Peter Gabriel is one of my 25 “island” albums. Hmm, I suppose I should specify. There were three or four eponymous albums of his, depending on the country.
I’m talking about the THIRD Peter Gabriel album, the one originally released on Mercury Records in the US in May 1980. “The album is also often referred to as Melt owing to its cover photograph by Hipgnosis.”
At FantaCo, where I started working that very same month, many of the tracks were on heavy rotation on the radio station WQBK-FM, Q104, which was on in the store constantly.
I also heard songs from his first two albums. From Car, Solsbury Hill and Here Comes the Flood. Scratch featured On the Air. And from the last Genesis album featuring Gabriel, the title track of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
Intruder uses the “gated drum” sound of Phil Collins, Gabriel’s former bandmate on Genesis.
No Self Control is well described on a blog about the music of Kate Bush by Christine Kelley.
Start is a snippet leading to I Don’t Remember. “Gabriel jokingly summarised the album’s themes as ‘The history of a decaying mind.'”
Family Snapshot was inspired in part by An Assassin’s Diary (1973). Gabriel said it was “a really nasty book” by Arthur Bremer, who had attempted to assassinate George Wallace in 1972.
And Through the Wire the closest to a straight-up rocker, but with a distorted vocal.
Side Two starts with Games Without Frontiers, also well described by Kelley. We knew the line was “jeux san frontières” but the FantaCo running joke was that it was really “she’s so funky, yeah.”
Not One of Us is another song of alienation.
Lead a Normal Life – “Atlantic Records (the label for the first two albums) didn’t want to put [Melt] out at all…” Atlantic head Ahmet Ertegun wondered “‘Has Peter been in a mental hospital?’ They thought I’d had a breakdown and recorded a piece of crap … I thought I’d really found myself on that record, and then someone just squashes it. I went through some primordial rejection issues.”
Biko – I was vaguely aware of the murder of South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko in 1977. But this haunting track gave the incident the worldwide attention it deserved.
For Christmas 1980, our boss Tom at FantaCo gave us each a foot-long cube, which turned out to be six LPs. One of mine was Ein deutsches Album, “released in July 1980… Gabriel sang German vocals on top of completely new recorded instrumental and backing vocal tracks.” I loved it.
After that, I became a big Peter Gabriel fan, buying the first two albums, then Security and ITS German counterpart (1982), with the hit Shock the Monkey. Plays Live came out in 1983. The massively successful So album was released in 1986.
In October 2001, my wife and I were in Cherry Valley, NY, trying to get away from the world. A store was playing Afro Celt Sound System’s Volume 3: Further in Time. I recognized vocals by Gabriel (When You’re Falling) and also Robert Plant. I bought it.
Peter Gabriel turns 70 today. Links to songs throughout.