Peter Gabriel, born February 13 1950, in Woking, Surrey, England, is the musician who was lead singer of the progressive rock band Genesis before embarking on a successful career as a solo artist. He was known for the intelligence and depth of his lyrics and for his commitment to various political causes.
Gabriel left Genesis in 1975 and developed a deep interest in world music rhythms and textures, reflected in four eponymous albums (the last, released in 1982, was titled Security for its American release), while songs like “Games Without Frontiers” and “Biko” announced his political convictions. This two-sided involvement in Third World affairs led to his cofounding of the WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) Festival in 1982 and Real World Records in 1989. His 1986 album, So, was a more personal statement; strengthened by the contributions of Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, and Senegalese pop star Youssou N’Dour, it brought Gabriel critical acclaim and was a multimillion-seller. His next album, Passion: Music for “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1989), featured a number of African and Middle Eastern artists (several of whom released albums with Real World) and won a Grammy Award. Gabriel’s work also has been marked by an imaginative visual component. His performances with Genesis were noted for their supreme theatricality, and his music videos set new standards for the nascent medium; the video for “Sledgehammer” was voted best video of all time by Rolling Stone magazine in 1993, and two of Gabriel’s other videos, based on his 1992 album Us, won Grammy Awards in 1992 and 1993.
Opera, Blood, and Tears
The Life You Give: Peter Gabriel
in celebration of his life in music
February 13 at 1pm EST
In 1994 Gabriel released Xplora 1, one of the first multimedia CD-ROMs created by a mainstream artist, and six years later he composed OVO, a multimedia presentation for London’s Millennium Dome. In 2000 Gabriel showed that he remained ahead of the technological curve when he founded On Demand Distribution, an Internet service that became one of Europe’s leading online music providers; he later sold the company for $38 million. New material emerged in a slow trickle from the Real World studios as Gabriel contributed single songs to film sound tracks or appeared as a guest performer on other artists’ albums. In 2002 he released Long Walk Home, his score to the film Rabbit-Proof Fence, and he followed later that year with Up, his first full-length studio release in 10 years. The former recalled his work on Passion, while the latter was a dark meditation on loss and longing.
The year 2008 saw the realization of Big Blue Ball, a world music project that had been 17 years in the making, and the resulting album featured performances by Gabriel, Sinead O’Connor, Joseph Arthur, and a host of international artists. Gabriel once again distinguished himself for his sound track work with Pixar Animation’s WALL∙E (2008). Collaborating with composer Thomas Newman, Gabriel crafted “Down to Earth,” an upbeat track that won the Grammy Award for best song written for a motion picture in 2009. He later released Scratch My Back (2010), on which he performed orchestrally arranged songs by musicians he admired; several of them in turn covered songs by Gabriel on And I’ll Scratch Yours (2013). Symphonic orchestration also adorned New Blood (2011), on which Gabriel himself reinterpreted selections from his catalog. Live Blood, a recording of a 2011 concert, was released in 2012. He released two compilation albums in 2019: Rated PG, a collection of songs he had contributed to movies, and Flotsam and Jetsam, consisting of B-sides, rarities, and previously unreleased songs.
In 2008 Gabriel received the Ambassador of Conscience award from Amnesty International for the decades of support he had given that organization. The following year the Royal Swedish Academy of Music conveyed upon him the Polar Music Prize for lifetime achievement, stating that Gabriel had “redefined the very concept” of popular music. Gabriel was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis (2010) and as a solo artist (2014).
As the leader of Genesis in the early ’70s, Peter Gabriel helped move progressive rock to new levels of theatricality. He was no less ambitious as a solo artist, but he was more subtle in his methods. With his eponymous debut solo album in 1977, he explored dark, cerebral territory, incorporating avant-garde, electronic, and worldbeat influences into his music. The record, as well as its two similarly titled successors, established Gabriel as a critically acclaimed cult artist, and with 1982’s Security, he began to move into the mainstream; “Shock the Monkey” became his first Top 40 hit, paving the way for his breakthrough So in 1986. Accompanied by a series of groundbreaking videos and the number one single “Sledgehammer,” So became a multi-platinum hit, and Gabriel emerged as an international pop star. Instead of capitalizing on his sudden success, Gabriel founded the Real World label, which proved an invaluable channel for international artists of every stripe to ply their trade. All this and his shepherding of political causes such as Amnesty International gained him a reputation as a true nobleman of the pop world.
Following his departure from Genesis in 1976, Peter Gabriel began work on the first of three consecutive eponymously titled albums; each record was named Peter Gabriel, he said, as if they were editions of the same magazine. In 1977, his first solo album appeared and became a moderate success due to the single “Solsbury Hill.” Another self-titled record followed in 1978, yet received comparatively weaker reviews. Gabriel’s third eponymous album proved to be his artistic breakthrough, however. Produced by Steve Lillywhite and released in 1980, the record established Gabriel as one of rock’s most ambitious, innovative musicians, as well as one of its most political — “Biko,” a song about a murdered anti-apartheid activist, became one of the biggest protest anthems of the ’80s. “Games Without Frontiers,” with its eerie chorus, nearly reached the Top 40.
Source: all music
“The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”
Given all the overt literary references of Selling England by the Pound, along with their taste for epic suites such as “Supper’s Ready,” it was only a matter of time before Genesis attempted a full-fledged concept album, and 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was a massive rock opera: the winding, wielding story of a Puerto Rican hustler name Rael making his way in New York City. Peter Gabriel made some tentative moves toward developing this story into a movie with William Friedkin but it never took off, perhaps it’s just as well; even with the lengthy libretto included with the album, the story never makes sense. But just because the story is rather impenetrable doesn’t mean that the album is as well, because it is a forceful, imaginative piece of work that showcases the original Genesis lineup at a peak. Even if the story is rather hard to piece together, the album is set up in a remarkable fashion, with the first LP being devoted to pop-oriented rock songs and the second being largely devoted to instrumentals. This means that The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway contains both Genesis’ most immediate music to date and its most elliptical. Depending on a listener’s taste, they may gravitate toward the first LP with its tight collection of ten rock songs, or the nightmarish landscapes of the second, where Rael descends into darkness and ultimately redemption (or so it would seem), but there’s little question that the first album is far more direct than the second and it contains a number of masterpieces, from the opening fanfare of the title song to the surging “In the Cage,” from the frightening “Back in NYC” to the soothing conclusion “The Carpet Crawlers.” In retrospect, this first LP plays a bit more like the first Gabriel solo album than the final Genesis album, but there’s also little question that the band helps form and shape this music (with Brian Eno adding extra coloring on occasion), while Genesis shines as a group shines on the impressionistic second half. In every way, it’s a considerable, lasting achievement and it’s little wonder that Peter Gabriel had to leave the band after this record: they had gone as far as they could go together, and could never top this extraordinary album.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine / Source: all music
“The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”
“Fly on a Windshield”
“Broadway Melody of 1974”
“In the Cage”
“The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”
“Back in N.Y.C.”
“Counting Out Time”
“The Chamber of 32 Doors”
“The Waiting Room”
“Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist”
“Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats”
“The Colony of Slippermen”
“A Visit to the Doktor”
“The Light Dies Down on Broadway”
“Riding the Scree”
“In the Rapids”
– – –
Peter Gabriel – lead vocals, flute, varied instruments, “experiments with foreign sounds”
Steve Hackett – acoustic and electric guitars
Mike Rutherford – bass guitar, 12-string guitar
Tony Banks – Hammond T-102 organ, RMI 368 Electra Piano and Harpsichord, Mellotron M-400, ARP Pro Soloist synthesizer, Elka Rhapsody string synthesizer, acoustic piano
Phil Collins – drums, percussion, vibraphone, backing vocals, second lead vocal on “Counting out Time”, “The Supernatural Anaesthetist” and “The Colony of Slippermen”
Brian Eno – Enossification (vocal treatments) on “In the Cage” and “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”