Music Discoveries: Peter Gabriel, 70s and 80s Solo Career

After leaving Genesis, Peter Gabriel embarked on a solo career where he ventured into music unlike he created with the band.  His music was both experimental and political.  And yet, within 10 years, he would find himself at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, ironically usurping his former bandmates from their first #1 hit.

Title: Peter Gabriel (Car)
Released: February 25, 1977
Label: Charisma

Peter Gabriel makes his solo debut with the first of four eponymously-titled albums, much to the irritation of his record company. The album is a grab-bag of pop music genres, with a definite harder rock sound that Genesis on many of them, but also dabbling in the Blue and music hall. The standout track, of course, is “Solsbury Hill,” a folk rock tune that sounds nothing like Gabriel’s Genesis work. It’s clearly an all-time great song that somehow manages to get airplay on classic rock radio while also being a proto-alternative music favorite.

Rating: ***

Title: Peter Gabriel (Scratch)
Released: June 3, 1978
Label: Charisma

It’s kind of boring.  This album has a prog rock pedigree with hints New Wave/prog rock to come.  Something about the music sounds like a weird Peter Gabriel attempt pastiche of stars of the late 70s like Elton John, David Bowie, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, and maybe even Billy Joel. None of it really works or holds together well.

Rating:  **

Title: Peter Gabriel (Melt)
Released: May 30, 1980
Label: Charisma

Definitely a bolder and more confident album from Gabriel.  And with radio staples like “Games With Frontiers” and “Biko,” it’s more familiar as well. I also like “I Don’t Remember” quite a bit.  This album really puts Gabriel on track to blending art music with rock in a weird but accessible way. It’s also interesting to hear Phil Collins and his “gated drums” on several tracks. “Biko” includes Gabriel’s first efforts to incorporate “World Beat” sounds into his music.

Rating: ****

Title: Peter Gabriel (Security)
Released: September 8, 1982
Label: Charisma

I would not become familiar with Peter Gabriel’s music until he released So, but retrospectively this album was the source of a lot of Gabriel’s best-recognized 1980s material, including like “Shock the Monkey” and “I Have the Touch.”  I also like “Rhythm of the Heat” and “Kiss of Life” a lot.  Gabriel’s pop/art rock crossover sound is fully developed here with further exploration into African, Latin American, and Native American sounds.

Rating: ****

Title: Plays Live
Released: June 9, 1983
Label: Charisma

Peter Gabriel’s greatest solo tunes get punched up with live performance energy.  I particularly like “The Rhythm of the Heat.”  But have you ever noticed that “D.I.Y.” kind of sounds like an 80s sitcom theme?

Rating: ****

Title: Birdy
Released: March 18, 1985
Label: Charisma

Gabriel’s first movie score is a collection of atmospheric, instrumental pieces heavy on synthesizers and percussion.  Some of the tracks derive from Gabriel’s earlier work like “Rhythm of the Heat” and “San Jacinto.”  I really liked this a lot more than I expected.

Rating: ****

Title: So
Released: May 19, 1986
Label: Charisma

This is where I came in.  The bombastic horns of “Sledgehammer” were my introduction to Peter Gabriel.  And while So is Gabriel’s most pop and accessible recording of his career, it was still experimental enough to be a revelation to 12-year-old me, especially on tracks like “We Do What We’re Told” and “This is the Picture.”  The hit songs still sound fresh, “Don’t Give Up” still makes me cry, and I may be colored by nostalgia, but I can’t find anything objectively wrong with this album.

Rating: *****

Next week, Peter Gabriel launches a new record label for himself and for the world. This final post will bring us up to the present day.