6 of Peter Gabriel’s Favorite Songs

Since his earliest inception into music with Genesis in the late 1960s through the mid-’70s and his diverse solo career of progressive, world, and experimental rock and pop, Peter Gabriel has influenced numerous artists from Radiohead, The Killers, Sarah McLachlan, Coldplay, and Kate Bush, who even shared a duet with him on his 1986 track “Don’t Give Up.”

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Throughout his own musical life, there were several specific acts, and songs, that left their indelible mark on Gabriel as well as in his teens and well into the 1980s.

In 2010, Gabriel revealed his six all-time favorite songs and how each one inspired him, from an early Beatles single, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, and Sam Cooke’s song of protest.

Here’s a chronological look at Gabriel’s six favorite songs, and why he always loved them.

1. “Please Please Me,” The Beatles (1963)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

It all started at the beginning for Gabriel—The Beatles‘ first album. Following the group’s debut hit single  “Love Me Do,” the title track off their debut, Please Please Me, also reached No. 1 in the U.K. and was their very first to chart in the U.S. at No. 2.

Gabriel remembered the lasting effect that one song had over him.

“‘Please, Please Me’ was coming over the radio,” said Gabriel. “I would sit in the back of my parent’s car when we were on these long drives down to the coast. And what people forget, I think, is that at the time, it was really rebellious, rough, mischievous and full of life, and irresistible to any young person.”

He added, “The Beatles were a huge influence as I was growing up, and continued to be as there was all that revolution around their success.”

2. “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Otis Redding (1965)
Written by Sam Cooke

Reflecting the struggles of black Americans during the civil rights movement, Sam Cooke‘s “A Change Is Gonna Come” was also inspired by a number of experiences in the late singer and songwriter’s own life, particularly the experiences of being treated differently because he was black. Over the decades, The Supremes, The Righteous Brothers, Aretha Franklin, and Tina Turner, among many more artists have covered Cooke’s protest classic, which he released in 1964, just a month before he died later that year on Dec. 11, at the age of 33.

A year later, Otis Redding covered the song as a tribute to its songwriter and released his third album, Otis Blue as “Change Gonna Come.” It was Redding’s version that captured Gabriel the most. Gabriel first saw Redding perform in 1967, the same year he co-founded Genesis.

“I was extremely lucky in 1967, when I was 17 years old, to go and see Otis Redding perform at the Ram Jam Club in Brixton in London,” remembered Gabriel. “When he came on, it was like the sun coming out. So it was just this amazing voice, totally in command, great band, great grooves, and passion that permeated everything.”

Gabriel added, “I think I would have to choose an Otis track, and ‘Change Gonna Come’ might be one. Obviously, that’s a song associated with other people and Sam Cooke and so on. But it’s just the way Otis put the message over. I think he’s a supreme interpreter, and what a heart.”

Read the story behind the meaning of “A Change Is Gonna Come,” HERE.

3. “Hey Joe,” The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)
Written by Billy Roberts

Gabriel was in school the very first time he heard “Hey Joe.”

“I can remember where I was when I first heard Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe,’ which was at school in a particular room upstairs and it was, in fact, in the next-door room,” shared Gabriel. “And my ear perked up and I went in and listened to it and just had to find out about who this artist was.”

Released on the U.S. version of Jimi Hendrix‘s 1967 debut, Are You Experienced, “Hey Joe” was also a hit single for Hendrix a year earlier, and peaked at No. 6 in the U.K.

“I think particularly when you’re growing up, songs are like memory stamps,” added Gabriel of the song. “I think people go through life and they have these intense experiences that are really beautiful—or really horrible that just get locked into a certain song.”

4. “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” Randy Newman (1968)
Written by Randy Newman

Randy Newman is another person I think is a master songwriter and does beautiful arrangements,” said Gabriel. “And I think some of the things he does for films seem deceptively simple, but they are really the work of a master.”

The somber, piano-led “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today” was filled with darker lyrics for Newman, which is part of the reason why Gabriel considers it one of his best. “’I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today’ is one of his best songs,” said Gabriel. “It’s not necessarily a very positive message, but it’s beautifully constructed, elegant songwriting with a lot of heart.”

Newman’s eponymous debut in 1968 was a collection of gloomier songs, including its penultimate “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today”— Broken windows and empty hallways / A pale dead moon in the sky streaked with gray / Human kindness is overflowing / And I think it’s going to rain today. In 2017, Newman revealed that he was so disconnected from the tracks on his debut that sold the rights to the songs.

5. “Blue,” Joni Mitchell (1971)
Written by Joni Mitchell

Blue was a collection of songs reflecting the disenchantment during the end of an era, the ’60s. On a personal level, for Joni Mitchell, some of the songs gravitate around the loss of love, namely the end of her relationship with Graham Nash and other previous romances, including another with James Taylor. “Blue” captured the essence of loneliness and disillusionment.

An empty space to fill in
Well there’re so many sinking
Now you’ve got to keep thinking
You can make it thru these waves

“Joni, I think, I’ve been in love with not just because of the writing, but also [because] she was an experimenter,” shared Gabriel. “She was pushing the musical boundaries both in the way she wrote harmonies and then exploring arrangements. Great artist.”

6. “The Boy in the Bubble,” Paul Simon (1986)
Written by Paul Simon and Forere Motlhoheloa

Graceland had nothing to do with Elvis and everything to do with a multicultured tonic of sounds. Blending the African Zulu roots music of mbaqanga and isicathamiya and the Creolo beats of zydeco, along with some pop and rock, made Paul Simon‘s seventh album a pivotal point within his catalog. In 1987, Simon won a Grammy for Album of the Year for Graceland and Record of the Year for the title track.

The opening track “Boy in the Bubble” is Gabriel’s favorite.

“Paul Simon, he’s written so many great songs,” said Gabriel. “‘Boy in the Bubble’ was one [of them]. Like many people, I loved the ‘Graceland’ record. You get carried away with the infectious grooves and you don’t always listen that much to the words. So that’s one of the most extraordinary lyrics written on a rock song, I think. It’s stunning.”

Photo: Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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