Peter Gabriel

Peter Brian Gabriel (born 13 February 1950) is an English singer, musician, and songwriter who rose to fame as the lead vocalist and flautist of the progressive rock group Genesis. He is one of the most loved musicians in the prog scene. After leaving Genesis, Peter Gabriel went on to a successful solo career. His music has encompassed various styles ranging from progressive to pop rock and to world music. His 1986 album, So, is his most commercially successful, and the album's biggest hit, "Sledgehammer", won a record nine MTV Awards at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards, and the song is the most played music video in the history of the station. More recently, Gabriel has focused on producing and promoting world music and pioneering digital distribution methods for music. He has also been involved in various humanitarian efforts. Gabriel has won numerous music awards throughout his career, including three Brit Awards -winning Best British Male in 1987-, six Grammy Awards, thirteen MTV Video Music Awards, and in 2007 he was honoured as a BMI Icon at the 57th annual BMI London Awards for his “influence on generations of music makers.” Gabriel was also awarded the Polar Music Prize in 2009, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis in 2010.


Peter Gabriel played drums in his first rock bands. He founded Genesis in 1967 with fellow Charterhouse School pupils Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford, and drummer Chris Stewart. The name of the band was suggested by fellow Charterhouse alumnus, the pop music impresario Jonathan King, who produced their first album, From Genesis to Revelation. Gabriel was influenced by many different sources in his way of singing, such as Family lead singer Roger Chapman. In 1970, he played the flute on Cat Stevens' album, Mona Bone Jakon. Genesis drew some attention in Britain and eventually also in Italy, Belgium, Germany and other European countries, largely due to Peter Gabriel's flamboyant stage presence, which involved numerous bizarre costume changes and comical, dreamlike stories told as the introduction to each song (originally Gabriel developed these stories solely to cover the time between songs that the rest of the band would take tuning their instruments and fixing technical glitches). The concerts made extensive use of black light with the normal stage lighting subdued or off. A backdrop of fluorescent white sheets and a comparatively sparse stage made the band into a set of silhouettes, with Gabriel's fluorescent costume and make-up providing the only other sources of light. Early Genesis concerts were hampered by a bad PA system which made it difficult for audiences to understand what Gabriel was singing. According to Mike Rutherford, this drove Gabriel to find other ways to impress his personality on the audience, leading to his performing in various costumes. In an episode of the 2007 British documentary series Seven Ages of Rock, Steve Hackett recalled the first appearance of Gabriel in costume. It was the dress-wearing, fox-headed entity immortalised on the cover of Foxtrot. Hackett and the rest of the band had no inkling that Gabriel was going to do this, and at the time Hackett worried that it would ruin the performance. However, it was a success, encouraging Gabriel to continue wearing costumes while singing.

Among Gabriel's many famous costumes, which he developed to visualise the musical ideas of the band as well as to gain press coverage, were "Batwings" for the band's usual opening number, "Watcher of the Skies".

Other costumes included "The Flower" and "Magog", which were both alternately worn for "Supper's Ready" from the album Foxtrot.

"Britannia" was worn for "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight", and "The Reverend" for "The Battle of Epping Forest" (both from Selling England by the Pound).

"The Old Man" was worn for "The Musical Box" from Nursery Cryme. "The Slipperman" and "Rael" were worn during "The Colony of Slippermen", in which "Rael" was the protagonist of the album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Peter Gabriel recorded with Genesis six albums; the last of them was The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Tensions within the band led to Gabriel's departure from Genesis in 1975.

Solo career

Peter Gabriel started his solo career in 1977, and since then he has released 8 studio albums, 2 live albums, 3 original soundtracks and 3 compilations, always with the collaboration of a lot of different and great musicians and playing different musical styles. Gabriel refused to title any of his first four solo albums, which were all labelled Peter Gabriel using the same typeface, but which featured different cover designs by Hipgnosis; in all of these designs, Gabriel's face is wholly or partially obscured in some way. The albums are usually differentiated by number in order of release (1, 2, 3, 4), or by sleeve design, with the first three solo albums often referred to as Car, Scratch and Melt respectively, in reference to their cover artwork. His first two albums count with the production and guitars of King Crimson's Robert Fripp and Tony Levin on bass, being Tony an active member of Peter's band since then. His fourth solo album, also called Peter Gabriel, was titled Security in the U.S. at the behest of Geffen Records. After acquiescing to distinctive titles, Gabriel used a series of 2-letter words to title his next three albums: So, Us, and Up. His most recent greatest hits compilation is titled Hit; within the two-CD package, disc one is labelled "Hit" and disc two is labelled "Miss".

Peter Gabriel 1 (Car) cover
Peter Gabriel 2 (Scratch) cover
Peter Gabriel 3 (Melt) cover
Peter Gabriel 4 (Security) cover

1977-1985: Peter Gabriel albums (1, 2, 3, 4)

Gabriel recorded his first self-titled solo album, Peter Gabriel 1 (Car), in 1976 and 1977 with producer Bob Ezrin. His first solo success came with the single "Solsbury Hill", an autobiographical piece expressing his thoughts on leaving Genesis.

Solsbury Hill

His second solo LP, Peter Gabriel 2 (Scratch), in 1978, was leaner, darker and more experimental, and yielded decent reviews, but no major hits.

White Shadow

In 1980 two things happened, one was the release of Peter's third album Peter Gabriel 3 (Melt), this one being his most complete work till date in the opinion of a lot of fans, and also was the foundation of WOMAD (World Of Music, Arts and Dance) where Peter and other members of WOMAD played a series of festivals around the world, where they mixed traditional and modern music. Gabriel developed a new interest in world music (especially percussion), and for bold production, which made extensive use of recording tricks and sound effects. Gabriel's interest in music technology is considered by many people to be the spark of his success as it inspired his third album. The third album is often credited as the first LP to use the now-famous "gated drum" sound. Phil Collins played drums on several tracks, including the opener, "Intruder", which featured the reverse-gated, cymbal-less drum kit sound which Collins would also use through the 1980s. Gabriel had requested that his drummers use no cymbals in the album's sessions, and when he heard the result he asked Collins to play a simple pattern for several minutes, then built "Intruder" around it. The album achieved some chart success with the songs "Games Without Frontiers" (#4 U.K, #48 U.S.), and "Biko". Kate Bush sings backing vocals on this album.

No self control

Games without frontiers

Arduous and occasionally damp recording sessions at his rural English estate in 1981 and 1982 resulted in Gabriel's fourth LP release, on which Gabriel took more production responsibility. Peter Gabriel 4 was one of his first commercial albums recorded entirely to digital tape (using a Sony mobile truck), and featured the early, extremely expensive, Fairlight CMI sampling computer, which had already made its first brief appearances on the previous album. Gabriel combined a variety of sampled and deconstructed sounds with world-beat percussion, African sounds and other unusual instrumentation to create a radically new, emotionally charged soundscape; a different, more electronic sound. Furthermore, the sleeve art consisted of inscrutable, video-based imagery. Despite the album's peculiar sound, odd appearance, and often disturbing themes, it sold very well. This album featured his first Top 40 hit in the U.S., "Shock the Monkey", as well as the song "I Have the Touch". The music video for "Shock the Monkey", which featured Gabriel in white face paint and a caged macaque, received heavy play on MTV. Geffen records forced Gabriel to give his fourth self-titled album a name in the US, Security, to mark his arrival on the label and to differentiate his fourth album from the other three. Peter Hammill of Van der Graaf Generator sings backing vocals in some tracks of the album.

Gabriel toured extensively for each of his albums. Initially, he pointedly eschewed the theatrics that had defined his tenure with Genesis. For his second solo tour, his entire band shaved their heads. By the time of Security he began involving elaborate stage props and acrobatics which had him suspended from gantries, distorting his face with Fresnel lenses and mirrors, and wearing unusual make-up. Recordings of the 1982 tour supporting his Security album were released as the double LP Plays Live in 1983. Some of the dates of his 1983 summer tour of USA and Canada included a section opening for David Bowie.

The rhythm of the heat

Peter Gabriel developed his first original film soundtrack for Alan Parker's 1984 film Birdy, which consisted of new material as well as remixed instrumental tracks from his previous studio album.

Alan Parker's Birdy trailer-Peter Gabriel's soundtrack

1986-1994: So, Passion, Us albums

Gabriel achieved his greatest popularity with songs from the 1986 album So, his best selling album, with a clear pop sound. The album charted at number 1 in the UK Album Chart, and number 2 on the Billboard 200 in the US. It is certified triple platinum in the UK, and five times platinum in the US. The album produced three UK Top 20 hits, "Sledgehammer", "Big Time", and "Don't Give Up", a duet with Kate Bush. The album also produced three Top 40 hits in the U.S., "Sledgehammer", "In Your Eyes" (featured in the John Cusack film Say Anything), and "Big Time". "Sledgehammer" peaked at #1 in the U.S., knocking Genesis' "Invisible Touch" off the top spot, and #4 in the UK. The ballad "Don't Give Up" was about the devastation of unemployment. Gabriel co-produced So with Daniel Lanois, also known for his work with U2 and Brian Eno. In 1990, Rolling Stone ranked So number #14 on its list of "Top 100 Albums of the Eighties". Gabriel's song "Sledgehammer" was accompanied by a much-lauded music video, which was a collaboration with director Stephen R. Johnson, Aardman Animations, and the Brothers Quay. The video set a new standard for art in the music video industry, and won nine MTV Video Music Awards in 1987, a record which still stands. "Sledgehammer" is the most played music video in the history of MTV, and in 1998 it was named the station's number one animated video of all time. A follow-up video for the song "Big Time" also broke new ground in music video animation and special effects. The song is a story of "what happens to you when you become a little too successful", in Gabriel's words. The success of the album earned Peter Gabriel two awards at the Brit Awards in 1987: Best British Male Solo Artist and Best British Video for "Sledgehammer". Gabriel was also nominated for three Grammy Awards: Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year. In 1989, Gabriel released Passion, the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's movie The Last Temptation of Christ, one of his most experimental and innovative albums with a mix of different musical styles. For this work he received his first Grammy Award, in the category of Best New Age Performance. He also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score-Motion Picture.

Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ trailer-Peter Gabriel's soundtrack

Following this, Gabriel released Us in 1992 (also co-produced with Daniel Lanois), an album in which he explored the pain of recent personal problems. The first single of this album, "Digging in the Dirt", directed by John Downer, was accompanied by a disturbing video featuring Gabriel covered in snails and various foliage. The single "Come Talk To Me" directed by Matt Mahurin, featured backing vocals by Sinéad O'Connor. O'Connor also lent vocals to "Blood of Eden", directed by Nichola Bruce and Michael Coulson, the third single to be released from the album. It was one of Gabriel's most personal albums. It met with less success than So, reaching #2 in the album chart on both sides of the Atlantic, and making modest chart impact with the singles "Digging in the Dirt" and the funkier "Steam", which evoked memories of "Sledgehammer". Gabriel followed the release of the album with a world tour (with Paula Cole or Joy Askew filling O'Connor's vocal role) and accompanying double CD and DVD Secret World Live in 1994. Gabriel employed an innovative approach in the marketing of the Us album. Not wishing to feature only images of himself, he asked artist filmmakers Nichola Bruce and Michael Coulson to coordinate a marketing campaign using contemporary artists. Artists such as Helen Chadwick, Rebecca Horn, Nils Udo, Andy Goldsworthy, David Mach and Yayoi Kusama collaborated to create original artworks for each of the 11 songs on the multi-million-selling CD. Coulson and Bruce documented the process on Hi-8 video. Bruce left Real World and Coulson continued with the campaign, using the documentary background material as the basis for a promotional EPK, the long-form video All About Us and the interactive CD-ROM Xplora1. Gabriel won three more Grammy Awards, all in the Music Video category. He won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video in 1993 and 1994 for the videos to "Digging in the Dirt" and "Steam" respectively. Gabriel also won the 1996 Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video for his Secret World Live video.

1995-Present: OVO, Up, Scratch My Back, New Blood albums

After five years of not releasing any new music, Gabriel re-emerged with OVO, a soundtrack for the live Millennium Dome Show in London in 2000, and Long Walk Home, the music from the Australian movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, early in 2002. This soundtrack also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score–Motion Picture.

Phillip Noyce's Rabbit Proof Fence trailer-Peter Gabriel's soundtrack

In September 2002, Peter Gabriel released Up, his first full-length studio album in a decade. Entirely self-produced, Up returned to some of the themes of his work in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Three singles failed to make an impression on the charts -in part because almost every track exceeded six minutes in length, with multiple sections- but the album sold well globally, as Gabriel continued to draw from a loyal fan base from his almost forty years in the music business. Up was followed by a world tour featuring his daughter Melanie Gabriel on backing vocals, and two concert DVDs, Growing Up Live (2003) and Still Growing Up: Live & Unwrapped (2004).

My head sounds like that

In 2008, Gabriel contributed to the WALL-E soundtrack several new songs with Thomas Newman, including the film's closing song, "Down to Earth", for which they received the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. The song was also nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Original Song-Motion Picture and the Academy Award for Best Original Song. In 2010, Gabriel released Scratch My Back. The album is made up entirely of cover songs including material written by David Bowie, Lou Reed, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Regina Spektor, Neil Young, and more. The concept for the record is that Gabriel covers songs by various artists and those artists in turn will cover Gabriel songs to be released on a future follow-up album called I'll Scratch Yours. Scratch My Back features only orchestral instrumentation; there are no guitars, drums, or electronic elements that are usual attributes of Gabriel records. A very brief tour followed the album's release where Gabriel performed with a full orchestra and two female backup singers, his daughter Melanie Gabriel and Norwegian singer-songwriter Ane Brun. On 11 October 2011, Gabriel released New Blood, a collection of his earlier songs recorded with an orchestra. A special edition of the album features solely instrumental versions of some of the songs. In Autumn 2012, Gabriel embarked on the Back to Front Tour. Following this tour, Gabriel has revealed that he is going to take a year's sabbatical from the music industry in order to spend time with his family.

Studio albums

Peter Gabriel 1 (Car, 1977)
Peter Gabriel 2 (Scratch, 1978)
Peter Gabriel 3 (Melt, 1980)
Peter Gabriel 4 (Security, 1982)
So (1986)
Us (1992)
Up (2002)
Scratch My Back (2010)
New Blood (2011)


Birdy (1985)
Passion (1989)
OVO (2000)
Long Walk Home (2002)