Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel song)
|Single by Peter Gabriel|
|from the album So|
|Released||25 April 1986|
|Recorded||1985 at Ashcombe House (Bath, England)|
|Peter Gabriel singles chronology|
"Sledgehammer" is a song by English rock musician Peter Gabriel. It was released as the lead single from his fifth studio album, So (1986), on 25 April 1986. It was produced by Gabriel and Daniel Lanois. It hit No. 1 in Canada on 21 July 1986, where it spent four weeks; No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States on 26 July 1986; and No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart, thanks in part to a popular and influential music video. It was his biggest hit in North America and ties with "Games Without Frontiers" as his biggest hit in the United Kingdom.
The song's music video won a record nine MTV Video Music Award at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards and Best British Video at the 1987 Brit Awards. Gabriel was also nominated for three Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
"Sledgehammer" has been described as dance-rock, blue-eyed soul, and funk. The song was influenced by 1960s soul music, in particular that made by Memphis label Stax. The distinctive horn track was provided by a horn section led by Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns, Stax's house musicians.
"It's probably about three years old… I was playing at that time with the idea of doing an album full of soul songs – mainly other people's, but maybe a couple of my own. I'm still tempted, although probably that would be construed as an even greater sell-out. But, as a teenager, soul music was one of the things that made me want to be a musician. It was really passionate and exciting… Wayne Jackson, who plays on that track, was also with Otis Redding and was touring with him when I saw them in London. So that was a thrill for me, just to get a whole lot of fan stories. But I think the song was more influenced by many of those Stax and Atlantic tracks rather than Otis particularly." – Peter Gabriel, July 1986
The song also features a synthesised shakuhachi flute generated with an E-mu Emulator II sampler. The backing vocals were by P. P. Arnold, Coral "Chyna Whyne" Gordon, and Dee Lewis, who also did the backing for "Big Time".
"Sledgehammer" is Gabriel's only US No.1. It replaced "Invisible Touch" by his former band Genesis; coincidentally, that group's only US No.1. "Sledgehammer" also achieved success on other Billboard charts in 1986, spanning the Album Rock Tracks (two weeks at the summit in May and June) and Hot Dance Club Play (one week atop this chart in July).
The single release included the previously unreleased "Don't Break This Rhythm" and an "'85 Remix" of 1982's "I Have the Touch". US versions of the single contained an extended dance remix of "Sledgehammer".
"Sledgehammer" had a video commissioned by Tessa Watts at Virgin Records, directed by Stephen R. Johnson and produced by Adam Whittaker. Aardman Animations and the Brothers Quay provided claymation, pixilation, and stop motion animation that gave life to images in the song. Many of these techniques had been employed in earlier music videos, such as Talking Heads's 1985 hit "Road to Nowhere", also directed by Johnson. The style was later used in the video for another single from So, "Big Time".
Gabriel lay under a sheet of glass for 16 hours while filming the video one frame at a time. "It took a lot of hard work," Gabriel recalled. "I was thinking at the time, 'If anyone wants to try and copy this video, good luck to them.'" Two dead, headless, featherless chickens were animated using stop-motion and shown dancing along to the synthesised shakuhachi solo in the middle of the song. This section was animated by Nick Park, of Aardman Animations, who was refining his work in plasticine animation at the time. The video ended with a large group of extras jerkily rotating around Gabriel, among them his daughters Anna-Marie and Melanie, the animators themselves and director Stephen Johnson's girlfriend. Also included were six women who posed as the back-up singers of the song.
"Sledgehammer" won nine MTV Video Music Awards in 1987, the most awards a single video has won. It ranked at number four on MTV's 100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made (1999). "Sledgehammer" has also been declared MTV's number one animated video of all time.
The video was voted number seven on TMF's Ultimate 50 Videos You Must See, which first aired 24 June 2006. It ranked at number 2 on VH1's "Top 20 Videos of the '80s" and number one on "Amazing Moment in Music" on the Australian TV show 20 to 1 in 2007. It won Best British Video at the 1987 Brit Awards and was nominated for the Best Music Video category for the first annual Soul Train Music Awards in that same year.
- List of awards and nominations received by "Sledgehammer"
|Year||Nominee / work||Award||Result|
|1987||Brit Awards||British Single of the Year||Nominated|
|British Video of the Year||Won|
|Grammy Award||Record of the Year||Nominated|
|Song of the Year||Nominated|
|Best Male Rock Vocal Performance||Nominated|
|MTV Video Music Award||Video of the Year||Won|
|Best Male Video||Won|
|Best Concept Video||Won|
|Most Experimental Video||Won|
|Best Overall Performance||Won|
|Best Visual Effects||Won|
|Best Art Direction||Won|
|Viewer's Choice Award||Nominated|
|Soul Train Music Awards||Best Video of the Year||Nominated|
- Peter Gabriel – vocals, CMI, piano, Prophet-5 synthesizer
- Manu Katché – drums
- Tony Levin – bass guitar
- David Rhodes – guitar
- Daniel Lanois – guitar, tambourine
- Wayne Jackson – trumpet
- Mark Rivera – tenor saxophone
- Don Mikkelsen – trombone
- P. P. Arnold – backing vocals
- Coral Gordon – backing vocals
- Dee Lewis – backing vocals
Covers and parodies
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- In 1986, "Weird Al" Yankovic covered this song as the first song from his polka medley "Polka Party!" from the 1986 album of the same name. He also imitated the video (the parts with the clouds and the bumper cars) in the music video for "UHF" in 1989, and used the song's style as the basis for his song "Waffle King" from Alapalooza in 1993.
- The Trey Anastasio Band covered "Sledgehammer" on 4 May 2005.
- In 2005, progressive rock band Umphrey's McGee did a rendition of "Sledgehammer" on the Wrapped Around Chicago – New Year's Eve at The Riviera DVD. The band occasionally covers the song in live performances.
- In 2007, Finnish symphonic metal supergroup Northern Kings covered the song on their album Reborn.
- In 2008, R&B singer Maiysha did a sensual rendition of "Sledgehammer" for her album This Much Is True.
- The Dave Matthews Band has covered the song many times dating back to 2008.
- Artist Gavin Castleton covered the song in 2009, in his style of live looping.
- In 2017 Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox did a retro 50's rhythm and blues cover of the song featuring Noah Guthrie 
- "Sledgehammer" was sampled for the 1991 3rd Bass hit song "Pop Goes the Weasel".
- The 1993 Naughty by Nature song "Hip Hop Hooray" also samples the shakuhachi intro.
- In 2000, the song was sampled for "I've Got to Have It" by Jermaine Dupri, Monica and Nas, which appeared on the soundtrack for the motion picture Big Momma's House.
- The song appeared on a 1993 British television commercial for the Vauxhall Cavalier, followed by the guitar riff from Eric Clapton's "Layla".
- The song appeared in the 1987 Miami Vice episode "Better Living Through Chemistry", during a scene inside a biker bar. A slightly altered version of the shakuhachi refrain in the opening was used by background musician Jan Hammer at appropriate moments.
- In 2012, radio commentator Rush Limbaugh played "Sledgehammer" on his show during his commentary on Sandra Fluke's crusade for free birth control, during which he called her "a slut". Consequently, Gabriel demanded that the program stop using his music.
- List of Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles of 1986
- List of Billboard Mainstream Rock number-one songs of the 1980s
- List of Cash Box Top 100 number-one singles of 1986
- List of number-one singles of 1986 (Canada)
- List of number-one dance singles of 1985 (U.S.)
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- on YouTube
- on YouTube
- on YouTube
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