35 Albums in 35 Years: 1986

In an ongoing attempt to bleed my opinions all over your computer screen, I’m selecting one album from every year that I’ve been alive that has some sort of significance to me…and then writing about it.  Welcome back to 35 Albums in 35 Years.


petergabrielso1986: Peter Gabriel’s So

Like so many people my age, I first became aware of Peter Gabriel through the fantastic and weird video for his hit “Sledgehammer” on MTV.  I have been a sucker for animation of any kind since I was a little kid, and the video’s almost jarring use of live action animation was just amazing to me.  I loved it.  It seemed to be in a perpetual battle with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” for best video of all time back in the 80’s.  Dancing zombies versus quirky animated sequences…a war to end them all.

My next foray into the music of Peter Gabriel came through the speakers of Lloyd Dobler’s boombox, the lovely, though horrendously overplayed, “In Your Eyes” attempting to woo my sister and just about every other girl I’ve ever known or met back into his loving arms.  That guy ruined love for a whole generation, but at least he had good taste in pop music.

And so, with two giant avatars of pop culture significance, I was compelled to buy Gabriel’s 1986 album So…and then write about it years later for an internet magazine.  Upon relistening to the record, my first thought was how well the production holds up after 28 years.  It still sounds so fresh and new.  From the opening synthesized hum of “Red Rain,” Gabriel’s and fellow producer Daniel Lanois’ sound is so full and lush, so grand, it feels like it could have been recorded today.  I’m not sure what kind of techniques the two used when making the album, but it manages to transcend all the trappings of overwrought 1980’s production slickness and feel like an organic composition, something for the ages and ageless.  Even Kate Bush makes an appearance on a track, and she’s cooler and hipper than any of us will ever be.  So there’s that.

Aside from the killer production, the album is also a pretty big departure from all of Gabriel’s previous efforts, both his contributions to Genesis when he was a member of that band and his four eponymous solo outings before So.  It’s airy at times and treads much poppier waters than the darker, more experimental work Peter Gabriel had been known for up to that time (and is known for still), though it still comes from a musical outsider’s perspective.  That being said, every track is a winner, from the big hits like the aforementioned “Sledgehammer” and “In Your Eyes,” to smaller hits like “Big Time,” to non-singles like “Red Rain” and “Mercy Street.”  This is avant garde art pop at its finest.

And so, though my Peter Gabriel dalliances may be few and far between, it was kind of nice to revisit So, and God willing, we’ll always have the strange and wonderful videos the man produces for his art.

- Favorite song: “Big Time”

- Runner up: “Red Rain”

Some other albums I almost wrote about instead: The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead; Public Image Ltd’s Album; Spacemen 3’s Sound of Confusion.


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

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