KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Thirty Year Thursday – PETER GABRIEL “SO”

[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]

Artist: PETER GABRIEL
Album: SO

Peter Gabriel - SoAlthough Peter Gabriel’s fifth studio album was a huge commercial success, embraced by longtime fans and newcomers alike, it’s often unfairly judged as the record where Gabriel “sold out” simply because it sold millions of copies and contained several hit singles. This is one of those rare examples of the general public catching up to an artist rather than the artist courting mainstream success. Gabriel’s solo albums after leaving Genesis in 1975 were often dense, claustrophobic art-rock affairs with their own distinct sound, but he was not a stranger to chart & FM radio success with songs like “Solsbury Hill,” “Games Without Frontiers” and “Shock The Monkey.” With So, he widened his sonic palette a bit, adding some funk and African elements without straying too far from his signature style.

The chart-topping “Sledgehammer” was the first single, released in the Spring of 1986, and it’s hard to describe how fresh it sounded the first time I heard it. Sure, it’s become one of those ubiquitous ‘80s hits (especially because of its groundbreaking video) so its impact has probably been diluted over the course of three decades, but it’s still one of the great singles of that decade. The equally funky “Big Time” was also a big hit and the perfect companion to “Sledgehammer.” Nothing else here was as immediately catchy as these two, but their success allowed some other great songs to find a wider audience. The powerful album opener “Red Rain” has long been my favorite; the combination of killer rhythm track and Gabriel’s passionate vocals placing it among the best songs he’s ever recorded. The rhythmic love song “In Your Eyes,” with guest vocals by Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour, was a surprise hit that was immortalized in the film Say Anything. The touching duet with Kate Bush, “Don’t Give Up,” is both sad & uplifting, and they deliver some of the best vocal performances of their careers. Moody, atmospheric tracks like “Mercy Street” and “We Do What We’re Told (Miligram’s 37)” took some time to grow on me but they’re absolutely essential to the flow of the album, and I often forget how good “That Voice Again” is when I haven’t played the album in a while. Clearly, So is a classic from start to finish.

Peter Gabriel - Image From Sledgehammer Video
I have a brief personal story related to So. For my 20th birthday in June 1986, my girlfriend at the time bought us tickets for a Gabriel show in November. She still had the tickets in her possession when we broke up a couple of weeks before the concert and I didn’t get to see him. I never bought tickets to subsequent tours, still stinging from that experience. Fast forward 26 years later when Gabriel announced the “Back To Front” tour where he would reunite with the musicians from his ’86-’87 tour and perform So in its entirety along with other songs from throughout his career. By then I was happily married, and my wonderful wife bought tickets for the show in Philadelphia (a 2-3 hour drive from our New York home) where we joined two friends who lived in Philly. All of the emotional demons disappeared and I finally had some closure. Needless to say, Gabriel and his band were amazing, and it reignited my love for this album.

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44 comments on “Thirty Year Thursday – PETER GABRIEL “SO”

  1. Cave_Guy
    February 25, 2016

    Thanks Rich — 30 years_ I feel so friggin’ old 🙂 Anyway I was a huge Gabriel fan before and after this record (and now) — I never thought he sold out – I just thought he finally learned how to enjoy life and dance a little.Sometimes you just want to dance.

    Like

    • Thanks for the feedback, Wayne. Great point about Gabriel learning to enjoy life. It’s not like the album was a dance-pop collection but some fans criticized him for having mainstream success. They missed out on a great record.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Heavy Metal Overload
    February 25, 2016

    Another great pick Rich, this is a great album. I only really cottoned onto this about 8 years ago after hearing Red Rain on a mix tape and being totally blown away!

    Liked by 2 people

    • mikeladano
      February 25, 2016

      …and then you heard Queensryche’s version of Red Rain…ewww.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have NOT heard that. When did they record that, and which lineup was it?

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        February 26, 2016

        It was a later lineup with Mike Stone on guitar — from their pretty terrible covers album Take Cover.

        Like

      • I lost interest in Queensryche a long time ago, so that’s an album I missed and was likely never going to hear. Happy to know that’s a good decision.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        February 26, 2016

        It was. I reviewed that cover album a while ago. 2/5.

        Like

      • Wow, you described it as a “terrible covers album” but still rated it 2/5? How bad must an album be to get a 0/5 or 1/5? I know I’ve seen a few of those at your blog but can’t imagine a cover album (most of which are mediocre at best) by a band way past their sell-by date would still get a somewhat passing grade? I’m guessing a lot of it has to do with your long-time love for Queensryche, which I completely understand.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        February 29, 2016

        That’s a fair assessment. Here’s the review to take a gander but I don’t mind if you are completely uninterested 🙂

        http://mikeladano.com/2015/08/10/review-queensryche-take-cover-2007/

        I have some pretty stinky reviews coming up. The latest Bon Jovi….

        Like

      • I remember reading that review last year and thinking, “I’m glad I stopped buying Queensryche albums a while ago.” What a shame for a once-great band to fall so far.

        As someone who has never liked a single Bon Jovi song, obviously I won’t be interested in their new stuff but I’ll be curious to find out why you dislike it so much.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        March 1, 2016

        You probably got out of Queensryche at the right time. I just tried to give one of their later albums a second chance. DIdn’t go well.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Off the top of my head, I can’t think of many great bands that fell so far so fast. Most artists with long careers have peaks & valleys, but with Queensryche it seemed like the glory days ended abruptly, never to return.

        Like

    • Wow, it took quite some time for this album to make an impact on you. Glad it still sounded great all those years later. Did anything else on that mix tape measure up to “Red Rain”?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. stephen1001
    February 25, 2016

    Well said Rich with Don’t Give Up being simultaneously sad & uplifting, a fine track on a fine album.
    Red Rain is surely among the top 5 openers of the 80s!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Geoff. Glad you enjoyed that description of “Don’t Give Up.” I know some people who dislike that song but I found it haunting the first time I heard it, and it’s still powerful. Yep, album openers don’t get much better than “Red Rain.”

      Like

  4. Sarca
    February 25, 2016

    A very strong album! And one that my sis and I had on cassette back then. Great write-up!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sarca. This was one of those touchstone albums for so many people. Glad you and your sister were among them. Hasn’t it held up extremely well over the past three decades?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Vinyl Connection
    February 25, 2016

    Marvellous album, to be sure. Though in no way ‘selling out’ (silly phrase when the music is so good!) it is an example of an artist putting their knowledge of current studio techniques (incl. video) and contemporary sound to good use… and this resonating with the ‘public’. Steve Winwood did the same thing a little earlier with ‘Arc of a Diver’.

    Love the story of your concert miss/hit too. Pertaining to which, can I just mention the outstanding 2012 re-issue of ‘So’. It’s a little CD box that, in addition to the album and some photo cards, also includes a 2 CD live set of the tour ‘Live in Athens’. Absolutely brilliant.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Glad we agree that “selling out” is a ridiculous description whenever music is this good. I love Winwood’s “Arc Of A Diver” but I think he really combined art and commerce two albums later. Be on the lookout for next week’s post.

      Never got the super-deluxe version of “So” due to the cost, but I don’t doubt that live set is great. Was that just an audio version of a concert video that had been previously released or was it a newly uncovered recording?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. mikeladano
    February 25, 2016

    Joe posted this the other day. I’ll just leave it here 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m on the road but will check this out when I return. Thanks, Mike.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mike, I saw this last week and found it pretty funny. In the past I’ve seen fake trailers for romantic comedies turned into suspense & horror trailers (When Harry Met Sally is a good one) but hadn’t seen a horror-to-lighthearted-comedy one like this before.

        Like

  7. J.
    February 26, 2016

    I don’t have this, but I do like a whole lot of the songs (dare say I’ve heard about half without ever owning the album!) and have often looked for this when I’m out and about. Great stuff!

    Like

    • J, this is one of those albums that works best from start to finish as opposed to a few songs on the radio or a compilation. I’m sure you already knew that, and hopefully one day you’ll add a copy to your collection.

      Liked by 1 person

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  10. Geen Geenie
    March 10, 2016

    I love love love that you love this album. It’s another one that I grew up with that I know like the back of my hand. It gets looked down for its popularity in some sort of inverse snobbery, but it’s a damn good album and it deserves the credit. I am quite jealous you got to see the tour. I used to have the Secret Worlds tour on Dvd and I think Gabriel live would be quite something. Personal favourite from this album is Mercy st or Red Rain, but the whole album is star quality start to finish. X

    Like

    • Nice to know we share an affinity for this album, and I’m glad your appreciation wasn’t spoiled by its commercial success. Great music remains great no matter how popular it becomes, and for an album like So to hold up so well after 30 years is a testament to how special it is. Sorry you didn’t get to see his recent tour where he played the whole album. I highly recommend the DVD (or Blu-ray) which captures the performance really well.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Thirty Year Thursday – …AND THE REST (PART 3) / IN CONCLUSION | KamerTunesBlog

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