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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Shock MTV - The Videos of Peter Gabriel

I’ll be the first one to admit that when it comes to finding inspiration for this blog, I rely on YouTube an awful lot.  Aside from using some of the VEVO videos that are included within YouTube to supplement a lot of my blog topics, I use it for research purposes as well.  There are times in which I’ll be inspired to choose a topic based on a video that I have recently watched.  There are also the occasional instances in which I choose a topic that I vaguely remember, but need a serious refresher course in because it has been years since I watched it/played with it/listened to it.  In that case, YouTube becomes a very essential research tool for me.

And, mostly, I use YouTube to get my fix for music videos.  These days, it seems to be one of the few sources left to view music videos as television stations that once catered to the music video loving crowd no longer play them.  Let’s face it, MTV has been a reality show wasteland since the turn of the new century, and VH1 isn’t much better.  Even the Canadian MuchMusic has seemingly dropped the music from the station, simply going by Much.  I don’t know about any of you, but I don’t really feel like watching a network that has reruns of Degrassi, marathons of Silent Library, and a special look back on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.

But, I suppose times change.

During the heyday of the music video channel (also known as the 1980s), music videos were the quintessential way to promote your singles in hopes that they would make it to the top of the charts.  And some artists achieved this goal better than others.

You remember all of those Top 10 singles that the late Michael Jackson had during his career?  Many of them got that way from the creative and innovative music videos that he shot during the peak of his career.  Some of the more creative videos that I can recall are “Billie Jean”, “Thriller”, “Bad”, “Leave Me Alone”, “ Black or White”, and “Scream”.

Madonna is also an artist who has been using the music video to her advantage.  Ever since 1984’s “Like A Virgin”, she has consistently been releasing video masterpieces.  From “Like A Prayer” to “Express Yourself” to “Vogue” to “Bedtime Story” to “Ray of Light”, she’s definitely earned her way to the queen of the video.

I’d say that British New Wave band Duran Duran has also made some killer music videos.  If you don’t believe me, give “Rio”, “The Wild Boys”, “The Reflex”, and “Come Undone” a second glance.

Even some current artists have had some gems in the music video industry.  Katy Perry has made some fantastic, eye-popping music videos as have Lady Gaga and La Roux.

There are several artists that are worthy of my pick for the most creative and innovative music videos ever made.  The examples that I posted above were on my shortlist.  Still, there can only be one winner.

The winner of the Pop Culture Addict’s Guide To Life Award for Most Creative and Innovative Music Videos, and the subject of this blog is...


...though, given that I gave the answer away in the title of this blog, it is fairly anti-climactic.

Though I still stand by my decision.

It seems hard to believe, but this upcoming February 13, Peter Gabriel will be turning 63 years old!  I know!  Shocking, isn’t it?  Peter Gabriel is only four years younger than my own father!  I didn’t even think he was that old.  I would’ve guessed his age as fifty-seven, tops. 

But when you consider that his music career began when he helped create the rock band “Genesis” over four and a half decades ago, I suppose his age does make sense.  Gabriel, along with Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford, and Chris Stewart founded Genesis in 1967, and the band released their debut album two years later in 1969.  By 1970, original members Phillips and Stewart had left, and after a revolving door of band members were permanently replaced by Steve Hackett and Phil Collins.

The band Genesis worked well together between 1970 and 1975, but failed to really crack the charts anywhere in the world.  Prior to the mid-1970s, Genesis’ only hit was the 1974 single “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”, and that song only peaked at #21 on the UK charts.  But despite their lack of chart success, the band did attract its own group of fans.  At the time, Peter Gabriel sang lead vocals for the band, and his singing during the band’s earliest gigs were a source of frustration for the audience.  Due to some faulty PA equipment at the concerts, the audience couldn’t really understand what Gabriel was singing.  Hence came the need for Gabriel to stand out in other ways...

...such as wearing costumes and outfits that made him stand out. 

So, as you can see, before the age of the music video, Peter Gabriel felt a need to stand out among a crowd and carve out his own unique identity.  I think that’s probably one reason why I admire him so much as an artist.  He has the guts and the personality to charm people with his lavish stage performances and has probably one of the most creative minds that have existed in the world of music.  What can I say, creative minds have to stick together, right?

Unfortunately, Gabriel’s larger than life personality as well as his stage presence was one of the factors behind Peter’s decision to walk away from Genesis in the mid-1970s.  Though all the members of Genesis mutually agree that Gabriel walked away from the band on good terms, there was tension that was present around the time he left Genesis.  Perhaps the one thing that helped Gabriel make the final decision to walk away from the band was the fact that at the time his wife was having a difficult pregnancy with their first child, and rather than tour with the band, he opted to stay with his wife and daughter, causing resentment between Gabriel and the remaining members of Genesis.

So, Gabriel officially left Genesis in 1975, Phil Collins stepped into the spotlight as the new lead singer of the group in 1976, and in 1977, Gabriel’s solo career began with the release of the single “Solsbury Hill”, a song that reflected his feelings upon leaving Genesis.

In the end, everything worked out for Genesis.  With Collins fronting the band, Genesis ended up charting hit after hit, having several Top 10 singles between 1984 and 1992, and the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

And Peter Gabriel’s solo career was a huge success as well, largely due to the innovative and beautifully crafted music videos that accompanied his songs.  Part of the appeal of Peter Gabriel’s music videos are the fact that he utilized dozens of filming styles and a variety of animation techniques that made them stand out.  But, there’s also a lot of symbolism and hidden messages included in each video that are like little Easter eggs, waiting to be found.

(And, thanks to shows like Pop-Up Video, we now know some of the secrets.)

But, if I only had five videos to choose from...which ones would I classify as Peter Gabriel’s best?

It was a tough task.  After all, Peter Gabriel has released twenty-seven music videos during his entire career thus far.  And those videos have helped Peter Gabriel win six Grammy Awards and a whopping 13 MTV Video Music Awards (nine of which were awarded in the same year)!  So, to choose just five was nearly impossible.

At any rate, here’s my list.  Do you agree?  Let me know!

ALBUM:  Security
DATE RELEASED:  September 25, 1982

This particular song was the first song to reach Top 40 status in the United States, peaking at #29 (in the UK, it did worse at #58).  And it was also one of the first music videos that really featured the creative mind of Peter Gabriel at work.  The video seems to cross a divide between normal life and a warped life.  Regular Peter is decked out in a black business suit slaving away in an office, while Warped Peter is in a white world complete with scary white face paint.  Many people have the belief that the song promotes animal rights (which given the frequent images of poor monkeys undergoing animal testing isn’t a bad guess).  But Peter himself later admitted that the song is about the subject of jealousy, and that the monkey acts as a metaphor.  Now that I look at the video again, considering that the end of the video features a hallway that looks like a science lab or a psychiatric ward, I suppose it fits.  After all, I have heard that jealousy can make people act irrationally.

04 – STEAM
DATE RELEASED:  January 16, 1993

Now, I will say this.  Although there are three other music videos that I like better than this one, I will state that “Steam” is this blogger’s all-time favourite Peter Gabriel song.  Heard it for the first time when I was twelve years old, and I loved the beat and the accompanying video.  Of course, it wasn’t until I watched Pop-Up Video that I realized that there is some imagery hidden in the video itself in the form of phallic symbols and sexual puns.  Just look at the scenes that involve Peter and his girl walking through the jungle, Peter’s face appearing in the steam locomotive, the skeleton holding a pair of guns, and the symbols that appear behind Peter’s stretchy dance after the “aging Peter scene”.  You’ll get what I mean.

TRIVIA:  On that note, the man who appears after Peter in the aging Peter scene is Peter's father Ralph.  He recently passed away in November 2012 at the age of 100!

At any rate, “Steam” was a video that really utilized computer generated imagery, and it is probably one of the most vibrant and colourful videos that Peter Gabriel has ever filmed.  Symbolism aside, the song is described as being about a posh, sophisticated woman who is in a relationship with a man who knows nothing about anything except that he doesn’t know about the woman, and she doesn’t even know much about herself.

I should note that above paragraph was the way that Peter Gabriel himself described the song.  Great, even when he tries to make things clearer, he’s cryptic.  Damn him!  J

DATE RELEASED:  July 1986 (US), March 28, 1987 (Worldwide)

This video is kind of all over the place with animation, bright colours, and garish imagery.  And, in a way, it’s highly symbolic of the theme of the decade.  Ironically enough, this video was released the same year that a stock market crash happened, but the mood of the 1980s was all about trying to make it big, and live in excess.  Why else was the 1980s the heyday of “Dynasty”, “Falcon Crest”, and “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous”?  The song “Big Time” was the perfect soundtrack to the big egos and the Wall Street gurus that were celebrated during the 1980s.  After all, as Gordon Gekko stated in the 1987 film “Wall Street”, greed was good in that time period.

This song happens to have a guest appearance by a member of a prominent band.  With The Police broken up and Sting pursuing a solo career by 1987, Stewart Copeland was available to play the drums on this classic hit, which peaked at #8 on the Billboard Charts in the spring of 1987.

As far as how I would best describe this video...well...think what would happen if you took the set of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and looked at it through beer goggles.  Yeah, that sounds great.  Again, the video is big and bold, which set the tone for the big and bold 1980s.  A job well done, as far as I’m concerned.

DATE RELEASED:  September 19, 1992

The end of a marriage is never easy to deal with.  Shortly after the success of Peter Gabriel’s 1986 album “So”, his marriage to his first wife broke apart in 1987.  It would take a few years before Peter Gabriel would release a new studio album (barring the release of his greatest hits compliation “Shaking The Tree” in 1990).  When “Us” was released in 1992, it ended up being one of his most personal albums to date.  The songs dealt with the strained relationship between himself and his eldest daughter, the relationship that he shared with his then-girlfriend Rosanna Arquette (whose relationship ended just before the album was recorded), and the break-up of his first marriage.  The marriage break-up inspired the song “Digging in the Dirt”, released September 1992.

And, what a masterpiece of a video it is at that.  It’s also got some rather disturbing imagery within it, so I wouldn’t recommend that small kids watch it, as it can probably induce nightmares.  The scenes with the bees still creeps me out to this day.

I mean, let’s face it...being buried alive, consumed by foliage, and seeing snails and larvae crawling over top of Peter’s body was grotesque and stomach-churning.  But the ending provides a little bit of hope as Peter comes back to be reborn.  And, really, the symbolism seems to fit with what was happening with Peter’s life at the time.  Sure, he was hurting over the loss of two relationships in five years.  And, yes, he may have been a little bit angry and felt like he was being swallowed in despair.  I think when Peter was filming this video, he was getting out a lot of his frustrations, and he needed to do that to move ahead.  Since this video was aired, he remarried, and had two more sons, and he seems to be happier than ever.

DATE RELEASED:  April 25, 1986

You knew it was coming.  This video not only helped catapult “Sledgehammer” to the top of the charts (giving Gabriel his only #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100), but it was the video that helped Peter Gabriel win a record NINE MTV Video Music Awards in 1987.  And, why wouldn’t it?  Of all the Peter Gabriel videos, this one is the most memorable one in terms of imagery, as the video uses two different forms of animation...stop-motion and Claymation.

I mean, where else can you find a video of bumper cars crashing into Peter’s cheeks, a giant hammer breaking apart an ice mould of Peter’s cranium, and dancing headless chickens?

(Seriously, the chickens made the video.  They were the true stars.)

This video seems to have been a bit of an inspiration for Peter’s “Steam” video, released seven years later.  Both videos start off almost the same way, and whereas the imagery of Steam is filled with sexual references, the lyrics of Sledgehammer are sexual in nature.

IRONIC TRIVIA:  When “Sledgehammer” topped the charts in July 1986, guess what song it dethroned?  Genesis’ “Invisible Touch”!

MORE TRIVIA:  You’ll notice that in the scene where the choir starts singing behind Peter, you’ll quickly see two young girls appear in the scene.  Those two girls are Peter’s eldest children, Anna-Marie and Melanie.

And, those are just five of the many music videos that Peter Gabriel made that helped cement his status as a true superstar of MTV.  What are some of your favourites?  Let me know below!

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