The subject for Day 15 of my 30 Day Song Challenge is “A song from the 1980s“, and my pick is the glorious “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel. With it’s wildly infectious driving rhythms and wonderfully trippy video, the song became one of the most beloved and popular of the 1980s. Released in April 1986 as the lead single from his critically-acclaimed and commercially successful fifth studio album, So, the song reached #1 in the U.S. and Canada, #2 in Austria, and the top 4 in Australia, Ireland, Norway, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland and the UK. The song was also nominated for three Grammy Awards for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
One of the things – among many – that make the song so uniquely fascinating was the use of a synthesized shakuhachi flute (a Japanese and ancient Chinese longitudinal, end-blown flute made of bamboo), generated with an E-mu Emulator II sampler. Gabriel said that the “cheap organ sound” was created from an expensive Prophet-5 synth, which he called “an old warhorse” sound tool. (Wikipedia) The great backing vocals were sung by P. P. Arnold, Coral “Chyna Whyne” Gordon, and Dee Lewis, who also sang backup on “Big Time”.
Ironically, “Sledgehammer” (which was Gabriel’s only song to reach #1 in the U.S.) replaced “Invisible Touch”, by his former band Genesis, at the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 (which was their only #1 hit in the U.S. as well). In a 2014 interview with The Guardian, Phil Collins remarked “I read recently that Peter Gabriel knocked us off the #1 spot with ‘Sledgehammer’. We weren’t aware of that at the time. If we had been, we’d probably have sent him a telegram saying: ‘Congratulations – bastard.'”
You could have a steam train If you'd just lay down your tracks You could have an aeroplane flying If you bring your blue sky back All you do is call me I'll be anything you need You could have a big dipper Going up and down, all around the bends You could have a bumper car, bumping This amusement never ends I want to be - your sledgehammer Why don't you call my name Oh let me be your sledgehammer This will be my testimony Show me round your fruitcage 'Cos I will be your honey bee Open up your fruitcage Where the fruit is as sweet as can be I want to be - your sledgehammer Why don't you call my name You'd better call the sledgehammer Put your mind at rest I'm going to be - the sledgehammer This can be my testimony I'm your sledgehammer Let there be no doubt about it Sledge Sledge Sledgehammer I've kicked the habit, shed my skin This is the new stuff, I go dancing in, we go dancing in Oh won't you show for me and I will show for you Show for me, I will show for you Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I do mean you, only you You've been coming through Going to build that power Build, build up that power, hey I've been feeding the rhythm I've been feeding the rhythm Going to feel that power build in you Come on, come on, help me do Come on, come on, help me do Yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh , yeh, yeh, you I've been feeding the rhythm I've been feeding the rhythm It's what we're doing, doing All day and night
The brilliant video for “Sledgehammer”, directed by Stephen R. Johnson and produced by Adam Whittaker, featured marvelous claymation, pixilation, and stop motion animation created by Aardman Animations and the Brothers Quay. For the video’s production, Gabriel had to lay under a sheet of glass for 16 hours while the video was filmed one frame at a time. In a 1986 interview with Philadelphia radio station WMMR, Gabriel commented “It took a lot of hard work. I was thinking at the time, ‘If anyone wants to try and copy this video, good luck to them.’” All that hard work paid off, as the video won an astonishing nine MTV Video Music Awards in 1987, more than any other video has ever won, as well as Best British Video at the 1987 Brit Awards.