Peter Gabriel is known for being one of the most forward-thinking, imaginative musicians of our time. Both the albums he made with Genesis and as a solo artist reflect a commitment to spiritual lyrics and genre-blending sounds steeped in world music, prog, funk, folk, ambient and electronica -- and that's just scratching the surface. In honor of his birthday, here are the Top 10 Peter Gabriel Songs.
"No Way Out"From: ‘Up’ (2002)
Perhaps the most underrated solo album in Gabriel’s catalog, the dark materpiece Up works best as a cohesive whole. However, certain individual songs -- such as "No Way Out" -- resonate heavily on their own. Deep pools of tranquil piano, ambient guitar textures and hushed percussion burble underneath Gabriel’s grave singing voice as he pleads -- perhaps futilely -- for a victim of violence to stay alive.
"That Voice Again"From: ‘So’ (1986)
1986’s So is arguably Gabriel’s creative high point. That’s largely due to the ambitious scope of songs such as "That Voice Again." Yearning and plaintive, the song is Gabriel at his most straightforward lyrically; musically, the wistful tune balances moody keyboard swells, stormy programming and precise drum splatters. Emotional turbulence has seldom sounded so graceful, which qualifies the track as one of our Top 10 Peter Gabriel Songs.
"Digging in the Dirt"From: ‘Us’ (1992)
Video-wise, "Digging in the Dirt" is part of a stop-motion effects trilogy along with "Big Time" and "Sledgehammer." Musically, however, the song is an introspective gem, courtesy of deft Daniel Lanois production, lively Tony Levin bass barbs and anguished guitars. Gabriel’s lyrics are also angst-riddled, as they’re focused on the frightening task of uncovering deeply-felt emotional wounds: “I'm digging in the dirt / To find the places I got hurt.”
"Here Comes the Flood"From: ‘Peter Gabriel’ (1977)
A stunner from Gabriel's solo debut, "Here Comes the Flood" has emotional gravitas in spades. Although it’s a showcase for his voice (solemn on the verses, passionate and forceful on the choruses), the slow-burning song shines by assembling piano, organ, the London Symphony Orchestra and a wonderfully evocative, bluesy solo from Alice Cooper guitarist Dick Wagner. This towering instrumentation is matched only by the song’s lofty theme: bracing for -- and facing head-on -- a catastrophic, transformative event.
"I Have the Touch"From: ‘Security’ (1982)
Gabriel enthusiastically embraced keyboards and synthesizers in his solo work as the ’80s dawned. Exhibit A: "I Have the Touch," a post-Scary Monsters slab of primitive synth sculpting with a robotic sheen, thwacking drums and dusky vocals. The song’s refrain -- “I’m wanting contact, I'm wanting contact with you” -- reflects a hunger for touch that’s both desperate and primal.
"Solsbury Hill"From: ‘Peter Gabriel’ (1977)
Gabriel wasted no time establishing himself as a solo artist after leaving Genesis, thanks to the sublime "Solsbury Hill." Although nods to his prog past abound -- King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp plays on the track, and Gabriel himself contributes lilting flute -- the pastoral-pop tune sounds more like a bridge to Gabriel’s arty, kaleidoscopic rock future. Optimistic lyrics infused with religious metaphors and a focus on rebirth cement the song’s quiet brilliance.
"Games Without Frontiers"From: ‘Peter Gabriel’ (1980)
A condemnation of war, "Games Without Frontiers" employs icy synthesizers, knocking drums and crisp guitar swooshes. Ethereal vocals from frequent collaborator Kate Bush and plenty of whistling(!) adds to the unsettling, playground-from-hell vibe of the tune. The ambitious scope of the track makes it more than strong enough to appear on our list of the Top 10 Peter Gabriel Songs.
"Shock the Monkey"From: ‘Security’ (1982)
A Top 40 Billboard hit on both the pop and dance charts, "Shock the Monkey" has a funky underbelly and a taut, post-disco backbone. Disorienting keyboard shards and melodic hooks ping-pong over top, adding chaos to the proceedings while reinforcing the lyric’s repeated warnings to avoid awakening the (emotional) beast within.
"Sledgehammer"From: 'So' (1986)
In our review of the So reissue, we described "Sledgehammer" as “soul-stung funk [that] admittedly sounded (and still sounds) very 1987." That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however: The commercial (and video) success of "Sledgehammer" elevated Gabriel’s reputation in the U.S. and helped him receive mainstream notice, introducing him to a whole new generation of fans.
"Red Rain"From: ‘So’ (1986)
A reference to both acid rain and a wine-filled dream Gabriel had frequently, "Red Rain" marches forward on the strength of piano splashes, atmospheric programming and Tony Levin’s rubbery bass. Pattering hi-hat from the Police’s Stewart Copeland in the background adds just the right touch of vivid percussive color, propelling the track to the top of our Top 10 Peter Gabriel Songs.