Billboard #1s for the Week Ending May 31, 1986

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 Greatest Love of All Whitney Houston 3
R & B On My Own Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald 3
Country Whoever’s In New England Reba McEntire 1
Adult Contemporary Live to Tell Madonna 1
Rock Sledgehammer Peter Gabriel 1
Album Whitney Houston Whitney Houston 10

GabrielSledgehammerGenesisITouchThis week sees Genesis begin its complicated chart dominance. After becoming a trio — Tony Banks, Phil Collins, and Mike Rutherford — in 1977, they slowly began breaking into the Top 40, managing their first Top 10 with That’s All from their 12th album. In the meantime, Collins launched a successful solo career, including four #1 pop hits by mid-86. This week the lead single and title track from their 13th album, Invisible Touch, blasted onto the Hot 100 at #45.

The band’s first lead singer, Peter Gabriel, departed for a solo career in 1974. He had some success in the UK and managed one minor hit in the States. The lead single from his fifth album propelled him to stardom. With a solid dance beat and an innovative video, Sledgehammer caught on quickly, entering the Hot 100 on May 10 and becoming Gabriel’s second Top 40 this week, moving from #51 to #39. That put the singer and his old band on the charts with only six positions between them.

The songs paced each other up the charts, with Invisible Touch finally overtaking Sledgehammer when they both entered the Top 10 on June 28. Three weeks later, Genesis notched their first #1 and Gabriel eased up to #2. The following week, Gabriel took over the top, the only time in chart history that a former lead singer has replaced his band at #1. Gabriel managed a few more sizable hits while Genesis became surprising chart champs, logging five Top Five singles from Invisible Touch.

Regarding that complicated dominance I mentioned: This week finds FIVE Genesis-related acts in the Top 50, all of which would share the Top 40 the following week. GTR, featuring former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, moved from #43 to #40 on their way to #14 with When the Heart Rules the Mind. Phil Collins was wrapping up his successful run of hits from No Jacket Required, with Take Me Home — the fourth single — dropping from its #7 peak to #16. Mike Rutherford’s side project Mike + the Mechanics moved their second single from #10 to #6, getting ready to peak at #5 the following week.

That’s a pretty remarkable chart collection, something no band other than the Beatles (at the height of their early-70s solo careers) has even come close to. That Genesis pulled it off nearly 20 years after they formed is quite a feat.

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Song of the Day, March 29: Frag mich nicht immer by Peter Gabriel

GabrielEDAFragToday’s song is a brilliant result from a curious experiment. After releasing his third eponymous album (known as “Melt” from the cover photograph), Peter Gabriel did something unexpected. He remixed the tracks, recording some new elements, and recorded all new vocals. With the help of Horst Königstein, he rewrote the whole album in German, and delivered a package that is similar to the English original, but eerily different. The translated lyrics are excellently crafted, capturing the spirit of the English without trying to stick to the precise words. If you don’t know German, the soundscapes of the album become more mysterious and menacing, with Gabriel’s voice taking on the role of a compelling new instrument. When it works, it’s an impressive effort that ties into his work with World Music nicely.

The finest moment is a blend of the instrumental track Start and the song I Don’t Remember. Reworked as Frag mich nicht immer (literally “don’t ever ask me”), it exceeds the power and menace of the original by a mile. Gabriel’s vocal is sinister and demanding and the reworked backing is urgently dark. Not every German take is as interesting, but this one makes it all worthwhile.

Enjoy this linguistic triumph today.

Song of the Day, May 26: The Rhythm of the Heat by Peter Gabriel

GabrielRhythmToday’s song is the opening track from Peter Gabriel’s brilliant fourth album, dubbed Security by his US label. It’s a perfect start to the disc, showcasing the singer’s growing interest in sounds from around the world. The track was inspired by the work of psychoanalyst Carl Jung, whose experiences in East Africa in the 1920s helped shape his work. Building on observations Jung made after watching African drummers, Gabriel crafts a powerful portrait of traditional art. He mixes his vocals low, allowing the dance troupe that features on the track to be as significant as the lyrics. The overall effect is a compelling blend of the modern with the traditional. Gabriel carefully builds the tension as the drums become more dominant, concluding with an almost ecstatic burst of drumming that brings perfect closure to the ceremonial feel of the proceedings.

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Song of the Day, December 4: Mother of Violence by Peter Gabriel

GabrielScratchMotherToday’s song is Mother of Violence from Peter Gabriel’s second eponymous disc, nicknamed “Scratch” for the distinctive cover image by Hipgnosis. Gabriel’s first solo disc after leaving Genesis (Peter Gabriel I or “Car”) was ambitious, exploring many of the things he wanted to do but felt constrained by the structure of the band. Scratch is more focused, in part thanks to stellar production by Robert Fripp, but lacks the messy joy of Car and the brilliant, almost claustrophobic focus of Peter Gabriel III (“Melt”). It’s an intriguing set, however, and features a handful of strong tracks that hold up well 35 years later.

A highlight is Mother of Violence an exploration of psychological themes that would become central to some of Gabriel’s finest songs in the coming years. It’s very much a less-is-more song, with minimalist instrumentation, dominated by a creepy off-kilter piano that sounds like it comes from a haunted dance hall. Gabriel’s vocal is equally spare, a rough whisper in his higher register, serving the dark meditation of the lyrics nicely. The overall effect is perfect, a tense, compelling meditation on the power of fear.

Mouth all dry eyes blood shot
data stored in microdot
Kicking the cloud with my moccasin shoes
T.V. dinner, T.V. news

Fear, fear — she’s the mother of violence
don’t make any sense to watch the way she breed
Fear, she’s the mother of violence
making me tense to watch the way she feed

Enjoy this compelling song today.

Song of the Day, June 6: Family Snapshot by Peter Gabriel

GabrielSnapshotToday’s song is Family Snapshot from Peter Gabriel’s powerful, third eponymous album. One of his most compelling, complex narratives, it provides the first-person account of an assassin. Gabriel was inspired by the autobiography An Assassin’s Diary, the story of Arthur Bremner who attempted to kill George Wallace. Making the specific incident more abstract, Gabriel weaves in elements from the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Gabriel sets the stage brilliantly, building the tension as he describes various elements of the lethal day. The music is chilling but meditative, building to a rock crescendo and then crashing back to quiet sorrow. The listener gets a tragic glimpse into the lonely childhood of the shooter, not quite making him sympathetic, but clearly illustrating his dark humanity. Family Snapshot is an amazing song, perfectly constructed, and remains one of Gabriel’s finest moments.

Enjoy this dark narrative today.

Album of the Week, April 13: “Security” by Peter Gabriel

Gabriel, Peter - SecurityPeter Gabriel was born in 1950 in Surrey, England. He began attending the Charterhouse School in 1963, where he met four other lads and formed the band Genesis. They became leaders in the growing progressive rock movement, releasing six albums in six years that featured epic songs with a distinctively English fabulist tone. As Gabriel’s prominence in the band caused some tension given its collectivist history, he began to develop an interest in other musical styles and song structures. Things came to a head with 1975’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway a two-disc epic that made the most of the tensions but convinced Gabriel it was time to strike out on his own.

He released three albums between 1977 and 1980, all titled Peter Gabriel (“like issues of a magazine,” Gabriel observed.) Affectionately known as “Car” (1977), “Scratch” (1978), and “Melt” (1980) for their cover features, the three showed his rapid growth as a songwriter and musician, with a focus on dark narratives, psychology, and relationships. Gabriel also developed a strong interest in musical styles and structures outside the rock mainstream, including a fascination with traditional African and Native American music. Those forces came to the fore as he recorded his fourth album.

Title Peter Gabriel (4 aka Security)
Act Peter Gabriel
Label Geffen Release Date September 6, 1982
Producer David Lord and Peter Gabriel
U.S. Chart  28 U.K. Chart  6
Tracks [US Hot 100]
  1. The Rhythm of the Heat
  2. San Jacinto
  3. I Have the Touch
  4. The Family and the Fishing Net
  5. Shock the Monkey [#29]
  6. Lay Your Hands On Me
  7. Wallflower
  8. Kiss of Life

Gabriel titled the disc Peter Gabriel again, but his North American label, Geffen, insisted on a “real” title, adding a sticker to the albums calling it Security. It’s an interesting choice that — despite Gabriel’s well-known objections — captures the spirit of things nicely. One of the first full-digital recordings, it features his growing mastery of sampling and synthesisers, his strong knowledge of standard rock instrumentation — complete with a solid backing band, and his new interests in so-called World Music. The result is a strong, cohesive album that serves as the high point of a fascinating career.

Gabriel introduces the album with The Rhythm of the Heat, a narrative inspired by Carl Jung’s experiences with traditional African drummers. It’s a perfect welcome, capturing his own intent through story, a theme that fits the traditionalist thread that runs through the disc. A powerful song that mixes the modern with the ancient, it works on multiple levels, emphasized by mixing the vocals low enough to allow the dance troupe drumming to share the lead. San Jacinto crosses the Atlantic to study the plight of the Native American. Opening with a fragile synth line that sounds just traditional enough to be jarring and comforting at once, Gabriel moves his vocals to the fore as befits the oral history. I Have the Touch is a driving rocker, pondering the rituals that persist in modern life and the ways we interact. The use of the world beat rhythms to underpin the song both propels it and emphasized the “the more things change…” theme of the album. The Family and the Fishing Net takes a much more subtle approach, comparing modern Western weddings with older traditions. Using Gabriel’s proven technique of short, elliptical fragments woven into an emotive tapestry, it’s an oddly compelling piece that works its magic with or without the words.

Shock the Monkey was his first big international hit (reaching #1 on the US Rock Chart for two weeks), introducing him to American audiences. A dark meditation on jealousy, it uses animalistic images to show just how close we are to our evolutionary ancestors. It’s an amazing song that helped open the doors for other rock musicians to explore alterative musical styles as the 80s moved forward. Lay Your Hands On Me is a moving chant about trust — with darkness all around the edges. Gabriel’s urgent plea shows off his growth as a vocalist nicely as well. Wallflower, a more abstract approach to the themes he explored in 1980’s Biko, was inspired by the plight of political prisoners in Latin America. A quietly powerful song, it works as a reflection on psychological imprisonment as well. With its slow build and demanding closing, it’s one of Gabriel’s finest songs. Things wrap up  brilliantly with the celebratory Kiss of Life. A lusty dance tune built on tribal rhythms, it sets the stage for his more typical rock success while perfectly summing up this album on an uncharacteristically joyous note.

FURTHER LISTENING: For just over a decade, Peter Gabriel was a fairly prolific, rapidly growing force in rock music. His interest in synthesizers and traditional rhythms grew and merged, creating a unique, powerful sound. From 1977 to 1989 he released five traditional studio albums, a double live set, and two interesting (mostly instrumental) soundtracks. Since then, his productivity and creativity have levelled off noticeably, although every album has something to offer. “Melt” (aka Peter Gabriel 3) is a close contender for his finest work. Compared with Security, it is arguably a stronger album lyrically but not quite as important  a landmark in his career or the musical landscape. (Curiously, Gabriel re-recorded both his materspieces with German lyrics. The results are surprisingly compelling and recommended for real fans.) So is his commercial high point, featuring the great #1 romp Sledgehammer. It’s experimental moments, however, trend toward the quirky rather than the groundbreaking. Gabriel’s work is sadly short on effective anthologies. He leans on live albums which show off his creativity nicely but often present quite different interpretations of familiar songs. The best overview of origianl material is 1990’s Shaking the Tree. It’s heavy on tracks from So (which makes it easier not to bother with that disc) and completely omits any of the handful of truly wonderful songs on his second album (“Scratch”). It’s a fine purchase for casual fans or those interested in his international hits. Serious listeners should pick up all four “Peter Gabriel” releases instead and toss in So for completeness.

Song of the Day, December 17: Shock the Monkey by Peter Gabriel

GabrielMonkeyToday’s song is Shock the Monkey by Peter Gabriel. For his fourth solo album, Gabriel’s U.S. label (Geffen) opted to break his string of eponymous discs. They retitled it Security and gave it a major push. The mix of world beat sounds — unusual at the time — and Gabriel’s growing confidence as solo artist resulted in an amazing package. Shock the Monkey was its first single and became Gabriel’s first Top 40 hit in the States, peaking at #29 in early 1983.

Despite Gabriel’s acknowledged fascination with mental manipulation and strong stand on animal rights, this song is about neither. Gabriel himself describes it as a song about jealousy and its power to poison love, using the monkey as a vivid symbol. With its irresistible hook and distinctive vocals, it set the stage for his massive stardom looming around the corner.

Fox the fox
Rat on the rat
You can ape the ape
I know about that
There is one thing you must be sure of
I can’t take any more
Darling, don’t you monkey with the monkey

Enjoy this powerful hit today.

Song of the Day, February 13: I Have the Touch by Peter Gabriel

GabrielTouchToday’s song is I Have the Touch by Peter Gabriel. It appears on his fourth solo album, originally titled Peter Gabriel (like its three predecessors) but labelled Security by Geffen for U.S. release. As with most of the album, it uses a variety of electronic instruments together with African and Native American musical styles and percussion to create a distinctive sound.

The song is narrated by a man going through everyday interactions with other people — dealing with rush hour, attending parties, making business connections. Gabriel explores the animalistic nature of many of the rituals of interaction. It’s one of his best mergings of music and theme, and his vocals are urgent and compelling.

Wanting contact
I’m wanting contact
I’m wanting contact with you
Shake those hands, shake those hands
Give me the thing I understand

Today is Peter Gabriel’s 63rd birthday. Enjoy this wonderful song and wish him many happy returns.

Song of the Day, September 21: Games Without Frontiers by Peter Gabriel

Today’s song is Games Without Frontiers by Peter Gabriel. It appears on his third solo album, 1980’s Peter Gabriel (third in a series with that title.) It’s the album where Gabriel really comes into his own after leaving Genesis four years earlier, blending his interest in exotic instrumentation, great rock/pop sensibility, and his progressive rock roots.

Games Without Frontiers is one of his finest moments. It draws its title from an old European game show, Jeux Sans Frontières, which pitted contestants from various towns around the continent against each other in odd competitions and bizarre costumes. The show had a heavy element of nationality, which Gabriel skewers nicely in the lyrics. The British version of the show was called It’s A Knockout. Both titles are repeated in the lyrics, the French in a wonderfully creepy chant by Kate Bush. The song is a strong protest against war, mindless nationalism, and dividing people who should work together to improve the world.

Hans plays with Lotte, Lotte plays with Jane
Jane plays with Willi, Willi is happy again
Suki plays with Leo, Sacha plays with Britt
Adolf builds a bonfire, Enrico plays with it
Whistling tunes we hid in the dunes by the seaside
Whistling tunes we’re kissing baboons in the jungle
It’s a knockout
If looks could kill, they probably will
In games without frontiers-war without tears
Jeux sans frontieres

The video is also quite remarkable, especially for such an early example of the form. A wonderful pastiche of game show footage, nationalistic imagery, and creepy Gabriel cavorting, it’s very compelling and perfectly suited to the song’s content. (Bonus creep-out factor for Gabriel nicely lip-synching the Bush vocals…) Games Without Frontiers was Gabriel’s biggest hit in the U.K, peaking at #4. It pre-dated his U.S. success, stalling out at #48 during this week in 1980. Celebrate the International Day of Peace and enjoy this classic song today.

Song of the Day, February 13: Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel

Today’s song is Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel. After helping found Genesis in 1967, Gabriel found growing success as the band helped pioneer the art-rock sound and aesthetic. Over time, his increasing notoriety as the public face of the band created some tension within what had always been seen as a cooperative. After the challenging birth of his daughter, Gabriel opted to take some time away from Genesis and never returned.

 Solsbury Hill, Gabriel’s first solo single, is an exploration of his decision to leave the band. It is a wonderful exploration of independence, regret, and affirmation.

When illusion spin her net
I’m never where I want to be
And liberty she pirouette
When I think that I am free
Watched by empty silhouettes
Who close their eyes but still can see
No one taught them etiquette
I will show another me
Today I don’t need a replacement
I’ll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” I said “You can keep my things,
they’ve come to take me home.”

Today is Peter Gabriel’s 62nd birthday; wish him many happy returns and enjoy this magnificent song today.

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