➡️➡️Learn more about Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel: https://producelikeapro.com/blog/stop-motion-transformations-peter-gabriels-artistic-ascent-into-pop-stardom-with-sledgehammer/
Certainly, the next decade became a time of discovery for Gabriel – personal and musical. On the musical side, he began releasing a series of four self-titled albums , which his fans have since provided with their own nicknames (“Car” (1977), “Scratch” (1977), “Melt” (1979) and “Security” (1982)). While several of the solo albums include charting singles, it was Gabriel’s fifth album, So (1986), that gave him his first and only number one hit – “Sledgehammer.” With an irresistible groove, a horn part straight from Stax, and brilliant production, “Sledgehammer” transformed Gabriel from an edgy seventies rocker into a eighties pop superstar.
Although “Sledgehammer” would turn out to be a massive success, appealing to a large and diverse audience, Gabriel did not have such grand intentions with the track when he began.. Gabriel reflected on the song’s success in 2012 explaining:
“With “Sledgehammer,” everyone thinks, “Oh, he must have created that to get a hit.” And it wasn’t done that way. In fact, Tony Levin reminded me that he was packing his bags to go home, and I called him back into the studio, saying “I’ve got this one idea that maybe we can fool around with for the next record – but I like the feel.” That was “Sledgehammer.” It was late in the day and we just fell into the groove, landed a beautiful drum track on it, a great bass line and it all came together.”
The song certainly does come together, bringing innovative sounds and diverse influences into one incredible track. It opens with a synthesized Japanese shakuhachi flute sample, played on Gabriel’s Fairlight CMI. Pulling from his progressive rock roots, the free flowing flute sound draws the listener quietly in before the horn section dramatically announces the onset of the song’s magnetic groove. Drummer Manu Katche captures a funk influence with an eighties pop of the gated reverb snare. Tony Levin’s bass line is exciting and catchy, while also sounding impossibly smooth. The classic fretless tone is paired with the attack of a pic, giving it that bright and rhythmic edge. He runs this through an octave pedal, giving it that modern sound. The guitars provide the funky yet stable core that allow the active bassline to take center stage.
Undeniably critical to this entire mix is the soul influence and energy of the horn section. Expressing his excitement about having Wayne Jackson – who had played in the house band at Stax records and toured with Otis Redding – play trumpet for the track, Gabriel told WMMR Radio in 1986:
“as a teenager, soul music was one of the things that made me want to be a musician. It was really passionate and exciting… Wayne Jackson, who plays on that track, was also with Otis Redding and was touring with him when I saw them in London. So that was a thrill for me, just to get a whole lot of fan stories. But I think the song was more influenced by many of those Stax and Atlantic tracks rather than Otis particularly.”