclusively of this; there's only one song less than six minutes long. Other examples include "Waiting for the Big One" (7:16), "Biko" (7:26), and "The Family and the Fishing Net" (7:08).
  • Evolving Music: "Here Comes the Flood", see the Crowning Music entry on the YMMV page.
    • "I Have the Touch", which went through three different permutations: the original track on Security, a remixed version on the Greatest Hits Album Shaking The Tree (additional percussion track), and a completely remade version for the soundtrack to the John Travolta film Phenomenon (slower tempo, new lyrics, new instrumentation).
    • His album "Passion" started out being the soundtrack for "Last Temptation of Christ" — but he kept tweaking and changing each of the songs after the film was released, to the point that he didn't feel right calling it "the soundtrack" any more.
  • Fading into the Next Song: "Down the Dolce Vita" -> "Here Comes the Flood" on Car.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: He had them on the innersleeve of his first solo album. The effect was achieved with a flash bulb and a pair of reflective contact lenses.
  • God-Is-Love Songs: "In Your Eyes" gets this a lot, and was actually covered by Christian artist Nicole Nordman from that perspective. According to Word of God, whether it is a love song or a religious song is intentionally ambiguous.
  • Gratuitous German: He rerecorded his third and fourth albums, plus a single B Side, in German, and released them in Germany. Many Germans were bemused by his decision to do this, especially as some of the grammar is completely wrong. However some fans who don't speak German have said that not knowing what he's singing helps add to the mystique of the music as they are not focusing on the words.
  • Grief Song: "I Grieve", natch.
  • Heroic BSOD: "Don't Give Up", a duet with Kate Bush about an unemployed man driven to the brink of suicide by depression. According to Gabriel's (now ex-)wife, he would sometimes get these and she would be the one reassuring him not to give up, which inspired the song.
  • Intercourse with You: "Sledgehammer".
  • "I Want" Song: "Big Time".
  • Last Chorus Slow Down: "Family Snapshot" does this to chilling effect.
  • Last Note Nightmare: "I Don't Remember", "Signal To Noise".
  • Lonely Piano Piece: The remake of "Here Comes the Flood" and "The Drop".
  • Long Song, Short Scene: "Out Out" from Gremlins, which appears briefly and never shows up again. Although released as a single, it has not been issued on any Peter Gabriel albums or compilations, although is on the soundtrack to Gremlins which is on CD.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Big Time".
  • Metal Scream: "Signal to Noise".
  • Money Song: "Big Time" again.
  • Name's the Same: He claimed he was unaware that there was a "Barry Williams" who played Greg Brady in The Brady Bunch. until the single was released and it was pointed out to him.
  • New Sound Album: So from the four albums that came before it, and Up from So and Us.
  • Non-Appearing Title: "The Drop", "Fourteen Black Paintings", "Family Snapshot", "The Tower That Ate People".
  • Notable Music Videos: "Sledgehammer".
  • Obsession Song: According to Gabriel, "Shock the Monkey" is about jealousy and the obsessive behavior/attitudes that can result from it.
  • Pop-Star Composer: As noted above, composed the scores for Birdy, Last Temptation, and Rabbit-Proof Fence, and has contributed songs to Philadelphia, Phenomenon (a remixed version of "I Have the Touch"), Against All Odds, Hard to Hold (interesting in that he only contributed one song; the rest of the soundtrack was mostly Rick Springfield, who also starred in it), Uru, The Wild Thornberrys Movie, and Wall E.
  • Protest Song: "Biko" is a highly-regarded example.
    • "Not One of Us" can be thought of as a protest song, as it's a Take That against people who exclude others to make themselves feel good (and thus can be applied to the group of your choice).
    • "Games Without Frontiers" could be considered one as well; it uses the background of a popular European game show to protest the absurdity and futility of war.
  • Real Life Writes the Song: The song "Family Snapshot" was inspired by the assassination attempt on George Wallace.
  • Recursive Reality: The video to Steam begins with the view of space and stars with Earth closing in and ends with zooming in on somebody's skin, brief glimpse of cellular structure, DNA, individual atoms and interatomic space which becomes the interstellar space. Unfortunately, most broadcasts cut the first 10-20 seconds and the final makes little sense.
  • Rich Idiot with No Day Job: Though he came from a wealthy/upper class background and met his fellow Genesis founders at the prestigious public school they all attended, this is an averted trope.
  • Rock Me, Amadeus!: He uses the melody from the Ode to Joy in the New Blood version of Solsbury Hill.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: Many, this is something of a specialty for Gabriel:
    • "No Self Control".
      • "The Family and the Fishing Net".
      • "Out Out".
      • "The Rhythm of the Heat".
  • Scatting: The end of "Solsbury Hill" and "Kiss That Frog", and throughout "I Don't Remember".
    • Also in the middle of "Signal to Noise".
  • Self-Titled Album: His first four, which caused some confusion leading them to be renamed based on their album art.
    • No. 4 was actually released under the title "Security" in the US.
  • Shout-Out: During his New Blood tour, which features a symphony orchestra, his performance of "Solsbury Hill" contains the melody from the Ode to Joy.
  • The Song Before The Storm: "Down the Dolce Vita" from Car, both in the context of the song itself (it's literally before an impending storm) and the album as a whole (it's the penultimate song on the album, preceding and leading directly into the even more bombastic original version of "Here Comes the Flood").
  • Soprano and Gravel: "Don't Give Up", a duet with Kate Bush.
    • "Come Talk to Me" and "Blood of Eden", both featuring Sinéad O'Connor
    • His concert album Secret World features supporting vocals by Paula "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone" Cole.
  • Spiritual Successor: "Steam" is basically Gabriel's attempt to recapture the sound and feel of "Sledgehammer". Whether he succeeded or not and its overall quality is up to the listener.
  • Studio Chatter: At the beginning of "Not One of Us".
  • Take That: "The Barry Williams Show", against trashy, exploitative daytime TV-like shows (Barry Williams is basically the UK equivalent of Jerry Springer, and actually appears as himself in the music video, which was directed by Sean Penn).
  • Textless Album Cover: Passion, Us, OVO, Up, Scratch My Back, New Blood.
  • Title Only Chorus: "Not One of Us", "Kiss That Frog"
  • Uncommon Time: In several songs. Most famously, "Solsbury Hill" is in 7/4 time. So are the verses of "And Through the Wire".
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Sledgehammer" is about Gabriel's "sledgehammer", If You Know What I Mean.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Many of Gabriel's songs are about or inspired by various psychologists and their works: "Milgram's 37" (about, well, Stanley Milgram's 37 subjects in his infamous shock experiments), "Rhythm of the Heat" (whose working title was "Jung in Africa", and is about... well, you know), "Kiss That Frog", inspired by Bruno Bettelheim's Uses of Enchantment (about the role of fairy tales in development; the song uses one of its exemplar stories, "The Princess and the Frog").
    • His song "Mercy Street" is about/inspired by the life and works of poet Anne Sexton, who wrote a book of poetry called 45 Mercy Street.