Whilst traveling the Pennsylvania countryside last month, I listened to Peter Gabriel’s So album for the first time in years. That is not to say I had neglected the album (I’ve always enjoyed the upbeat tunes Sledgehammer and Big Time, as well as the haunting Mercy Street), but I had not listened to the entire album in quite some time. As a matter of fact, So, Gabriel’s most successful album to date, opened the door to the world of prog for me when I was about 12 years old, and I’ve never closed it.
I often wonder what my taste in music would be like had I never entered the wonderful world of progressive rock music. Something tells me I would have stumbled upon it at one point or another, considering I have never truly enjoyed what passes for “pop” these days. Or perhaps I would have been content listening to what I call “standard” rock (i.e., Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, etc.). It’s not that I don’t like standard rock, but it is generally missing the idiosyncrasy and complexity that progressive rock espouses. Thankfully, my dad has a rather broad taste in music, and while searching through his vast collection of CDs years ago, I came across So. I had heard In Your Eyes on the radio before, and I figured I should listen to the album in its entirety. It was my personal first great awakening in regards to music. Up until this point, music had always been pleasant melodies coming out of the radio and nothing more. As I sat in my room that day, however, a lanky, bespectacled, and (self-professed) nerdy 12-year-old boy fell in love with progressive rock for the first time. Music was now an entire world of its own. It had life, rhythm, beauty, truth, and goodness. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but it was quite an epiphany for me. But I digress. Back to the music itself. The opener, Red Rain, drew me in instantly, and I listened to the rest of the album with great enthusiasm. Sledgehammer, with its opening salvo of horns, was by far the most enjoyable song I had listened to up to that point. Don’t Give Up showcased the work of uber-talented bassist Tony Levin (who I would truly come to appreciate when I discovered King Crimson) and the beautiful voice of Kate Bush (who I may have had a crush on after the first listen). The next two songs, That Voice Again and In Your Eyes, were FM radio staples in my area that I had heard before and continue to enjoy today. The haunting but graceful Mercy Street was next, followed by the upbeat Big Time. The final two songs, We Do What We’re Told (a reference to Stanley Milgram’s sociological experiment on obedience to authority figures) and This Is The Picture, are two of the more “distinctive” pieces on the album, but I suppose prog rock musicians have a reputation for originality, do they not?
After about 8 years of listening to an untold amount of progressive rock, I do not believe So is the greatest album of all time. It is more “pop” like in nature than I prefer, yet I still enjoy it from time to time. Gabriel’s first four albums are superior in regards to musicianship and originality, but I cannot stress the impact So had on me enough. I became enamored with the thought of listening to more music in the vein of So, and that is how I eventually stumbled upon Gabriel-era Genesis and, eventually, the golden era of prog (I’ll save my top ten prog albums of all time for a later post). And although Gabriel is no longer even my favorite musician, I cannot thank him enough for unwittingly opening the door to an entire new world for me.