A day late, but we want to wish a very happy birthday to Peter Gabriel, who turned 70 on Thursday. Gabriel had obviously already staged a successful career with Genesis and as a solo artist before 1986, but that was the year that his album So was released.
I was a junior in college. Suddenly you’d walk past dorm rooms after classes and it was not unusual in just one trek back to your own room to hear the album playing in two to three different rooms. Everyone was playing it. And while it wouldn’t quite be correct to call Gabriel a has-been, he was already 36 years old when So was released and this was the peak of two musical eras that he would never step foot in: New Wave and hair metal.
So was not either of these. He was always eclectic and avant-garde(“Biko” or “Games Without Frontiers,” above) as an artist. But occasionally someone puts together an album that is so sublime with songs so unforgettable— and evocative of a particular mood— that it cannot be ignored. Suddenly Gabriel went from being “That guy who used to be in Genesis who sings ‘Shock the Monkey'” to a superstar. Rare, if never, has a rock musician ever elevated his game after the age of 35 the way Gabriel did. I can’t think of a single person.
Also, Peter Gabriel wins my unofficial Walter White Award, given to the white dude who goes bald (or shaves it off) and in so doing looks 1,000 times more badass than he used to. I’ve also always loved Gabriel because from afar I don’t think he’s very cuddly. He’s a genius, no doubt, and his fellow artists with whom he works seem to adore him (see video below) but I don’t think he gives a crap what the music community, or the media or fans, think about him. I always think of him as the Ricky Gervais of rock music.
So wound up losing the Album of the Year Grammy to Paul Simon’s Graceland, and both are excellent. So it wasn’t exactly robbery. Though we know which one we listen to more often. For argument’s sake, our ranking of the songs on So (“song”, “SO”), every one of which is worthy and half of which are classics:
- In Your Eyes
- That Voice Again
- Red Rain
- Don’t Give Up
- Mercy Street
- Big Time
- We Do What We’re Told
A question any music fan should be able to answer: There’s one living artist you’ve never seen in concert but would love to: Who is it? For me it’s Gabriel. I’m still angry at myself for having missed the Secret World Live Tour in the early ’90s; fortunately there’s YouTube to see some of the songs. Here’s hoping that Gabriel embarks on one last tour; and if he and Phil Collins shared the stage together to ease the burden on each, who’d mind?
Ranking our five favorite Gabriel tunes:
- In Your Eyes
- Solsbury Hill
- Games Without Frontiers
- Red Rain
- Talk To Me
Please go on tour soon, Peter. Please!
Jeux sans frontieres!
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