Progressive is a term you hear thrown around a lot these days. If a band plays music that isn’t easily categorized they are sometimes called Progressive. If your insurance company comes with its own name your own price gun it’s called Progressive. If you like your Government leading reform they call you Progressive. It’s even the name of complicated software that enables enterprises to be operationally responsive to real time changing conditions and customer interactions; whatever that means. There are some bands, like Rush and Jethro Tull, that are so unique, that they are lumped in with the Progressive Rock genre. Emerson, Lake & Palmer could be construed as classical Rock as opposed to Classic Rock. It’s kind of a throwaway catch all tag that bands with long tracks sometimes get bestowed on them. The Giants of Progressive Rock are mostly King Crimson, early Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd. One of the biggest proponents of Progressive Rock out there today is Porcupine Tree. I’ll always have a soft spot for Progressive Rock myself. I don’t need insurance, software or big government, but I do like my Prog Rock. Of the four bands I just referred to as giants the records to own are In The Court of The Crimson King, which I’ve written about it the past here, Yes’ Close To The Edge or Relayer (for pure Prog), Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon (or Meddle or Animals or…) and any number of Genesis classics before 1978. I did write about The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and Genesis before, but I didn’t say too much about Peter Gabriel. The Giant Panther, who emerges to see his shadow about once a year it seems, wrote about the Peter Gabriel Solo record Security a few million months back here. I came to discuss Peter this time around.
Peter Brian Gabriel was born on February 13, 1950. That means he’s got ten years and one month, give or take two days, on yours truly. I’ve seen him live about six times I figure, but I’ve been a fan of his for many years. I can remember the first time I heard “Solsbury Hill” from Peter Gabriel solo record one on the radio. 102.7 WNEW-FM in New York City was the messenger. Anyone with a modicum of musical savvy knew right away that this track was special. It had that Genesis feel and that familiar Genesis voice, only it wasn’t Genesis. It was Peter Gabriel striking out on his own. The album, the first of four simply titled Peter Gabriel, is mostly referred to as “Car” or “Rain” by those who have been around a while (hey, that’s me!). Folks who bought it upon it’s release in February of 1977 expecting a bunch of tracks that sounded just like “Solsbury Hill” were very disappointed. The song allegedly describes his departure from Genesis, but the melody is so gorgeous I never made the connection until I sat down with the lyrics. I know I’ve mentioned this in the past, but lyrics were near impossible to come by in the 70′s and I’m not sure what that was all about. Wasn’t there more money to be made by having people follow your meaning and by having other artists covering your songs? Today, fortunately, if you can’t understand Mick Jagger singing “scarred old slaver knows he’s doin’ alright, hear him whip the women just around midnight” you just look it up. God I love the Internet. I can’t remember what life was like before I fell in love with being connected. I have two dinosaur friends who just don’t get the Internet. Fools.
I was 17, with a nod to Janis Ian, when I first heard Peter Gabriel’s solo material. Aside from “Solsbury Hill” I was having trouble grasping it. Boy would that change. His second album, also called Peter Gabriel, but referred to as “Scratching,” was released in June of 1978. Ah, the summer before college. I don’t remember much about that summer, but it was full of antici-pay-shun as Tim Curry might sing in “Sweet Transvestite.” I know I painted houses for my album money, but that feels like another lifetime now. Peter Gabriel II has a two song intro that killed. “On The Air” into “D.I.Y.” showed that Gabriel was finding his groove. It wasn’t exactly “Heartbreaker” into “Living Loving Maid,” but it was damn solid. That gives me an idea for a future post; great run on tracks. Two songs at most. I can’t do Triple Plays like “Sailin’ Shoes, Hey Julia and Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley.” I missed the late Robert Palmer’s birthday last month and that aggravated me, but I’ll be back next year. This working for a living is mur-der and it’s seriously cramping my prolific posting lifestyle as you can probably tell. And no full Cars albums with inseparable songs all blended together. I’m talking strong two-fers. That’s going to take some research and diligence, but I’m capable of that. At least I used to be. Peter Gabriel II had some other great tracks like “A Wonderful Day in a One Way World,” but it still wasn’t the Peter Gabriel we knew he had in him. His next LP, Peter Gabriel III or “Melt,” released in May of 1980 remains my favorite Peter Gabriel record.
Has there ever been a song that sounded like “Games Without Frontiers?” What a masterpiece as far as I’m concerned. This record was loaded though. “No Self Control, I Don’t Remember, And Through The Wire, Not One of Us and Biko” were fantastic across the board. The cover of the album? A ten. Now we knew exactly what Genesis might have sounded like if they had remained intact. I do want to make mention that Genesis behind Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and Steve Hackett performed brilliantly just after Peter Gabriel left Genesis. I can’t think of single band that lost a lead singer as great as Gabriel and came back with music as good as Genesis has with 1976′s (February) Trick of The Tail and 1976′s (December) Wind & Wuthering. Even after Steve Hackett left the band they miraculously produced three more very good records in 1978′s …And Then There Were Three… followed by 1980′s Duke and 1981′s Abacab. These weren’t merely good records…they were great records in my opinion. The quality eventually fizzled and ultimately dissolved into Phil Collins sappy 1980′s ballads (that sold millions I’m sorry to say), but I remain extremely impressed by what Genesis was able to accomplish between 1976 and 1981. It’s really quite extraordinary. It’s miraculous when you get one good record out of a new lead singer. Another great Prog Rock band, Marillion, who probably wouldn’t exist without Genesis in the first place, was also able to make the transition from Fish to Steve Hogarth appear quite seamless although Fish fans still argue that point. This isn’t Van Hagar here, but what Peter Gabriel was able to do against the back drop of Genesis soldiering on just fine without him is really amazing to me. It had to be in the back of his mind.
Remember when Paul McCartney was sitting around moping about the break up of The Beatles before getting his butt in gear with Bowl of Cherries, Ram, Red Rose Speedway and eventually Band On The Run? Gabriel could have done that too. In all fairness maybe he did a little bit between 1975 and 1977. Did you know that Peter Gabriel played the flute on Mona Bone Jakon, the Cat Stevens release in 1970? I didn’t either. The thing is Peter Gabriel III was a monster success on any level and Gabriel was now back on par with his salad days and his old band Genesis. The success of Duke in 1980 had DJ’s programming “Turn It On Again” next to ”Games Without Frontiers.” Pretty wild stuff. Genesis had a ton of success in 1986 with a middling album called Invisible Touch, but Gabriel countered with what most folks would consider his best record in So. I didn’t mean to skip over 1982′s Security with it’s brilliant tracks like “I Have The Touch” and “Shock The Monkey,” but the contrast of Gabriel’s career and Genesis’ 1983 release boringly titled Genesis was becoming stark. Genesis seemed to be running out of ”Steam” (to name check another great Peter Gabriel track from 1992′s Us) while Gabriel was beginning to really sell some records. 1986′s So was a monster smash hit record. The videos dominated MTV and Peter Gabriel’s name and face were everywhere. Hold the phone though; So was one fantastic record. This was one of those records that just didn’t stop giving as the radio played. “Sledgehammer, Red Rain, That Voice Again, Big Time, In Your Eyes” and the Kate Bush cameo in ”Don’t Give Up” meant that So was on the air for a year plus. I read somewhere that “In Your Eyes” is one of the most popular wedding songs even today. I remember a couple of friends of mine used it as their wedding song as well.
It was going to be hard to match the success of So going forward for Gabriel, but those of us who loved him all along soaked up 1992′s Us and 2002′s Up without hearing a note. He finally released another record called Scratch My Back in 2010. It has an eclectic mix of music that he covers. Everybody from David Bowie to Paul Simon to Elbow to Magnetic Fields to The Arcade Fire to Radiohead to Neil Young to Talking Heads…it’s really an experiment and I’m not yet sure how I feel about it. 2002′s Up was a much better record than anyone would know and that tour was brilliant for my money. Still, Peter only releases what he wants when he wants nowadays. I usually don’t pay much attention to greatest hits records when I own the catalogue, but I think he’s got a couple three out there. I’ll link into one below for you. In the meantime Happy 61st Birthday Peter from The Giant Panther. I know you are not a Pop Star any longer, if you ever were, but don’t be afraid to do some original material before the decade is over. Eight years between records is kind of a drag for your die hard fans.
Buy or Download Shaking The Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats From Amazon Here.