Most of Gabriel's songs have lyrics made up of various images that come to him, put this was a rare autobiographical song, dealing with his break as lead singer of the band Genesis and anticipation of his new challenge as a solo artist.
This was Gabriel's first single as a solo artist. It was a big deal for him, since the song proved that he could write and perform a hit on his own with a song that was meaningful to him. He remarked in interviews at the time that he was especially pleased with the song and surprised that it was a single, since at one point he was going to leave it off the album.
Built around an acoustic guitar riff, this song is much more simple and toned-down from his extravagant work with Genesis.
Even though this didn't have much chart success, it became a radio staple on various formats and remains popular. The timelessness of the song can be attributed to the fact that it was never overplayed by radio stations.
Gabriel used an unusual 7/4 time signature on this song. Another quirk: More instruments are added on each verse. "That 7/4 rhythm works well because it feels like a normal rhythm but isn't quite right," remarked Gabriel in Sounds magazine. "It's not like a clever rhythm, just a bit odd. It'll be interesting to see how people dance to it."
Gabriel considers this one of his favorites. It's almost always included in his live shows.
Solsbury Hill is located near Bath, England, where Gabriel would often walk or jog. According to legend, a temple was built there to honor Apollo, god of light, music, and poetry. Solsbury Hill was the focus of a long and bitter dispute in the 1990s between environmentalists and government concerning the construction of a 4 lane road which cuts deeply into the side of the hill. (thanks, Tim - Bath, England)
On his 2011 album New Blood, Gabriel recorded new versions of 13 of his older songs. He planned to leave this song off the set, but added it after fans requested the song. Gabriel sent his engineer to the actual Solsbury Hill to record the ambiance, which was used as the intro to the new version of the song.
The album was produced by Bob Ezrin, who had previously worked with Alice Cooper and would later produce the Pink Floyd album The Wall. Securing Ezrin, who was a top producer, demonstrated Gabriel's commitment to the album and to his solo career.