Yes, I know I’ve already posted for today, but that was business. This is pleasure and it certainly is a pleasure. 30 years ago, today, May 19, 1986, my favorite album of all time, So, from Peter Gabriel, arrived. I will not begin to remotely state, honestly, that I was a fan from the beginning. Until “Sledgehammer” came out, I had never heard of Peter Gabriel. Again, I didn’t have access to him or I just didn’t listen to enough radio to know any better. They played “Sledgehammer” on the radio prior to my moving to WSNC.
Once I moved, and had MTV, I saw the video for it and “Big Time,” a lot. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t my “cup of tea.” But, over time I listened more and more and more. It became obvious to me how well the songs were written on those songs. I was introduced to other songs on that album, including “Red Rain” and “Don’t Give Up.” Probably, the biggest boost to the album was “In Your Eyes” being on the Say Anything soundtrack, and the iconic scene of John Cusack holding up the boom box (that was in 1989).
Over the years, I got more and more into Peter Gabriel and realized the genius that he is. I knew, again, the songs from So but never put together the intensity of all those songs together; packaged in an album. Now, the kicker of that was that “In Your Eyes” in the regular release was track 1 on side 2 because the record company wanted it to stand out as a single. The original intended order had it closing the album. When the album was re-released in 2012 (25th Anniversary – and yes I know that the dates don’t exactly match up) they put it the way it should be. I purchased the box set including a digitally remastered version of So in the artists’ preferred listing order, a 2-disc 1987 live concert from Athens, Greece, the So: Classic Albums DVD, the So DNA CD that shows the development of the songs of the album from start to finish, a booklet and, to me, the coup de grace, the LP of So in 180-gram black vinyl and a Double A side 12 vinyl collectible containing two previously unreleased tracks Courage and Sagrada plus Don t Give Up (alternative version piano and bvox mix). That whole collection was/is awesome.
Tony Levin is one of my favorite bassists ever and that’s all because of his work on PG’s albums. I do have some solo stuff, but nothing touches the PG stuff in my opinion. Daniel Lanois produced the album (along with PG) and should be given medals for that. He was instrumental in the songwriting process, whether he actually wrote anything or not. He did as a producer must and directed and mentored PG through the songs. I did talk about it briefly when it was #187 on the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time (read that HERE), but I’ll talk about it again, also briefly.
The album starts with “Red Rain” and you can tell there’s a foreboding about it from the get go. From what I can figure it’s from a movie idea that he had that the villagers of some fictional town paid for their sins by being washed in blood, or something like that. That’s the “red rain.” Great lyrics and a great arrangement. Stewart Copeland played the really rhythmic hi-hat throughout. It was meant to sound like rain.
“Sledgehammer.” My all-time favorite song. It’s my ringback tone, so if you call me, that’s what you’ll here. Great horns, sexual innuendo throughout – I mean, “open up your fruit cage, cause that fruit, bet it’s sweet as can be…?” Yep. A great bassline in that song, too. There’s just power there, I don’t know what it is, but that song rocks my soul.
“Don’t Give Up.” I love this song. Another great bassline. I really enjoy PG and Kate Bush singing together. It’s a story about a man unable to find/keep work and the trouble it causes his relationship with his wife/domestic partner and her trying to keep him motivated. Good double stops from Levin. It’s really intricate work.
“That Voice Again” is a song, as far as I can tell, about a person’s inner struggle with himself and decisions. Perhaps right and wrong, perhaps something they’ve already done and the demon/angel conscience debate? I’m not sure, but I like it.
“In Your Eyes.” I didn’t see Say Anything until way after it was released, so I don’t really associate it with that. The want to be with someone and how you work through everything to make it work; the ups and the downs. There’s a rumor that it was written for Rosanna Arquette, basically a response to Toto’s “Rosanna,” which also was reportedly written about/for her.
“Mercy Street.” Another haunting song. It’s based on the works of the American poet Anne Sexton and her poem, “45 Mercy Street” and is a song that NME magazine called one of the “10 Most Depressing Songs Ever.” PG even mentions Anne in the coda of the song. It features Larry Klein on bass.
“Big Time.” Another of my faves on the album, it features Stewart Copeland on drums and the song was where the idea of Levin’s “funk fingers” came from. The percussive bass sound, especially in the interlude between the opening chorus and first verse, was achieved by regular drummer Jerry Marotta playing the bass strings with his drumsticks while Levin fingered the fretboard. Ingenious, really. So Levin made “funk fingers” to attach to his fingertips to recreate that sound/technique live. He used it for more than “Big Time.” The song, itself, is about excess. Too much of just about everything. Great song.
“We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37).” Not really much about it other than giving yourself obediently to someone else, disregarding yourself. My least favorite tune on the album.
“This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds).” Co-written by Laurie Anderson, and included on her 1984 Mister Heartbreak album. The best I can figure, this is just a song about life. More specifically, looking at your life, not only from your perspective but perhaps from others’ as well? I’m really not sure. It’s a good listen, though, and the timings are a bit odd, but that is what makes it so cool, I think.
As I said in the review for the RS list, to say that I love this album wouldn’t really do it justice. It’s a sonic masterpiece and I don’t know how anyone couldn’t like it. Do I think it should be someone’s favorite album? Not at all. It just has all the components of all the “greatest of all time.” I just think it should be higher on that list. So, happy birthday So and thanks for being “so” important to me (see what I did there?). You sound better every time I listen.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“Anne, with her father is out in the boat. Riding the water, riding the waves on the sea.” – “Mercy Street” (Gabriel)