So (Classic Albums)
Peter Gabriel is an extraordinary person and musician. He famously started his career as the extrovert leader of the extremely introverted band Genesis, but his real fame and success came as a solo artist and subsequently through his contributions to World Music through the label he started, Real World. Before his enormously successful album ‘So’, Gabriel had huge hits with songs like ‘Solsbury Hill’, ‘Games Without Frontiers’ and ‘Biko’, from a succession of albums all called ‘Peter Gabriel’.
His fifth album ‘So’, released in 1986, was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching number one in the UK and number two in the US. With a stellar cast of musicians - including Kate Bush, Daniel Lanois, Laurie Anderson, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Nile Rodgers, Stewart Copeland, Bill Laswell and Youssou N'Dour – and brilliant, innovative videos, ‘So’ won widespread awards and plaudits (it won two Brit awards and four Grammy nominations, while both Q and Rolling Stone rate the album among the 100 greatest albums of all time). ‘So’ defined its time to become a true Classic Album.
The album includes singles ‘Don't Give Up’, ‘Big Time’, ‘In Your Eyes’ and ‘Sledgehammer’ which assured octuple platinum sales. ‘Sledgehammer’ reached number 1 in the U.S., ironically knocking 'Invisible Touch’, by his old band Genesis, off the top spot.
Gabriel recalls "Sledgehammer was obviously a big track from that record and that was in part homage to the music that I grew up with you know, I loved Soul Music, Blues Music and that was a chance to work with, you know, some of the brass players that have worked with Otis Redding who was my all time favourite singer and it was a fun thing to do, but again that was a built around a great groove and a good feel."
The album’s most famous song was propelled to the top by a much-celebrated stop motion music video, (including dancing chickens!), a collaboration with director Stephen R. Johnson, Nick Park of Aardman Animations, and the Brothers Quay, won numerous awards and set a new standard for art in the music video industry.
The album begins with a charged anthem hugely popular on radio entitled ‘Red Rain’. Inspired by a recurring dream of Gabriel’s, of swimming in a sea of red water, its vivid lyrics depict imagery that reflect a sense of vulnerability. The song is one of the works in the story of Mozo, a wandering stranger who appears in several Gabriel songs (other Mozo works include ‘On the Air’ and ‘Exposure’).
"Red Rain is one of my favourite tracks from that record and is a good example of of a band playing together with a lot of energy and and again I think from Daniel Lanois input the sort of respect for the moment."
‘Big Time,’ another vibrant dance piece, has a fantastic video made along the same lines as ‘Sledgehammer’. The song is a story of “what happens to you when you become a little too successful”, according to Gabriel.
‘Don't Give Up’ is a moving duet with Kate Bush about the devastation experienced by the unemployed, a key them of the time. ‘In Your Eyes,’ according to some Gabriel's greatest love song, achieved genuine classic status after being featured in Cameron Crowe's film, ‘Say Anything’.
It is not only the four hit singles which demonstrate the strengths of ‘So’ but throughout the album Gabriel's increased melodicism and ability to blend African music, jangly pop, and soul into serious art rock.
Along with Graceland and released in the same year as Graceland it was a chance for musicians outside of the Western World to shine on an enormously successful record, which opened up all sorts of opportunities for them.
Gabriel is a fascinating and extremely elusive man and the opportunity to make a film on ‘So’ gives us a chance to capture on film his intelligence and talent and celebrate/ analyse his best work - ‘So’.