Thursday, May 19, 2016

Peter Gabriel's Breakthrough

Peter Gabriel's "So," which hit the music stores 30 years ago today, was not his first solo album. I'm not even sure you could call it his best solo album — although many would.

But it was his true breakthrough album as a solo performer — and I have reasons to believe that other than the fact that, even 30 years later, "So" is his best–selling solo effort.

Gabriel, who was the original lead singer for Genesis, had other hits before "So" — which was, after all, his fifth solo album — but "So" had four hit singles. "Sledgehammer" was the biggest hit, climbing to No. 1. The others didn't make it that far, which was probably a good thing for them. "Sledgehammer" became something of a social phenomenon in the summer of 1986. It would have been difficult to live up to it.

Do you think I am kidding? I'm not. It set a record at the MTV Awards, winning nine. Its video was a big hit, too. It is still the most played music video in MTV history. "Sledgehammer" was every freaking where.

Anyway, I got kind of tired of it at the time. Enough time has passed that I can listen to it and enjoy it today, but I went through a period when I simply could not listen to it. I would change the radio station if it came on.

Not so with the album's other singles — "Big Time," "Red Rain" and "In Your Eyes." A fifth single, "Don't Give Up," was more popular in the U.K. than it was in the U.S.

I am tempted to dismiss that as being because Kate Bush was featured on the track. It was a good song, but it never really did anything for me.

Of those, I guess "Big Time" was the most recognizable hit, and I could have gotten tired of it — had it not been for "Sledgehammer."

"Big Time" cracked Billboard's Top Ten but never quite got to No. 1.

I liked it better than "Sledgehammer" at the time.

I'm not really sure how I feel about them now, but I must say that I always found a certain amount of personal relevance in the lyrics "The place where I come from/Is a small town/They think so small/They use small words/But not me/I'm smarter than that/I worked it out/I'll be stretching my mouth/To let those big words come right out."

At that time, I thought it perfectly described my hometown — which is not such a small town anymore, at least according to my friends who still live there.

Yes, I preferred "Big Time" to "Sledgehammer" — but, of the singles from "So" that hit the airwaves, I guess my favorite was "Red Rain."

It reached No. 3 on Billboard's Top Ten, but it never struck me as being as commercial as those other two songs, especially "Sledgehammer."

I've heard it described as an anthem — and perhaps that is what attracted me to it.