The explosive, exuberant and of course very, very funky new album by Rock Candy Funk Party Groove Is King has now been out for a week. The whole thing is excellent. You can read my initial thoughts on the album here. I mention in that article that the track I was most looking forward to playing before the album was released was “Digging in the Dirt,” a classic song by Peter Gabriel which was the lead single from his sixth studio album, Us. Peter Gabriel, of course, was the lead singer of the band Genesis before striking out on his own and launching a very artistically and commercially successful solo career. Peter Gabriel is one of my very favorite artists besides Joe, so I thought this would be a cool opportunity to do a piece on him.
My first exposure to Peter Gabriel was seeing his zany, quirky music video for “Big Time” off of the So album on VH-1. It was unlike any other video I’d see before, full of playful imagery, wacky characters, and general craziness with the dapper if outlandish Peter Gabriel as the kind of ringmaster of it all:
The video thrilled me, but a few weeks later, I had a hunger to hear the song itself again. Like Rock Candy Funk Party, “Big Time” is just so much fun with its synthy, 80’s ebullient charm. The song reached number 8 on the Billboard hot 100, which sounds really impressive until you learn about his previous single, Sledgehammer, which made it all the way to #1. After hearing that one, I was totally hooked by its sly sexual innuendo and zesty vibe.
I soon purchased the album So because I could resist no longer and I was blown away by the diversity of sound, emotion, and texture, and yet how the whole album held together so beautifully and cohesively. I apparently wasn’t the only person who thought so: the album launched itself all the way to #2 on the charts in the U.S. and hit the top of the charts in the U.K. It’s incredibly difficult to pick a stand out track from the album. Perhaps with the exception of the avant-garde, obscure mostly spoken word track “This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)” featuring Laurie Anderson – a track that is compelling but that is also somewhat difficult to latch onto – each track really is a standout album highlight.
How well do you know Peter Gabriel: the man and the music? It can never hurt to learn a little bit more, so here are ten things you might not known about this musical genius. And if you knew ’em already, a refresher is always good:
1. Before the making of Us, Peter Gabriel spent some time in therapy. His experiences with therapy became the subject of the song “Digging in the Dirt.” It’s a tune about uncovering psychological pain and buried anger. The cut became the leadoff single from the album, a dark departure from the upbeat pop that characterized the singles “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time” from Gabriel’s previous album So.
2. For a rock star, Peter Gabriel had very minimal experience with drugs. One time he ate a piece of hash cake and the results were amusing to his friends. But Peter Gabriel tended to stay away from such substances because had a fear of losing control over himself. This is a fear that in some ways Peter Gabriel references in the aptly titled song “No Self Control” from his third solo album.
3. In the U.K. Peter Gabriel’s first four solo albums were called Peter Gabriel. This may have led to some confusion in Britain.
3. Peter Gabriel wrote the song “Biko” about Steve Bantu Biko, who was a South African student and political activist who was killed while in police custody in September of 1977. The highly moving, atmospheric piece draws on Peter Gabriel’s love of world music and incorporates both African drumming and droning bagpipes, the kind of seemingly zany combination that would be a mainstay for Gabriel and also always seemed to work for him.
5. Peter Gabriel, in addition to being a musician, is also an activist. He established an organization called Elders, composed of respected political leaders from around the world, to try and tackle some of the world’s major problems. In addition, he was awarded the Man of Peace award which recognizes cultural figures who work towards peace and social justice.
6. One of Peter’s interests as a young boy was in Superman comic books. As a result, he would often pretend he could fly.
7. Another one of Peter Gabriel’s interests as a young boy was drumming and percussion. When he was merely ten years old he purchased his first drum from a friend’s brother. He paid £10 for it. It was a floor tom-tom. He has on multiple occasions since then referred to himself as a failed drummer.
8. Peter Gabriel’s friend and bandmate in Genesis, Phil Collins, scored a megahit with his album No Jacket Required. The album spawned a single called “Take Me Home” which featured background vocals by none other than Peter Gabriel himself.
9. Peter Gabriel’s #1 hit “Sledgehammer” is chock full of often amusing sexual innuendo. Perhaps the song’s most notable feature is its big brassy horn section. The inspiration for the sound of “Sledgehammer” was the kind of 1960s soul music that invigorated Gabriel as a young man. Sledgehammer was his extremely successful attempt to rebuild that sound.
10. The song “Signal To Noise” on Peter Gabriel’s 7th proper studio album Up featured the harrowing stunning vocals of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a Pakistani singer who was a dear friend of Peter Gabriel’s. Though Khan had died the vocals for the track had been recorded previously at the VH! Honors Awards in 1996.
Do you prefer Peter Gabriel’s work with Genesis or his solo career? What’s your favorite Peter Gabriel song? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet me at @