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Music

Peter Gabriel's six favourite songs of all time

It’s safe to say that Peter Gabriel has enjoyed a stellar career. Having first made his name as the frontman of prog-rock titans Genesis, Gabriel would leave the band in 1975, launching what was to be a long and fruitful solo profession with the single ‘Solsbury Hill’.

Whilst Gabriel has released many iconic titles over his career, undoubtedly the most famous and his best-selling is 1986’s multiple platinum So, which features ‘Sledgehammer’, ‘In Your Eyes’ and ‘Don’t Give Up’. Although he’d long since been established as one of the most refreshing and individualistic artists on the planet, So confirmed him as one of the all-time greats. It was sophisti-pop that went way further than the likes of Grace Jones and Phil Collins. 

In Genesis, Gabriel showed that he could write a rather ephemeral pastoral piece with ease, but it was as a solo artist that he truly developed as an artist, employing a wide range of influences to create cerebral soundscapes that are best described as being far ahead of their time. 

Gabriel went from being a man principally concerned with the ancient magic of the southwest of England to one who looked to exotic climes to find inspiration. Given that he is so revered, speaking to ABC News, Gabriel revealed his six favourite songs of all time and explained why they are so important to him. Expect to see some classics. 

Peter Gabriel’s favourite songs:

The Beatles – ‘Please Please Me’, Please Please Me (1963)

The title track of The Beatles’ debut album, there’s no real surprise that Gabriel chose ‘Please Please Me’, especially considering that it was only the second time that anyone had heard the soon-to-be iconic sounds of the Liverpool quartet, building on the foundations laid with their debut hit ‘Love Me Do’. Written by Lennon-McCartney and produced by George Martin, this was the band just warming up for a career that was to change the world.

“The first record I bought when I saved up my pocket money was With The Beatles,” Gabriel said. “‘Please, Please Me’ was coming over the radio. I would sit in the back of my parents’ car when we were on these long drives down to the coast. And what people forget, I think, is that at the time, it was really rebellious, rough, mischievous and full of life, and irresistible to any young person. The Beatles were a huge influence as I was growing up, and continued to be as there was all that revolution around their success.”

Otis Redding – ‘Change Gonna Come’, Otis Blue (1965)

Otis Redding’s cover of soul and R&B master Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ came as part of his 1965 album Otis Blue. At the time, Redding said that he was attempting to “fill the silent void” left by Cooke’s murder. Retitling the song ‘Change Gonna Come’, it features more restraint than the original, with the notable absence of orchestration conveying the point clearly.

Gabriel said: “I was extremely lucky in 1967, when I was 17 years old, to go and see Otis Redding perform at the Ram Jam Club in Brixton in London. When he came on, it was like the sun coming out. So it was just this amazing voice, totally in command, great band, great grooves and passion that permeated everything.”

“I think I would have to choose an Otis track, and ‘Change Gonna Come’ might be one,” he explained. “Obviously that’s a song associated with other people and Sam Cooke and so on. But it’s just the way Otis put the message over. I think he’s a supreme interpreter, and what a heart.”

Jimi Hendrix – ‘Hey Joe’, Are You Experienced (1967)

Another figure who galvanised Peter Gabriel’s generation was Seattle native Jimi Hendrix. One of the finest guitarists of all time, what he did for the instrument cannot be understated, taking it down a more futuristic and high-octane path that culminated in guitarists everywhere starting to play harder than ever thought possible.

However, whilst playing as if his life depended on it, Hendrix always channelled the blues that he grew up learning, as his iconic rendition of the blues standard ‘Hey Joe’ reflects.

“I can remember where I was when I first heard Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe’, which was at school in a particular room upstairs and it was, in fact, in the next-door room. And my ear perked up and I went in and listened to it and just had to find out about who this artist was,” the former Genesis man recalled.

“I think particularly when you’re growing up, songs are like memory stamps. I think people go through life and they have these intense experiences that are really beautiful. Or really horrible that just get locked into a certain song.”

Joni Mitchell – ‘Blue’, Blue (1971)

Although it might be initially surprising that Peter Gabriel picked a Joni Mitchell song, when you stop to think about it, it makes a lot of sense. He’s dedicated his life to the craft of song, as has Mitchell. Nowhere does she craft more beautiful songs than on 1971’s Blue, which is hailed by many as her masterpiece.

Picking ‘Blue’ by the Canadian heroine, Gabriel opined: “Joni, I think, I’ve been in love with not just because of the writing, but also [because] she was an experimenter. She was pushing the musical boundaries both in the way she wrote harmonies and then exploring arrangements. Great artist.”

Paul Simon – ‘The Boy in the Bubble’, Graceland (1986)

All songwriters respect Paul Simon, as he’s one of the best out there. Even though he gave us a vast quantity of immaculate work as one half of the warring couple Simon & Garfunkel, it was on 1986’s Graceland where he elevated his craft.

Partially recorded in apartheid-era South Africa, as well as Louisiana and New York, the album has a truly global feel, aided by the appearances of Linda Ronstadt, the Everly Brothers, Good Rockin’ Dopsie and the Twisters and Los Lobos. It is flawless from start to finish, and one of the best cuts is the single ‘The Boy in the Bubble’.

Paul Simon, he’s written so many great songs. ‘The Boy in the Bubble’ was one [of them],” he said. “Like many people, I loved the Graceland record. You get carried away with the infectious grooves and you don’t always listen that much to the words. So that’s one of the most extraordinary lyrics written on a rock song, I think. It’s stunning.”

Randy Newman – ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’, Randy Newman (1968)

Randy Newman is one of the most constantly overlooked singer-songwriters in history. So much more than plainly the man who wrote the Toy Story theme, he’s given us a wealth of stellar moments over the years that range from the hilarious to the tearjerking.

One of the most debilitating is 1968’s ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’. He once revealed that he wrote it a few years prior to its release in ’63 or ’64, saying that the “music is emotional – even beautiful – and the lyrics are not.” He then revealed that the song bothered him because of its darkness, and that he felt it is too “too maudlin”.

“Randy Newman is another person I think is a master songwriter and does beautiful arrangements,” Gabriel expressed. “And I think some of the things he does for films seem deceptively simple, but they are really the work of a master.”

“I think (‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’) is one of his best songs. It’s not necessarily a very positive message, but it’s beautifully constructed, elegant songwriting with a lot of heart”.

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