So (album)

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Studio album by Peter Gabriel
Released 19 May 1986
Recorded February – December 1985, Ashcombe Studios, near Bath, England
Genre Art rock, progressive rock, worldbeat, experimental rock
Length 46:25
Label Geffen (United States)
Charisma (United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland)
Real World (2010 reissue)
Virgin (South and North America)
Producer Daniel Lanois, Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel chronology

So is the fifth studio album (and seventh album overall) and first non-eponymous studio album by British rock musician Peter Gabriel, released in 1986. Many of its songs reflect a more conventional pop-writing style and became radio hits, while others still retain Gabriel's dark, brooding sense of experimentalism. As Gabriel explained in 2011: "I'd had my fill of instrumental experimenting for a while, and I wanted to write proper pop songs, albeit on my own terms."[1]

It is Peter Gabriel's second album produced by Canadian artist Daniel Lanois. The previous year, the two of them had worked together on Birdy. Lanois had been previously known for his ambient collaborations with Brian Eno as well as producing U2 since 1984. As he had with the soundtrack to the film Birdy, Lanois brought many of his own ambient sensibilities to this recording. Many of the tracks also continued to showcase Gabriel's interest in world music, with Gabriel commenting: "I think this album is nourished by so many varieties of black music, and not just soul and blues: there's stuff from Africa, Brazil, Cuba, Jamaica."[1]

So is the best-selling album of Gabriel's career and charted at number 1 in the UK Album Chart, and number 2 on the Billboard 200 in the US.[2][3] It is certified triple platinum in the UK, and five times platinum in the US. So ranked at number No. 14 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "Top 100 Albums of the Eighties"[4] and at No. 187 on the 500 greatest albums of all time. It is included in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.


The album begins with "Red Rain". Inspired by a recurring dream which Gabriel had of swimming in a sea of red water, its lyrics vividly depict dream imagery that reflect a sense of vulnerability. The song is one of the works in the story of Mozo, a wandering stranger who appears in several Gabriel songs. Of all the tracks on the album, Gabriel considers "Red Rain" one of his favourites.[5] Other Mozo works include "On the Air" and "Exposure".

The second track is Gabriel's most popular single, "Sledgehammer". "Sledgehammer" is a piece with Motown and world music influences, from its famous use of the shakuhachi. Gabriel described it as "my chance to sing like Otis Redding."[1] The video for "Sledgehammer" won MTV's 1987 Top Music Video Award, and Best British Video at the 1987 Brit Awards.[6][7] Directed by Steven Johnson, it features stop motion animation by Aardman Animations of Wallace and Gromit fame.[6] The dancing chickens were animated by Nick Park. The video ends with Gabriel dancing in silhouette, covered with lights taped on his suit by a runner who later became a producer for the Wallace and Gromit films. While performing the song during the 2002–2003 Growing Up and 2004 Still Growing Up tours, Gabriel recreated this image by wearing a jacket covered with LED lights.

Tracks 3–6 include a duet with Kate Bush titled "Don't Give Up", "That Voice Again", and "In Your Eyes". "Don't Give Up" was about the devastation of economic hardship, with the support and wise counsel sung by Bush in the refrain. "Mercy Street" is dedicated to poet Anne Sexton and takes its title from her 1969 play, Mercy Street (Sexton also posthumously released a book of poetry, 45 Mercy Street). "In Your Eyes" was used in the famed boombox (ghetto blaster) scene from the film Say Anything... (1989).

Track 7 is "Big Time". This song is a caricature of the economic success of the 1980s and was also accompanied by a video in the same vein of "Sledgehammer", although to less popularity. The next track is titled "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)". The title refers to the 37 out of 40 compliant subjects of Milgram Experiment 18.

The album ends with "This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)". This song features vocals with co-writer Laurie Anderson. This track is not included on the original vinyl release of the album, but was added to the audio cassette and CD editions. Anderson had previously recorded a different arrangement of the song titled "Excellent Birds" for her 1984 album, Mister Heartbreak, which also featured vocals by Gabriel. A video rendition of the song featuring Anderson and Gabriel was included in the 1 January 1984 TV satellite broadcast Good Morning, Mr. Orwell. Anderson also performs the song in her 1986 concert film Home of the Brave.


This was Gabriel's first studio album to bear an official title from its inception. His previous regular albums were simply titled "Peter Gabriel", including 1982's Security, which was retitled by Gabriel's US label at the time, Geffen Records. Peter Gabriel said in an interview with Smash Hits in 1986 the title "doesn't mean anything. We just liked the form of the word and the two letters. That's all." Gabriel also commented on the Classic Albums documentary made on the album that he favoured a short word title as it meant the graphic could be bigger and this was useful in marketing the album.

Sleeve design[edit]

The sleeve designer was Peter Saville, best known for his association with Manchester-based Factory Records, who was chosen to give the album a more commercially accessible image from Gabriel's previous albums. Gabriel has commented: "The only compromise I made was to go with Peter Saville's idea for a retro-style portrait. I was told my usual obscure LP sleeves alienated women."[1] Saville was paid £20,000 by Virgin, which he has revealed was the highest paid record sleeve design of his career.[8] It was said that Gabriel was angry at Geffen at the time of the album's release that the title "So," which was only to appear on a removable sticker on the outside cellophane wrapper, had also been printed on the paper labels attached to each side of the vinyl (where each sides' track listing normally appear).

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[9]
Chicago Tribune (Mixed)[10]
Los Angeles Times (Positive)[11]
PopMatters (very favourable)[12]
Q 4/5 stars[13]
Robert Christgau B−[14]
Rolling Stone (favorable)[15]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[16]

So received mostly favourable reviews from music critics, although some have criticised the album for what they perceive as its overt commercialism and its 1980s production sounds.

Writing in Mojo in 2012, David Buckley contrasted the album with Gabriel's earlier, more experimental work, claiming "On 1986's So, he switched tack to write pop, and write big. The results are mixed. Sledgehammer, echoing both Stevie Wonder's Superstition and David Bowie's Fame, retains its punch. Elsewhere, Gabriel sounds airbrushed on Mercy Street, Red Rain and In Your Eyes, with only We Do What We're Told a reminder of a daring past."[17]

Writing in Uncut in 2012, John Lewis claimed "Sometimes the state-of-the-art production is part of the appeal. The digi-funk bombast of Big Time is a defining totem of high-end '80s production, pitched somewhere between Scritti Politti's Wood Beez and Trevor Horn's Owner of a Lonely Heart. And the funk shuffle of Sledgehammer now sounds almost timeless, thanks to it being a much-sampled hip-hop fixture. Elsewhere, the production interferes, like the bell-like Fairlight sounds that mar That Voice Again, or the whistling ambient accompaniment on Mercy Street."[18]

Alexis Petridis, chief rock and pop critic of The Guardian, has claimed Gabriel "suffered a musical mid-life crisis", describing So as "an album packed with ultra-commercial priapic cod-funk" and "a ruthless bid for mainstream success."[19]

On the more positive side, Mark Blake of Q wrote "Gabriel kept his oddness in check on So, but he did it without compromising himself. The exuberant, un-danceable dance hit Sledgehammer, like the rest of So, is carbon-dated to 1986, thanks to those blaring saxes and Fairlight CMI digital sampling synths. But the songs – Red Rain, the Kate Bush duet Don't Give Up, the Laurie Anderson collaboration This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds) – remain timeless. With So, Gabriel crafted an album of user-friendly pop that was still reassuringly odd."[13]

Terry Staunton of Classic Rock wrote "Red Rain was familiarly pensive and politically charged, but the radio waves completely surrendered to the record's muscular dance rock (Sledgehammer, Big Time) and slower tempo eloquence (Don't Give Up, In Your Eyes). A year in the making, it captured Gabriel not so much at a crossroads in his career, as a roundabout with several potential routes to follow, embracing African rhythms, commercially-minded techno, statesmanlike prog-lite and effortlessly cool pop soul. If that makes the album sound scattergun and disjointed, Gabriel approaches each of his bow's many strings with a masterful confidence, delivering a satisfyingly unified whole."[20]

In 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, Bruno MacDonald was especially effusive in praise of the album, claiming "...though the Sledgehammer video's ubiquity has bludgeoned the song, its parent album is a marvel...awash in delicate percussion, tasteful keyboards, and bubbling bass, Red Rain and Mercy Street are stunning. Of the epics, the Kate Bush duet Don't Give Up is heartwrenching, while in Your Eyes achieved iconic status after its appearance in the John Cusack movie Say Anything...Excellent albums followed, but the breathtaking So is the best introduction to a dazzling discography."

Notes and legacy[edit]

When the album was remastered in 2003 with most of Gabriel's catalogue, the song "In Your Eyes" was moved from the fifth song to the ninth song. This was what Peter Gabriel originally intended, but because of the limitations of the vinyl release format it was moved up to be the first track on side two.[21]

The songs "Red Rain", "Sledgehammer", "Don't Give Up", "Mercy Street", and "We Do What We're Told" were featured in episodes of the TV series Miami Vice (with seven songs used, Gabriel had the most songs featured by a solo artist in the Miami Vice series, and he is the only artist to have had a song used in an episode of each of Vice's five seasons).

The song "Mercy Street" was featured in the opening sequence of 1991 Brazilian soap opera O Sorriso do Lagarto.

In 1998, Q magazine readers voted So the 81st greatest album of all time. In 2001, the TV network VH1 placed it at number 91. Rolling Stone magazine places the album at 187 on its list of 500 greatest albums of all time[22] and No. 14 in the Rolling Stone 100 Best Albums of The 80's survey.[23] It was also included in the College Music Journal list of "Top 25 College Radio Albums of All Time"[24] and ranked No. 1 in CMJ's "Top 20 Most-Played Albums of 1986".[25] The album came fifth in Kerrang! magazine's Albums of the Year 1986. Slant Magazine listed the album at No. 41 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s".[26]

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".[7] The album also received four Grammy Award nominations: Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Song of the Year, Record of the Year (all for "Sledgehammer"), and Album of the Year.[27]

In 2006, World Wrestling Entertainment used "Big Time" as the main theme song for Wrestlemania 22.

The album's production has been profiled in the Classic Albums series.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Peter Gabriel, except where indicated.

Original track listing[edit]

Side one
  1. "Red Rain" – 5:39
  2. "Sledgehammer" – 5:12
  3. "Don't Give Up" (featuring Kate Bush) – 6:33
  4. "That Voice Again" (lyrics: Gabriel, Rhodes; music: Gabriel) – 4:53
Side two
  1. "In Your Eyes" – 5:27
  2. "Mercy Street" – 6:22
  3. "Big Time" – 4:28
  4. "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)" – 3:22
  5. "This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)" (featuring Laurie Anderson) (Anderson, Gabriel) – 4:25

Not included on original vinyl release.

Remastered CD track listing[edit]

  1. "Red Rain" – 5:39
  2. "Sledgehammer" – 5:12
  3. "Don't Give Up" (featuring Kate Bush) – 6:33
  4. "That Voice Again" (lyrics: Gabriel, Rhodes; music: Gabriel) – 4:53
  5. "Mercy Street" – 6:22
  6. "Big Time" – 4:28
  7. "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)" – 3:22
  8. "This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)" (featuring Laurie Anderson) (Anderson, Gabriel) – 4:25
  9. "In Your Eyes" – 5:27

25th Anniversary Edition[edit]

The 25th Anniversary Edition of So was released on 23 October 2012 in two versions. The Deluxe Edition contains the original album remastered and the double album "Live in Athens 1987" recorded at the Athens Lykabettus Theatre show during So Tour in 1987. The 25th Anniversary Immersion box-set contains the Deluxe Edition CDs along with the "So DNA" CD, with the original album tracks in their evolutionary states; and 2 DVDs, the remastered version of the concert film "POV" and the documentary "So: Classic Albums". Also included is the original album on LP and the 12-inch AA Vinyl single; this version contain the unreleased tracks "Courage" and "Sagrada", and an alternate version of "Don't Give Up". Finally, there is also a studio quality 24 bit digital download and a 60-page case bound book. Both the CD and vinyl album feature the track listing from the previous remastered release (e.g. "In Your Eyes" occurs at the end of "side two" rather than the beginning). The tracks on the AA vinyl single are also included in the free 24-bit download.

3 CD Special Edition set[edit]

Disc 1 (original album remastered)
  1. "Red Rain"
  2. "Sledgehammer"
  3. "Don't Give Up" (featuring Kate Bush)
  4. "That Voice Again" (lyrics: Gabriel, David Rhodes; music: Gabriel)
  5. "Mercy Street"
  6. "Big Time"
  7. "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)"
  8. "This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)" (featuring Laurie Anderson) (Anderson, Gabriel)
  9. "In Your Eyes"
Disc 2 (Live in Athens 1987)
  1. "This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)"
  2. "San Jacinto"
  3. "Shock The Monkey"
  4. "Family Snapshot"
  5. "Intruder"
  6. "Games Without Frontiers"
  7. "No Self Control"
  8. "Mercy Street"
  9. "The Family And The Fishing Net"
Disc 3 (Live in Athens 1987)
  1. "Don't Give Up"
  2. "Solsbury Hill"
  3. "Lay Your Hands On Me"
  4. "Sledgehammer"
  5. "Here Comes The Flood"
  6. "In Your Eyes"
  7. "Biko"

Deluxe Box-Set Limited Edition[edit]

Disc 1 (Original Album Remastered)
  1. "Red Rain"
  2. "Sledgehammer"
  3. "Don't Give Up" (featuring Kate Bush)
  4. "That Voice Again" (lyrics: Gabriel, David Rhodes; music: Gabriel)
  5. "Mercy Street"
  6. "Big Time"
  7. "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)"
  8. "This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)" (featuring Laurie Anderson) (Anderson, Gabriel)
  9. "In Your Eyes"
Disc 2 (So DNA) (The same tracks are in original demos)
Disc 3 (Live in Athens 1987 - Part I)
  1. "This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)"
  2. "San Jacinto"
  3. "Shock The Monkey"
  4. "Family Snapshot"
  5. "Intruder"
  6. "Games Without Frontiers"
  7. "No Self Control"
  8. "Mercy Street"
  9. "The Family And The Fishing Net"
Disc 4 (Live in Athens 1987 - Part II)
  1. "Don't Give Up"
  2. "Solsbury Hill"
  3. "Lay Your Hands On Me"
  4. "Sledgehammer"
  5. "Here Comes The Flood"
  6. "In Your Eyes"
  7. "Biko"
DVD 1: POV, Live in Athens 1987
  1. "This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)"
  2. "San Jacinto"
  3. "Shock The Monkey"
  4. "Family Snapshot"
  5. "Intruder"
  6. "Games Without Frontiers"
  7. "No Self Control"
  8. "Mercy Street"
  9. "The Family And The Fishing Net"
  10. "Don't Give Up"
  11. "Solsbury Hill"
  12. "Lay Your Hands On Me"
  13. "Sledgehammer"
  14. "Here Comes The Flood"
  15. "In Your Eyes"
  16. "Biko"
DVD 2: "So: Classic Albums" (Documentary from the TV-series Classic Albums)
Vinyl (Original album LP format)
12" AA Vinyl
  1. "Courage" (unreleased)
  2. "Sagrada" (unreleased)
  3. "Don't Give Up" (alternate piano version)


The track numbers only correspond to the original release, not the remastered version.

Additional personnel[edit]



Region Certification Sales/shipments
France (SNEP)[48] Gold 237,900[49]
Germany (BVMI)[50] Platinum 500,000^
Netherlands (NVPI)[51] Platinum 100,000^
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[52] Gold 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[53] 3× Platinum 900,000^
United States (RIAA)[54] 5× Platinum 5,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone
xunspecified figures based on certification alone


  1. ^ a b c d Interview with Peter Gabriel. Uncut magazine. October 2011.
  2. ^ a b "Chart Stats – Peter Gabriel – So" (PHP). UK Albums Chart. Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  3. ^ a b "allmusic ((( So > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums )))". Retrieved 2011-10-31. 
  4. ^ The 100 Greatest Albums of the 80s Rolling Stone. Special Issue 1990. Retrieved 19 November 2011
  5. ^ "Peter Gabriel: An Authorized Biography" by Spencer Bright, Headline Book Publishing PLC, London, 1989.
  6. ^ a b Peter Gabriel, 'Sledgehammer' (1986) – The 30 All-TIME Best Music Videos Time. Retrieved 19 November 2011
  7. ^ a b The BRITS 1987 Retrieved 19 November 2011
  8. ^ "Peter Saville Talk – Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, 25 April 2005". Cerysmatic Factory. Retrieved 13 June 2012. 
  9. ^ Erlewine, Stephen T. (2011 [last update]). "So – Peter Gabriel | AllMusic". Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  10. ^ Van Matre, Lynn (12 June 1986). "Punk Not Proper Brogue Around The Pogues". Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  11. ^ Atkinson, Terry (25 May 1986). "Record Rack: Gabriel's 'So': The Play's The Thing". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-11-07. 
  12. ^ Baum, David R. (26 August 2003). "Peter Gabriel: So < PopMatters". PopMatters. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  13. ^ a b Mark Blake. Q magazine. December 2012.
  14. ^ Christgau, Robert (2011). "Robert Christgau: CG: peter gabriel". Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  15. ^ Holmes, Tim (14 August 1986). "So". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 7 June 2012. 
  16. ^ "Peter Gabriel: Album Guide". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 7 June 2012. 
  17. ^ David Buckley. Mojo. December 2012.
  18. ^ John Lewis. Uncut. November 2012.
  19. ^ "Peter Gabriel: Up". The Guardian. 20 September 2002. Retrieved 2 November 2012. 
  20. ^ Terry Staunton. Classic Rock magazine. December 2012.
  21. ^ "Peter Gabriel: "Back to Front", Talks at Google". Google. Retrieved 27 October 2012. 
  22. ^ Rolling Stone article on Peter Gabriel's So album
  23. ^ Rolling Stone, November 1989.
  24. ^ College Music Journal, (1/6/03, p.14)
  25. ^ College Music Journal, (1/5/04, p.18)
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Grammy Nominations Led by Steve Winwood". The New York Times. Associated Press. 10 January 1987. Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  28. ^ a b c Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. 
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  30. ^ Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 2011-11-17
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  32. ^ "InfoDisc : Tous les Albums classés par Artiste > Choisir Un Artiste Dans la Liste" (in French). Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  33. ^ a b "Hit Parade Italia – Gli album più venduti del 1986" (in Italian). Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  34. ^ Oricon Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970–2005. Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. 2006. ISBN 4-87131-077-9. 
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  36. ^ " Peter Gabriel – So" (ASP). Hung Medien. VG-lista. Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
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  38. ^ "Peter Gabriel – So –" (ASP). Hung Medien (in German). Swiss Music Charts. Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  39. ^ "Album Search: Peter Gabriel – So" (in German). Media Control. Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  40. ^ " – Jahreshitparade 1986". Hung Medien. Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  41. ^ "RPM Top 100 Albums of 1986". RPM. Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  42. ^ "Les Albums (CD) de 1986 par InfoDisc" (PHP) (in French). Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  43. ^ " – Schweizer Jahreshitparade 1986". Hung Medien. Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  44. ^ a b "Complete UK Year-End Album Charts". Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
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  49. ^ "Les Albums Or". (in French). SNEP. Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
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  52. ^ "Solo Exitos 1959-2002 Ano A Ano: Certificados 1979-1990". Iberautor Promociones Culturales. ISBN 8480486392. 
  53. ^ "British album certifications – Peter Gabriel – So". British Phonographic Industry.  Enter So in the field Search. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Click Go
  54. ^ "American album certifications – Peter Gabriel – So". Recording Industry Association of America.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH

External links[edit]