Thursday, May 16, 2019

Certain Songs #1539: Peter Gabriel – “Solsbury Hill” | Medialoper

Album: Peter Gabriel
Year: 1977

. . .

First, a little housekeeping. As you probably know, Peter Gabriel out Led Zeppelined Led Zeppelin by naming all four of his first solo albums Peter Gabriel, only finally acquiescing to Geffen in the U.S. to allow the fourth one to be sub-titled Security, which no doubt helped the album sales when “Shock The Monkey” became a big MTV song in 1982.

And since then, fans have retconned the album titles of the albums as I, II, II and IV or — based on the album covers — Car, Scratch, Melt and Security.

As a casual fan of Mr. Gabriel, I’m having none of that bullshit. The first four Peter Gabriel albums — from which three will have posts in the next few days — are as follows: Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel and Peter Gabriel.

Right. Looking back on it, it seems to me that the real reason that Peter Gabriel left Genesis after The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is that everybody involved wanted to write pop songs instead of prog epics, but there was no way the public was going to accept that kind of shift from the band that gave us “Supper’s Ready.”

So they split, and while Genesis eventually became a ruthless, world-conquering singles machine — a few of which were pretty good! — Peter Gabriel actually drew first blood, at least in the U.K., where the lead single from his solo debut, Peter Gabriel, the gorgeous rumbling “Solsbury Hill” made it all the way to #14.

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen, had no choice

At the very least, “Solsbury Hill” is an allegory about Gabriel leaving Genesis, and grappling with whether or not it was the right thing to do. With former Alice Cooper and Lou Reed guitarist Steven Hunter playing a insistent acoustic guitar over a 7/4 time signature, “Solsbury Hill” invokes the feeling of unease associated with making a major life change, looking for — and in this case, maybe even getting — a sign that it’s the right choice.

I did not believe the information
I just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom! boom! boom!
“Son,” he said
“Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home”

As “Solsbury Hill” progresses, driven by the off kilter beat, the only instrument playing what might be construed as a riff being Gabriel’s flute, it seems to start breaking up, almost fracturing until unexpectedly big guitar chords from Hunter provide a pathway forward, which Gabriel heads straight for with whoops and yelps, excited about the next phase of his life.

“Solsbury Hill” official video

“Solsbury Hill” live on Rockpalast, 1978

“Solsbury Hill” performed live, 1994

“Solsbury Hill” performed live on the Late Show with David Letterman, 2011

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