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"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."
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. 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.
His albums, in chronological order:
- Peter Gabriel 1/Car
- Peter Gabriel 2/Scratch
- Peter Gabriel 3/Melt
- Peter Gabriel 4/Security
- Birdy (the score for the eponymous Nicolas Cage film)
- Passion (the score for The Last Temptation of Christ)
- OVO (the UK Millennium Dome show)
- 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
Scratch My Back was originally going to have a companion album, 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; while these covers were being released as singles, coupled with the corresponding artist's cover, no news on either the album or the next single has been heard for some time.
- 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.
- Bishonen: During his early years with Genesis, up until The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway era.
- Book Ends: The song Big Time starts and ends with an American voice saying 'Hi There!'
- That's Gabriel's voice.
- 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.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Peter definitely comes across as this.
- 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.
- Cross Dresser: During the early years of Genesis, he wore a long red dress and a fox's head on stage, like so.
- What is this I don't even...
- 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.
- Deadpan Snarker
- Determinator: Kate Bush reports that during a late night in the studio, Gabriel fell asleep and KEPT SINGING.
- Downer Ending: "In Your Eyes" was written to win back a woman Gabriel had lost. It didn't work.
- Epic Song: "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.
- Evolving Music: "Here Comes The Flood", see the Crowning Music entry above.
- "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.
- Gentleman Snarker
- 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.
- 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"
- Jerkass: See Take That below.
- 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".
- Listeners 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.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Big Time"
- Money Song: "Big Time" again
- New Sound Album: So from the four albums that came before it, and Up from So and Us.
- 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).
- Real Life Writes the Song: The song "Family Snapshot" was inspired by the assassination attempt on George Wallace.
- 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.
- Sanity Slippage Song: "Out Out" could be considered this.
- Scatting: The end of "Solsbury Hill" and "Kiss That Frog", and throughout "I Don't Remember".
- 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.
- 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).
- Title-Only Chorus: "Not One Of Us", "Kiss That Frog"
- Uncommon Time: "Solsbury Hill" is in 7/4 time.
- Unusual Euphemism: "Sledgehammer" is about Gabriel's "sledgehammer", If You Know What I Mean.
- Up to Eleven: On Scratch My Back, he manages to make Radiohead's "Street Spirit" even more depressing.
- Wasted Song: "Out Out" from Gremlins, which appears briefly and never shows up again (it doesn't help that the soundtrack was never even put on CD and is now out of print).