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Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer is 30 years old

1986 was a pretty damn good year for music artist Peter Gabriel. After almost a decade and a half of music biz shenanigans (including a stint as Genesis frontman and a few solo hit singles), the singer scored a worldwide smash with his album, So.

Of course, this was made possible by the eye-popping, revolutionary and, not to mention, fabulously fun video for the first single from the album, the iconic Sledgehammer.

Now 30 years old – yes, we know you feel old now – here’s what you need to know about that classic slice of 80s pop.

1. It is MTV’s most played music video of all time.

2. In 1987, the video swept up at the MTV VMAs winning 9 awards including, Video of the Year. This is the most awards a single video has won.

3. The video also won Best British Video at the Brits whilst the song was nominated for 3 Grammys (including Song of the Year).

4. It was directed by Stephen R. Johnson who had previously helmed the Talking Heads video Road To Nowhere – which also utilised the lip-sync stop-motion style.

(Johnson would also collaborate with Peter again on the promos for singles Big Time, just a few months after Sledgehammer, and the sexually-charged 1992 hit, Steam – which used motion-capture for the first time in a pop video.)

5.  The video uses claymation, pixilation, and stop-motion animation.

6. The video was shot and edited in just over a week.

7. Aardman Animation, the company behind Wallace & Gromit and Shaun The Sheep, were involved in the production of the video.

Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer - video fragment
8. Nick Park – creator of the aforementioned Wallace & Gromit – personally animated the dancing chickens in the video. In 2000, Nick would co-direct very different kinds of chicken in Chicken Run.

9. The aforementioned oven-ready chickens went bad under the studio lights during filming and caused a bit of fowl stench.

10. Peter lay under a glass sheet for over 16 hours during filming.

11. The video kicks off with a microscopic look at flowing sperm. Later on, we see some plasticine sperm. Someone’s got issues.

Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer - video fragment

12. And that person would be Peter. Gabriel once said about the hit, ‘Sometimes sex can break through barriers when other forms of communication are not working too well.’ (The "Sledgehammer" is his wang, for those not being Freudian here.)

13. Peter described the scene where his face became the sky and clouds flew across as ‘painful’ as his skin became sore with the paint.

Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer - video fragment

14. In the UK, the single sold over a quarter of a million copies.

15. The song was issued in the usual formats of 7″ and 12″ on vinyl but it was also one of the earliest CD singles and the cassingle (that’s cassette single if you don’t know) was rather inappropriately released in cigarette pack style packaging.

16. Peter’s daughters Anna-Marie and Melanie can be seen towards the end of the video. The latter would go on to sing as her father’s backing singer on tour

Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer - video fragment

17. If it wasn’t for the video, Gabriel believes the song would not have been a hit, telling Rolling Stone, ‘I think it had a sense of both 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.’

18. Sledgehammer knocked Invisible Touch by Genesis off the No. 1 slot in the US Billboard Hot 100. Peter Gabriel used to front the band until 1975, when he left and Phil Collins took over vocal duties.

19. Peter’s next video, Don’t Give Up, saw him cuddling fellow artist Kate Bush for four minutes (because Dolly Parton turned it down). Peter contacted his wife to ensure this was OK (their marriage was not too healthy at the time); he recalls,  ‘I thought that five minutes of groping Kate in front of the world was perhaps not the best thing for a dodgy marriage At the time I felt I needed a blessing. Anyway, Jill [his then wife] was great about it.’ The marriage would formally end the following year.
© Metro, by Cameron K McEwan
Last modified onSunday, 01 May 2016 11:42

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