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Released: May 13, 1986

Rating: 4.316 (average of 15 ratings)

Genre: alternative rock/pop

Quotable: A mix of both halves of Gabriel: the “more conventional pop-writing style and…[a] dark, brooding sense of experimentalism.” – Wikipedia

Album Tracks:

  1. Red Rain [5:39]
  2. Sledgehammer [5:12]
  3. Don’t Give Up (with Kate Bush) [6:33]
  4. That Voice Again [4:53]
  5. In Your Eyes [5:27]
  6. Mercy Street [6:22]
  7. Big Time [4:28]
  8. We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37) [3:22]
  9. This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds) [4:25]

Total Running Time: 45:21

Sales (in millions):

sales in U.S. only 5.0
sales in U.K. only - estimated 0.9
sales in all of Europe as determined by IFPI – click here to go to their site. --
sales worldwide - estimated 5.9


peak on U.S. Billboard album chart 2
peak on U.K. album chart 1 2

Singles/Hit Songs:

  • Sledgehammer (4/26/86) #1 US, #4 UK, #1 AR, #61 RB
  • Red Rain (6/14/86) #46 UK, #3 AR
  • In Your Eyes (6/21/86) #26 US, #1 AR, sales: 0.5 m
  • That Voice Again (10/18/86) #14 AR
  • Don’t Give Up (11/1/86) #72 US, #9 UK
  • Big Time (11/29/86) #4a US, #13 UK, #3 AR

Notes: “When the album was remastered in 2002 with most of Gabriel’s catalogue, the song ‘In Your Eyes’ was moved from the fifth song to the ninth song. This was what Peter Gabriel originally intended, but because of the limitations of the vinyl release format it was moved up to be the first track on side two.” WK


Rated one of the top 1000 albums of all time by Dave’s Music Database. Click to learn more. One of my personal top 100 albums of all time. Click to learn more. One of VH1’s 100 Greatest Rock & Roll Albums of All Time.

Peter Gabriel
For Gabriel’s fifth studio effort, So, many of his songs reflected “a more conventional pop-writing style and became radio hits, others still retain Gabriel’s dark, brooding sense of experimentalism.” WK Producer Daniel Lanois, who’d previous worked with Gabriel for the Birdy soundtrack, was “known for his ambient collaborations with Brian Eno as well as producing U2 since 1984. As he had with the soundtrack to the film Birdy, Lanois brought many of his own ambient sensibilities to this recording.” WK

“This was Gabriel’s first studio album to bear an official title from its inception. His previous regular albums were simply titled Peter Gabriel, including 1982’s Security, which was retitled by Gabriel’s U.S. label at the time, Geffen Records. It had been speculated that the album was named for the fifth note on the scale (do-re-mi-fa-SO), signifying that it was Gabriel’s fifth solo album. However, the fifth note of the scale is actually SOL, and according to Peter Gabriel himself, the title did not have any meaning. ‘It doesn’t mean anything’, he said in an interview with Smash Hits in 1986. ‘We just liked the form of the word and the two letters. That’s all.’” WK

Much of the album’s success had to do with “Sledgehammer, an Otis Redding-inspired soul-pop raver that was easily his catchiest, happiest single to date. Needless to say, it was also his most accessible, and, in that sense it was a good introduction to So, the catchiest, happiest record he ever cut.” STE The song was a #1 hit in the U.S. and its accompanying groundbreaking video, which won MTV’s Video of the Year, is generally in the discussion of best videos ever made. “Directed by Steven Johnson, it features stop motion animation by Aardman Animations of Wallace and Gromit fame. The dancing chickens were animated by Nick Park.” WK

“‘Sledgehammer’ propelled the record toward blockbuster status, and Gabriel had enough songs with single potential to keep it there.” STE Big Time was “another colorful dance number” STE that was “a send-up of the narcissism of the 1980s and was also accompanied by a video in the same vein of ‘Sledgehammer.’” WK

Also in the hit vein are “the urgent That Voice Again,” STEDon’t Give Up, a moving duet with Kate Bush…and In Your Eyes, Gabriel’s greatest love song which achieved genuine classic status after being featured in Cameron Crowe’s classic, Say Anything. These all illustrated the strengths of the album: Gabriel’s increased melodicism and ability to blend African music, jangly pop, and soul into his moody art rock.” STE

Bridging the gap between the hits and the more experimental material is Red Rain, “a stately anthem popular on album rock radio.” STE “Inspired by a recurring dream which Gabriel had of swimming in a sea of red water, its lyrics vividly depict dream imagery that reflect a sense of vulnerability. The song is one of the works in the story of Mozo, a wandering stranger who appears in several Gabriel songs,” WK others being “On the Air” and “Exposure.” WK “Of all the tracks on the album, Gabriel considers ‘Red Rain’ one of his favourites.” WK

“The rest of the record is as quiet as the album tracks of Security.” STEMercy Street is dedicated to poet Anne Sexton and takes its title from her 1969 play, Mercy Street (Sexton also posthumously released a book of poetry, 45 Mercy Street).” WK We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37) “refers to the 37 out of 40 compliant subjects of Milgram Experiment 18.” WK It was also “featured in an episode of the TV series Miami Vice.” WK

This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds) “features vocals with co-writer Laurie Anderson. This track is not included on the original vinyl release of the album, but was added to the audio cassette and CD editions. Anderson had previously recorded a different arrangement of the song entitled ‘Excellent Birds’ for her 1984 album, Mister Heartbreak, which also featured vocals by Gabriel. A video rendition of the song featuring Anderson and Gabriel was included in the 1 January 1984 TV satellite broadcast Good Morning, Mr. Orwell. Anderson also performs the song in her concert film Home of the Brave, released around the same time as So.” STE

While on Security the singles “were part of the overall fabric; here, the singles are the fabric, which can make the album seem top-heavy (a fault of many blockbuster albums, particularly those of the mid-‘80s). Even so, those songs are so strong, finding Gabriel in a newfound confidence and accessibility, that it’s hard not to be won over by them, even if So doesn’t develop the unity of its two predecessors.” STE

Review Sources:

Related DMDB Links:
previous studio album: Security (1982) Peter Gabriel’s DMDB page next studio album: Us (1992)

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Last updated March 7, 2011.