Saturday, 27 April 2013

All you do is call me, I’ll be anything you need... Sledgehammer

Some songs really capture the imagination and Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer is definitely one of them, it truly is an inspired piece of music, easily one of the best of the 80s. With its incredibly famous video, blatantly suggestive lyrics and some brilliantly original music it is nothing other than exceptional...
1986 was a pretty flooded market when it came to chart toppers, world conquerors and stadium warriors. Bon Jovi’s Slippery when wet, Top Gun Soundtrack, Steve Winwood’s Back in the High Life and Genesis’s Invisible Touch  were all chart topper in this vintage year with some standout cuts to boot but none were quite able to equal the majesty of the song that is the subject of this piece. 

It was probably a surprise to the avant garde Peter Gabriel that he achieved such a hit with Sledgehammer having spent the preceding ten years exploring and pushing as many of the boundaries of rock as he could. Anyone who has listened to ‘Solsbury Hill’, ‘Intruder’, ‘Biko’, ‘Games Without Frontiers’ and ‘Shock The Monkey’ would surely agree that Sledgehammer is out of keeping with his usual fare. But perhaps it was equally maverick of the elder statesman on prog-rock to produce a danceable pop in line with the high hitters of that decade. 

The opening of the song, with its synthesised flutes almost hark to Gabriel’s obsession with WOMAD and its rather tired old brand of world music, but suddenly hits hard with some funky horns and gated drums before giving way to the brilliance of Tony Levin and his unique brand of bass playing - a cross between King Crimson and Alphonso Johnson - contributing to one of the most original rhythm arrangements I have heard in my limited musical life. 

Peter Gabriel himself has a very distinct voice which lends its energy, charisma and bizarre range to the tune, hitting all the right note and showing that he wasn’t just a one trick pony - briefly challenging his former bandmate Phil Collins as the prince of pop in 1986! 

The landmark video is also worth a mention. I first saw it when I was about six on a compilation of Aardman animation’s short films which also  included the fantastic ‘Ident’ (voiced by comedian Arthur Smith) and Next (a pastiche on Shakespeare’s whole repertoire) but the one that really stood out was ‘Sledgehammer’ a landmark mix of stop motion clay animation and live action including a bizarre scene where two supermarket ready chickens dance a waltz (animation by non other than Wallace and Gromit genius Nick Park). Made by the now highly-successful Aardman this was one of their first projects which really brought them to public attention, it is well worth a watch so here is the link:

Taken from the chart-topping album So (1986)  it is in the company of some other cracking tracks including ‘Don’t Give Up’ (with Kate Bush), ‘Big Time’ and ‘Red Rain’ but ‘Sledgehammer’ is truly the jewel in the crown, and therefore I urge you to go out and purchase a copy digital, analog or otherwise as soon as possible! 

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