Peter Gabriel is a British pop/rock singer and former frontman for Genesis. After leaving Genesis, Gabriel went on to a successful solo career. His 1986 album, So, is his most commercially successful, and the album's biggest hit, "Sledgehammer", won a record nine MTV Awards at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards, and the song is the most played music video in the history of the station.
Gabriel founded Genesis in 1967 with fellow Charterhouse School pupils Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford, and drummer Chris Stewart. The name of the band was suggested by fellow Charterhouse alumnus, the pop music impresario Jonathan King, who produced their first album, From Genesis to Revelation.
Genesis drew some attention largely due to Gabriel's flamboyant stage presence, which involved numerous bizarre costume changes and comical, dreamlike stories told as the introduction to each song. The concerts made extensive use of black light with the normal stage lighting subdued or off. A backdrop of fluorescent white sheets and a comparatively sparse stage made the band into a set of silhouettes, with Gabriel's fluorescent costume and make-up providing the only other sources of light.
Gabriel recorded his first self-titled solo album in 1976 and 1977 with producer Bob Ezrin. His first solo success came with the single "Solsbury Hill", an autobiographical piece expressing his thoughts on leaving Genesis. Gabriel worked with guitarist Fripp as producer of his second solo LP, in 1978. This album was leaner, darker and more experimental, and yielded decent reviews, but no major hits.
Gabriel developed a new interest in world music which made extensive use of recording tricks and sound effects. Gabriel's interest in music technology is considered by many people to be the spark of his success as it inspired his third album. The third album is often credited as the first LP to use the now-famous "gated drum" sound. The album achieved some chart success with the songs "Games Without Frontiers" (#4 U.K, #48 U.S.), and "Biko".
Gabriel's fourth LP was released in 1982 which was one of the first commercial albums recorded entirely to digital tape. Gabriel combined a variety of sampled and deconstructed sounds with world-beat percussion and other unusual instrumentation to create a radically new, emotionally charged soundscape. Furthermore, the sleeve art consisted of inscrutable, video-based imagery. Despite the album's peculiar sound, odd appearance, and often disturbing themes, it sold very well. This album featured his first Top 40 hit in the U.S., "Shock the Monkey", as well as the song "I Have the Touch". The music video for "Shock the Monkey", which featured Gabriel in white face paint and a caged macaque, held the #1 spot on "MTV" for 9 weeks.
Gabriel toured extensively for each of his albums. Initially, he pointedly eschewed the theatrics that had defined his tenure with Genesis. For his second solo tour, his entire band shaved their heads. By the time of Security he began involving elaborate stage props and acrobatics which had him suspended from gantries, distorting his face with Fresnel lenses and mirrors, and wearing unusual make-up. His 1982–83 tour included a section opening for David Bowie. Recordings of this tour were released as the double LP Plays Live. The stage was set for Gabriel's critical and commercial breakout with his next studio release, which was in production for almost three years.
Gabriel achieved his greatest popularity with songs from the 1986 album So. The album charted at number 1 in the UK Album Chart, and number 2 on the Billboard 200 in the US. It is certified triple platinum in the UK, and five times platinum in the US. The album produced three UK Top 20 hits, "Sledgehammer", "Big Time", and "Don't Give Up", a duet with Kate Bush.
"Sledgehammer", which dealt specifically with the themes of sex and sexual relations, was accompanied by a much-lauded music video, which was a collaboration with director Stephen R. Johnson, Aardman Animations, and the Brothers Quay. The video set a new standard for art in the music video industry, and won nine MTV Video Music Awards in 1987, a record which still stands as of 2011. "Sledgehammer" is the most played music video in the history of MTV, and in 1998 it was named the station's number one animated video of all time. A follow-up video for the song "Big Time" also broke new ground in music video animation and special effects. The success of the album earned Peter Gabriel two awards at the Brit Awards in 1987: Best British Male Solo Artist and Best British Video for "Sledgehammer".Gabriel was also nominated for three Grammy Awards: Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year.
In 1989, Gabriel released Passion, the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's movie The Last Temptation of Christ. For this work he received his first Grammy Award, in the category of Best New Age Performance. He also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score - Motion Picture.
Gabriel released Us in 1992, an album in which he explored the pain of recent personal problems. His introspection can be seen in the first single release "Digging in the Dirt" directed by John Downer. Accompanied by a disturbing video featuring Gabriel covered in snails and various foliage, this song made reference to the psychotherapy which had taken up much of Gabriel's time since the previous album. Gabriel describes his struggle to get through to his daughter in "Come Talk To Me" directed by Matt Mahurin, which featured backing vocals by Sinéad O'Connor. O'Connor also lent vocals to "Blood of Eden", directed by Nichola Bruce and Michael Coulson, the third single to be released from the album, and once again dealing with relationship struggles, this time going right back to Adam's rib for inspiration. Gabriel followed the release of the album with a world tour and accompanying double CD and DVD Secret World Live in 1994.
After five years of not releasing any new music, Gabriel re-emerged with OVO, a soundtrack for the live Millennium Dome Show in London in 2000, and Long Walk Home, the music from the Australian movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, early in 2002. This soundtrack also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score – Motion Picture.
In September 2002, Gabriel released Up, his first full-length studio album in a decade. Up was followed by a world tour featuring his daughter Melanie Gabriel on backing vocals, and two concert DVDs.
In 2008, Gabriel contributed to the WALL-E soundtrack several new songs with Thomas Newman, including the film's closing song, "Down to Earth", for which they received the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. The song was also nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Original Song - Motion Picture and the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
In 2010, Gabriel released Scratch My Back which is made up entirely of cover songs including material written by David Bowie, Lou Reed, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Regina Spektor, Neil Young, and more. The concept for the record is that Gabriel covers songs by various artists and those artists in turn will cover Gabriel songs to be released on a future follow-up album called I'll Scratch Yours. Scratch My Back features only orchestral instrumentation; there are no guitars, drums, or electronic elements that are usual attributes of Gabriel records.
On 11 October 2011, Gabriel released New Blood, a collection of his earlier songs recorded with an orchestra. A special edition of the album features solely instrumental versions of some of the songs.