Pop-Up Video: Sledgehammer (1986)

Single: Peter Gabriel
Album: So
Released: April 21, 1986
Genre: Dance, rock, blue-eyed soul, funk
Songwriter: Peter Gabriel

"Sledgehammer" by Peter Gabriel won a record nine honors at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards and was the Best British Video at the 1987 Brit Awards. Gabriel was also nominated for three Grammy Awards; Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year. The accompanying video ranks number 4 on MTV's 1999 list of the 100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made. In a 2005 poll conducted by Channel 4, the clip was voted number 2 on their list of the 100 Greatest Pop Videos.

Shock The Monkey (1982)

Peter Gabriel was the lead singer of the progressive rock band Genesis from 1969-1975. He left after their Lamb Lies Down On Broadway tour. Phil Collins took over on vocals, and the group continued composing music. Gabriel took off a year before releasing his first solo album. His first single to break into the US Top 40, "Shock the Monkey," was the second track released from his fourth solo album, Security in the US. The song peaked at number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. 

Fourth self-titled album Security
Peter Gabriel's fourth solo album Security

The track is frequently assumed to be about animal rights or shock therapy. It's neither. Gabriel describes the tune "a love song," reflecting on jealousy's effect on our basic instincts. The monkey is a metaphor for the 'green-eyed monster.' The lyrical motif drew inspiration from King Kong's lightning powers in the film King Kong vs. Godzilla. Its disturbing music video was played heavily in the early days of MTV. 

Sledgehammer (1986)
"Sometimes sex can break through barriers."
Peter Gabriel
"Sledgehammer" is a track off Peter Gabriel's fifth studio album, So. The music was influenced by 1960's American soul singers like Otis Redding. The lyrics are about sex and are loaded with phallic symbols. "Sledgehammer" refers to the male member, the train, the bumper cars, and the "Big Dipper:" a wooden roller coaster at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in England. Gabriel said, "Sometimes sex can break through barriers when other forms of communication are not working too well."

"Sledgehammer" was Gabriel's first number 1 single in the US. His former band, Genesis, had their first number 1 - "Invisible Touch" - the week before, with Gabriel in the number 2 spot. The following week, Gabriel unseated Genesis to take over atop the charts while they fell to number 3. He credits the video for the success. He told Rolling Stone, "I think it had a sense of humor and fun, neither of which were particularly associated with me. I mean - wrongly in my way of looking at it - I think I was seen as a fairly intense, eccentric Englishman."

"If anyone wants to copy this video, 
good luck to them."
Peter Gabriel
Gabriel used the legendary Memphis Horns from Stax Records on this song. Critics claimed he copied his former bandmate Phil Collins' style on his hits "Easy Lover" and "Sussudio." Gabriel denied it, saying he influenced Collins. Stephen R. Johnson directed the video. His previous work included the Talking Heads music clip  for "Road To Nowhere." He didn't really like the song. "I thought it was just another white boy trying to sound black," Johnson said in the book I Want My MTV.

The video starts with an egg being fertilized and ends with Gabriel wandering into the cosmos. The storyline centers on the continuum of life. During an episode of Johnnie Walker's Long Players on BBC Radio 2, Gabriel said he spent 16 hours lying beneath a heavy sheet of glass while each frame was shot, "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.'" 
 In the same program, he revealed stop-motion animator Nick Parkof Wallace & Gromit fame, worked on the oven-ready chicken dance scene. The chickens were supposed to do a more complex dance, but the real chickens they used for modeling turned too foul quickly. There were also some problems with the electrical current running through Gabriel when he put on a lighted suit for the ending scene. This was solved by covering a suited Gabriel and the rest of the set in Scotchlite tape. 

Some sources claim this is the most-played video of all time on MTV. That's plausible, even though "Sledgehammer" was ranked number 4 in the network's 1999 list of 100 Greatest Music Videos. "Thriller" was number 1, "Vogue" number 2, with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in the number 3 position. Early on, MTV had fewer videos to choose from and played them in a tighter rotation. "Thriller" was a very long video with a twist ending. Once it was revealed, there were few repeat viewings. 

Hi-Def 4K Remaster (2018)

A remastered high-definition 4k version was released in 2018 and hosted on Apple Music. Created from the original negatives, the new version gives 'Sledgehammer' high-definition clarity while remaining true to the vision of director Stephen R. Johnson. 


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