Ex-Genesis front man Peter Gabriel has put out very few albums in comparison to other rock stars, but what he lacks in quantity he more than makes up for in quality. Whenever asked when his next album is out, he replies, “September,” but never goes on to clarify September of what year. While you wait for a new album, you can enjoy all of the music presented here in our list of Peter Gabriel albums ranked.
# 10 – Birdy
This was Peter Gabriel’s first movie soundtrack, although it did not contain any of the popular songs in the film, such as “La Bamba.” This was mostly instrumental, although there is some wordless vocalizations Peter Gabriel would nickname “Gabrielese” on it. The album contained a warning label. Not about the lyrics, but that it contained “recycled material and no lyrics.” Some passages from songs like “The Rhythm of the Heat” and “Family Snapshot” appear. This very short and moody album first appeared in 1985, months after the film had been released.
# 9 – Peter Gabriel
Nicknamed “Car” by fans because of the cover image, Peter Gabriel’s first solo album was given good financial backing from Atlantic – so much so that the London Symphony Orchestra appears on side two. Peter Gabriel was still working with melody-based songs. This is catchy and sometimes witty album. It includes two songs that would become standards in his live shows, “Here Comes the Flood” and his song about leaving Genesis, “Solsbury Hill.”
# 8 – Peter Gabriel/ Security
Peter Gabriel’s American label finally got tired of him giving the same title to all of his albums, so they placed a “Security” label on all of the American albums. This contained a rarity for Peter Gabriel – a hit. “Shock the Monkey” would be his biggest hit until “Sledgehammer.” Despite the title, the song is about jealousy and not about animal abuse. This album was a fusion of native rhythms with challenging lyrics, making it perfect for headphones.
# 7 – Scratch My Back
With an album of new songs not forthcoming, Peter Gabriel decided to do a covers album, but with a twist. All of the songs would be arranged for a full orchestra. Also, all of the artists he covered would (ideally) have to do a cover of his song in return. The album of other artists doing Peter Gabriel songs would be called And I’ll Scratch Yours. Although Peter Gabriel went online asking fans for suggestions of little-known songs to cover, he did choose songs from well-known artists like Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble.” The most well-known song from this album was the Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love”, which appeared in the television show Scrubs finale. Although most artists loved the orchestral cover treatment, David Bowie never commented and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke did not like the cover of “Street Spirit (Fade Out.”) This came out in 2009.
# 6 – Up
It was ten years between the release of Us (1992) and Up (2002), although he had done the odd song for movie soundtracks and OVO, the music for the Millennium Dome. Peter Gabriel’s priorities had changed and making music was not as high on that list of priorities as it used to be. He devoted most of his time to running his studio and working for human rights. This album was dark, complex and has been known to scare dogs. Songs took a long time to make. They include two he had been working on during the Us sessions, “Sky Blue” about life on the road and “The Barry Williams Show”, about a Jerry Springer-type talk show host. Another song was “Signal to Noise”, which was originally performed live in 1996. The rest of the songs look at birth, death and fear. Not surprisingly, it resonated with fans and critics but not the general public.
# 5 – Plays Live
This includes high-energy and high-quality live versions of tracks from Peter Gabriel’s first four solo albums, plus a live version of an unreleased track, “I Go Swimming.” The sound is such excellent quality for 1983 because Peter Gabriel re-recorded some vocal tracks. He admits this in the liner notes and calls it “cheating.” It also contains a little of his pre-song chatter. Although the back cover is a picture of him performing “Lay Your Hands on Me,” the song does not appear on the album. Songs that do include “Shock the Monkey”, “Intruder”, “Family Snapshot” and, of course, “Biko”.
# 4 – Us
Peter Gabriel, backed by financial security that So brought, began to take his time between records. After the success of so, he divorced and then broke up with his long-time mistress. Long before the divorce, he began therapy. Us became the conclusions he reached while in therapy. The songs look at relationships in general, not just love relationships. Reviews were mixed back in 1992 when this was released, but Us has since been considered a classic. Peter Gabriel did technically and visually more impressive videos than even “Sledgehammer”, but they failed to resonate with the public like “Sledgehammer” did. Songs include fan favorites “Washing in the Water”, “Come Talk to Me”, “Steam”, “Digging in the Dirt” and the song that would name his tour to support Us, “Secret World.” Sinead O’Connor, another mistress, appeared on two songs.
# 3 – So
This was the most successful album of Peter Gabriel’s career to date. How successful was it? He was able to buy his own studio with the money. Arguably the album sold so well due to the innovative music videos used to promote the singles “Big Time” and “Sledgehammer,” but the music itself really stood out from the usual late 80’s pap that infested the radio. It’s not often that on a hit record there are songs about the experiments of Stanley Milligram and an ode to poet Anne Sexton. Songs include the anthem. “Red Rain,” the duet with Kate Bush “Don’t Give Up” and the immortal “In Your Eyes.” Peter Gabriel has noted that the cover image is the one he hates the most of all his album covers.
# 2 – Peter Gabriel
Nicknamed Melt by fans for the unsettling cover image by Hipgnosis, this was the third album of the same title by Peter Gabriel. This album was so disturbing and unlike his previous albums that he was dropped by Atlantic Records in 1980. Head of Atlantic, Ahmet Ertegun, is reported to have said after hearing this album, “Has Peter been hospitalized?” Peter Gabriel had not been hospitalized, but instead approached songwriting from the rhythm up.
This is also the first album where he incorporated African music and what would now be called World Music. This was also the first album that used the slightly distorted synthesized drum sound, the gated reverb, that hallmarked music in the 1980s. Phil Collins stumbled on the sound while trying to tune his drum for sessions on this album. Songs include the classics, “Games Without Frontiers”, “I Don’t Remember” and “Biko”, his then-ignored but now most requested song.
# 1 – Passion
Passion was the original title for what would be the controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). This was Peter Gabriel’s second movie soundtrack, but not all the music on this soundtrack appears in the movie. He spent another year exploring some musical possibilities and included them here. Although there are no lyrics, he sings in Gabrielese to make a haunting and enchanting new form of music that would be often imitated since it’s initial release in 1989. This was the next album after the monster hit So and not what many people expected. For many fans, this was much better than expected. There are not many albums that can transport you to another world, but this is one of them. It’s hard to emphasize just how different this sounded from anything out there at the time. This award-winning album was also the first release of Peter Gabriel’s label, Real World and also was released by Geffen.
Peter Gabriel Albums Ranked article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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