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Music / Peter Gabriel

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"Hi there!"

"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 which were titled eponymously, but over time each have gotten nicknames that have been embraced by fandom (and Gabriel himself) based on their cover art. Each were fairly successful, with the third and fourth 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 singing Randy Newman's "That'll Do" for the film Babe: Pig in the City and for writing and performing "Down to Earth" for WALL•E, each earning Academy Award nominationsnote .


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 producer Hugh Padgam and former bandmate Phil Collins for a track on Gabriel's third self-titled album, later becoming a signature sound of Collins' own hit singles). He was one of the founders of On Demand Distribution, which in the early '00s was one of the leading downloadable music platforms in Europe (it was later acquired by Nokia). In 1980, he founded WOMAD, an arts & music festival that helped to pioneer the world music movement. He also works for many varied charities, in particular Amnesty International with its human rights campaigns, which he has been involved with since the early '80s.



  • Peter Gabriel (1977, a.k.a. Car)
  • Peter Gabriel (1978, a.k.a. Scratch)
  • Peter Gabriel (1980, a.k.a. Melt)
  • Peter Gabriel (1982, a.k.a. Security, the title the album was released as in the States)
  • Peter Gabriel Plays Live (1983; the first live album, recorded during the 1982 tour for Security)
  • Birdy (1985; the score for the eponymous Nicolas Cage film)
  • So (1986)
  • Passion (1989; the score for The Last Temptation of Christ)
  • Shaking the Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats (1990; Gabriel's first greatest hits collection) note 
  • Us (1992)
  • Secret World Live (1994; the second live album, recorded in 1992-1994 during the tour for Us)
  • OVO (2000; the soundtrack to the UK Millennium Dome show)
  • Long Walk Home: Music from the Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)
  • Up (2002; as of 2018, Gabriel's last collection of original solo material)
  • Hit (2003; Gabriel's second best-of collection. The first disc, Hit, contains all his chart-toppers, while the second disc, Miss, is made up of critical tracks in his catalog, but are likely less well-known to casual fans.) note 
  • Big Blue Ball (2008; a collection of WOMAD collaborations recorded in the 90s and eventually mixed & released in 2008.)
  • Scratch My Back (2010)
  • New Blood (2011; a collection of his songs rearranged and re-recorded for orchestra, done in the same vein as the cover songs on Scratch My Back)
  • Live Blood (2012; Gabriel's third live album, recorded during the tour for New Blood).

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 (in the music video) ends with an American voice saying 'Hi there!'
  • Breakup Breakout: Zig-Zagged. 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: Pig in the City, 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, and many become fan favorites.
      • A good example of this is "Across The River", a track with Stewart Copeland & Ravi Shankar which appeared initially on a WOMAD benefit record, then appeared multiple times as a B-side. It eventually became part of the setlist of his 1992-93 tour, documented on the CD Secret World Live. It was then 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.
    • 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, and Arcade Fire. Six of the songs were released initially in 2010 as singles on iTunes, coupled with the corresponding artist's track from Scratch My Back. However, Radiohead, David Bowie, Neil Young, & Ray Davies, unfortunately, did not contribute in-kind, so Brian Eno and others stepped in. The entire collection was released, finally, in 2013.
  • 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).
    • Three versions of the song "Burn You Up, Burn You Down" exist, one mix was prepared for Up but the song was removed from its tracklist before release, another mix appears on Hit, and a third appears on Big Blue Ball.
    • 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.
  • Freud Was Right:
    • "And the bulge of my big big big big big big big big big big big big big big BIG!" Made even more apparent with the last word of the previous line being "circumstance," and what appropriate (non-appearing) word rhymes with circumstance?note 
    • "Hans plays with Lotte/Lotte plays with Jane/Jane plays with Willi/Willi is happy again".
  • 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 Nichole Nordeman from that perspective. According to Word of God, whether it is a love song or a religious song is intentionally ambiguous.
  • Gratuitous French: Kate Bush is actually singing "Jeux sans frontières", the title of the song in French, on "Games Without Frontiers", though it is frequently misheard; native French speakers have reported difficulty understanding her pronunciation. The song's name was inspired by the Europe-wide game show also named Jeux sans frontières; the British spin-off is It's a Knockout, which Gabriel also sings several times in the song.
  • 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.
  • Important Haircut: In the first few years after leaving Genesis, already known for partially shaving his head while in the band, he often wore his hair close-cropped, sometimes shaving his head completely. The third album shows this the most clearly, with shorter hair on the cover after the first two showed him with '70s Hair. His third album was the one where he felt he'd found himself artistically.
  • Intercourse with You: "Sledgehammer".
  • "I Want" Song: "Big Time".
  • Large Ham: He's toned it down since the Genesis days, but he brought an unprecedented theatricality into rock music. Some of this naturally involved Chewing the Scenery when necessary. "GIANT HOGWEED IS AVENGED! HUMAN BODIES SOON WILL KNOW ANGER! KILL THEM WITH YOUR HOGWEED HAIRS! HERACLEUM MANTEGAZZIANI!"
  • Last Chorus Slow-Down: "Family Snapshot" does this to chilling effect.
  • Last Note Nightmare:
    • "I Don't Remember", "Signal To Noise".
    • "Biko" ends with two drumbeats, meant to evoke gunfire.
  • Limited Lyrics Song: "Lead a Normal Life", "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)".
  • Live Album: Gabriel released live albums in 1984, 1994, and 2012. And while he hasn't released any new solo material since 2002, Gabriel continues to tour a great deal, and many of the shows from his 2003, 2004, 2007, and 2012 tours have been released for purchase online as legal 'bootlegs'.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: The remake of "Here Comes the Flood" and "The Drop".
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: During his time in Genesis, to the point where he ended up cross-dressing as the fox in the red dress on the Foxtrot album cover.
  • 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".
  • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: The theme of "Here Comes The Flood". The inspiration was from a dream Gabriel had where "the psychic barriers which normally prevent us from seeing into each others’ thoughts had been completely eroded producing a mental flood. Those that had been used to having their innermost thoughts exposed would handle this torrent and those inclined to concealment would drown in it.”
  • Money Song: "Big Time" again.
  • New Sound Album: So from the four albums that came before it, and So from Us and Up.
  • 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.
  • One-Word Title: After his record company finally laid down the law and insisted on titles for his studio albums after his first four untitled ones, Gabriel complied in the most grudging manner possible, using the single two letter words So, Us and Up for them.
  • Pimp Duds: Gabriel wears a gaudy purple suit, complete with gold chain necklace, fedora and comically high platform shoes, at the beginning of the "Steam" video.
  • Pop-Star Composer: As noted above, composed the scores for Birdy, The Last Temptation Of Christ, 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.
  • Pungeon Master: His lyrics with Genesis and much of his earlier solo work contain word play galore.
  • Real Life Writes the Song: The song "Family Snapshot" was inspired by the assassination attempt on George Wallace.
    • "Solsbury Hill" documents him leaving Genesis for a solo career.
    • His divorce from first wife Jill, breakup with girlfriend Rosanna Arquette, and at-the-time estrangement from his daughter Anna informed Us.
  • 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.
    • Also averted by the fact, despite the long gaps between albums, Gabriel continues to tour (albeit more often in Europe) and oversees a state-of-the-art recording studio, RealWorld Studios, in Wiltshire, about 100 miles west of London.
  • 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".
    • "Lead A Normal Life," written from the point of view of someone in a mental institution. Atlantic Records thought Gabriel actually had lost his mind on hearing this song and dropped him.
  • 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 albums were all named Peter Gabriel, but have since earned nicknames based on their cover art. They were re-released as double-albums on audiophile-grade vinyl in 2015.
    • No. 4 was released under the title Security in the US at the behest of Gabriel's label at the time, Geffen Records. The title is not on the cover itself, only as on a sticker on the album's packaging.
  • 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.
    • "Mercy Street": to Anne Sexton.
    • "Fourteen Black Paintings" to Francisco de Goya.
    • His 2016 single "I'm Amazing", was inspired by the life of Muhammad Ali. Gabriel had written the song a few years earlier, but eventually released the song as a tribute after Ali's death.
  • 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 on So with Kate Bush.
    • Kate Bush also appears on "No Self Control" and "Games Without Frontiers", on Gabriel's third eponymous album.
    • "Come Talk to Me" and "Blood of Eden", both featuring Sinéad O'Connor
    • Singer Paula Cole was a member of Gabriel's backing band during the Secret World tour, singing Bush's and O'Connor's vocal parts. Two years later, she would have her own breakout hit with "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone."
    • The baritone Gabriel often shared vocals with the tenor-ranged Phil Collins in Genesis.
  • Spiritual Successor: "Steam" is basically Gabriel's attempt to recapture the sound and feel of "Sledgehammer."
  • 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).
    • "Solsbury Hill" is about Gabriel's departure from Genesis. Word of God has confirmed this.
      • The song later became unusual in the annals of Take Thats as Gabriel once performed the song with Genesis in 1982, as part of a reunion concert to benefit WOMAD.
    • While some fans may have thought his not being present at the induction of Genesis into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 was a snub, he couldn't attend because he was involved in rehearsals for his orchestral New Blood tour at the time.
      • Gabriel himself was later inducted into the Hall as a solo artist in 2014.
  • Textless Album Cover: Passion, Us, OVO, Up, Scratch My Back, New Blood.
  • Title-Only Chorus: "Not One of Us", "Kiss That Frog"
  • Tragic Villain: "Family Snapshot," seen from the point of view of an assassin, ends with a flashback to his unhappy childhood.
  • 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 the work of various writers, philosophers, and psychologists:
    • "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)" (about, well, Stanley Milgram's 37 subjects in his infamous shock experiments)note 
    • "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.
  • World Music: He is credited with helping to introduce influence from world music into mainstream rock. Some of his best-known examples of this include "Biko" (1980), "The Rhythm of the Heat" (1982), and "In Your Eyes" (1986).


Example of: