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Shock The Monkey

by

Peter Gabriel



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This is sometimes mistaken as a song about shock therapy, but Gabriel has said it is a song about jealousy.
This was the first Gabriel single to chart higher in America than England.
Peter Hammill sang backup. He was a member of the band Van Der Graaf Generator.
In 2001, Gabriel did an experiment at Georgia State University where he tried to teach 12 Bonobo Apes to play keyboards. No word on whether the monkeys were shocked.
Gabriel recorded a German version on his Deutsches album called "Shock Den Affen."
This was used in the opening credits sequence for the 1987 film Project X. (thanks, Tom - Springfield, VT)
In 2002, legendary Hawaiian performer Don Ho recorded this for the compilation album When Pigs Fly: Songs You Never Thought You'd Hear. Cevin Soling, who is the album's executive producer, explains: "My band backed him. He was a very sweet man and really loved by everyone around him. Most of the journalists wanted to interview him, even though the album features other incredible stars: Jackie Chan, Ani DiFranco, Devo, Roy Clark. Originally I asked Don to sing "Firestarter" by Prodigy, and as he studied the lyrics, he said, 'No, I can't sing "I'm the bitch you hated--filth infatuated." It would upset my fans.'" So they selected Peter Gabriel's 'Shock the Monkey,' and created an animated video to go with the song." (Check out our interview with Cevin Soling.)
This song was featured in the South Park episode "Raisins" when Stan held up a boom box playing this song on Wendy's front lawn only to find out she was with Token. The scene was a play on the movie Say Anything, which featured Gabriel's song "In Your Eyes." (thanks, Jeana - Sterling Heights, MI)
Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel Artistfacts
More Peter Gabriel songs
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Comments (35):

I was convinced, decades ago, that the song was about human development and evolution. "Shock the Monkey" refers to higher primates electrifying their existence. We must be covered with clothing, because we no longer have fur. Developing technology was accompanied by bipedalism, which "knocked us out the trees," occasionally on our knees. I still prefer that interpretation, although apparently Peter would disagree.
- DrYattz, Atlanta, GA
After viewing the video, I'm thinking that there's at least some reference to the "Executive Monkey" psychological study, published in 1958, wherein two monkeys are strapped into chairs with levers that prevent a timed electrical shock. At one point one monkey has control to stop the shocks, while the other has no control. The monkey with the control is dubbed the Executive Monkey, who is found to die from perforated ulcers due to the stress of dealing with decision making and response. The non-executive had no ill effects.
- Josh, Champaign, IL
[Butthead] Uhh, heh heh...he said "monkey." [/Butthead]
- Willie, Scottsdale, AZ
I like quite a few of Gabriel's songs, but I have NEVER understood why people consider him such a genius. His time with Genesis did not produce much of anything great in my opinion. Then again, I don't think Genesis did anything great ever. Many people seem to think that if somebody acts quirky that makes them a genius. If this is true then nut houses are full of them.
- Guy, Benson, NC
An even bigger Peter Gabriel hit that seems to combine drug references with issues of emotional lust is 'Sledgehammer'. He talks about all the things his (seemingly) love interest could have if s/he'd "just lay down [his/her] tracks". Of course intravenous drug use and the resulting scars are often referred to, in slang, as "tracks". A former junkie friend of mine once told me that being another person's "sledgehammer" is to aid him/her through the nightmare of breaking a drug addiction (usually heroin).. Look at the rest of the lyrics and the person who wants to be the other person's "sledgehammer" is promising such things as "blue skies", "opening up your [here you'd have to assume he's referring to a she] fruit cage", etc. Hmmmmmm.
- fred, Halifax, NS
The relentless hook in this song is so sweet. And than when there's that still moment in the middle with no vocals, that's just rad as all hell. Pure sonic bliss.
- Chris, South Surrey, BC
genesis is being inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame in '010...as goes genesis,so goes peter gabriel! congrats to him on this lengendary status and achievement.
- lee, huntsville, AL
I think it's a song about addiction and jealousy. No matter what it's about great song!!!!
- Tony, Chicago, IL
The monkey is a metaphor for jealousy according to Gabriel. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shock_the_Monkey#Interpretation)

So, the monkey is not addiction, but the monkey within you, the primal emotional responses, it seems. Our inner primate if you will.
- Someone, Freedom,
I think it's about both jealousy and drugs. The girl is cheating on him, and it's endangering his sobriety. The monkey is the addiction. She's going to "shock the monkey to life" by "throwing her pearls before the swine".
- John, Washington, DC
I just watched the music video to this song again, and carefully examining the tiny details I've come to a conclusion. In England, "monkey" is slang for an addiction. Led Zeppelin has a song that refers to this, "Nobody's Fault but Mine." When Peter's face is painted white, he drops little tin foil packets. Similar to FREEBASED COCAIN. That's why he's flipping out. When he sits on the floor, again in white makeup, he "lights up" the tiny packets on floor, which are encircled around him. He's giving in to his "Monkey." Now, Peter himself stated in an interview that it's a song about jealousy, and he's right. He's not lying, it's about the jealousy of his "MONKEY." Peter has such a way with words! I love his humor! I love this song!
- aaron, Philadelphia, PA
I don't know why you think this is a good song. Genesis performed best in the early 70's with their "Selling England By The Pound" album. Each member of the band puts so much effort into their music on this album. At the time, Peter Gabriel wanted to take "art rock" to a place it has never been before. The group also incorporates many different kinds of instruments into the driving force of his shows.
- john, christiana, PA
I thought that the phrase "shock the monkey" meant stopping an addiction suddenly, "cold turkey".
- ATHENA, Phoenix, AZ
I sorta heard it was about how, the primitive sounds of yesterday's music, was being taken away by technology
- Jeromie, Cohoes, NY
Gary, the movie Project X is not about shock therapy at all. The chimps learn to fly because they are intelligent enough to do so (according to the plot). Then they are bombarded with radiation to see how long they can keep flying. Besides, why would Gabriel say it was about jealousy if it wasn't?
- Sunshine, Orlando, FL
i love this song i listen to it over and over and could not figure out what it met. i always thought it had to do with animal testing ether that or some metaphor for anger. i think peter Gabriel is one of the top artiest that make you think when you listen to his lyrics. next to pink Flody, tom petty, the police. but now i see it was jealousy by reading the top.
- danielle, palm coast, FL
If you like the expose of songs like SHOCK THE MONKEY, and severely coded songs, with backward masking, embedded messages and hidden meanings . . . then you will love this one . . .by far the best, the meaning of AMERICAN PIE revealed . . . check it out on www.IMISSAMERICANPIE.com
- EB, RICHMOND HILL, GA
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY ON THE FREEBASE COCAINE VIDEO. THE FACE PAINTING IS SIGNIFICANT. IN AFRICA, I SAW WOMEN BARE CHESTED WITH THEIR FACES PAINTED WHITE. THEY BELIEVED THE WHITE FACE PAINT MADE THEM INVISIBLE. HENCE THE WHITE FACE PAINT TO MAKE THE PARANOID MONKEY (AND MAN INVISIBLE). THERE IS A RING OF POWER SIMILARITY HER.
ALSO, THE MAN OR MONKEY APPEARS IN THE VIDEO, DEPENDING ON WHETHER HE HAD JUST DONE A HIT (SHOCK)OR NOT.
- EB, RICHMOND HILL, GA
One of those great "SEVERELY CODED" songs for those involved in that scene ! And it cannot be interpreted without seeing the video.

Remember that Peter Gabriel left Genesis. What was the real reason? Could he no longer function because of a drug problem? The video was created by someone who has been there . . .

The monkey is a man on Freebase(1982 term, now called CRACK) locked in a room, on the floor and paranoid. Smoking freebase cocaine takes you to premordal reactions within your mind, the monkey in us, and paranoia dominates. EVERY HIT "SHOCKS THE MONKEY". You look in air conditioning vents for hidden cameras, etc. You sense the dark spiritual forces around you, like Frodo putting on the RING and entering the other dimension.
In the video, Peter later shows up in bizarre fashion with his face painted. The desk lamps move in the background as if they're alive and the monkey throws hundreds of "buttons" in the air. What are the buttons? They look like parafin colored flattened Hershey kisses (gram size freebase/crack button right out of the test tube). And you can see smoke being blown out, streaming through the lights and filling the room.
In the end the man flips a coin, and obviously wins. He has made the correct choice and conquered his addiction.

SHOCK THE MONKEY is a song about FREEBASE (CRACK)ADDICTION and ultimately the escape from it ! !!

CHECK ME ON ALL THIS, THIS IS FROM MEMORY, SINCE THE LAST TIME I SAW THE VIDEO WAS 1985 . . . .
- EB, RICHMOND HILL, GA
Gary from Springfield - the song is nothing whatsoever to do with actual tree-climbing monkeys. As has been said, it is about jealousy, specifically sexual jealousy. Check out Peter Gabriel's biography, in which Gabriel himself explains the lyrics - Dan from Ashburn is dead-on with his comment.

Unfortunately, the fact that the video for the song features a monkey has led many people to think Gabriel is referring to an actual monkey.
- Gareth, Dubai, Other
Peter Gabrial has made a contest of remixing this sond, with the winners (and other) for listen at http://www.realworldremixed.com/competition.php
- Jackie, Virginia Beach, VA
Great song to work by. Peter Gabriel never came up with a better song as far as I am concerned.
- gary, granville, NY
Did he teach those apes to play the keyboard?
- Ratboy, Ratville, NJ
I have to agree with Dan on this one... and Peter Gabriel since he did say it was about jealous (scroll up just a bit.) Very nicely said, Dan- I don't think it could be summed up any better.
- Colby, Kansas, KS
Uh, I think you'd better check your timeline; the song came out in 1982, the movie in 1987. The song was used in the soundtrack because of the movie's plot, but one can hardly argue that a movie that wouldn't exist until several years in the future provided Gabriel's motivation to write it with the meaning you portend.
- Beef, St. Petersburg, FL
Coal Chamber together with Ozzy Osbourne did a cover of Shock The Monkey
- Rick, Echt, Netherlands
Well, the song probably isn't about this, BUT. monkey is slang for an addiction. Folks with an opiate monkey will SHOCK THE MONKEY with LSD, and gain back a certain amount of control, supposedly.
- jim, arkadelphia, GA
Take Gabriel at face value here. Jealousy is a primitive, instinctual reaction--seeing the object of our fantasies giving favors to another triggers automatic emotions of anger/hate/depression. That monkey is inside Gabriel's head and yours and mine, my friends. She does things that shock Gabriel's monkey awake. What did your monkey tell you to do today? When's the last time your monkey made you jealous? Didn't you (or at least your rational side) feel like an ass later?
- Dan, Ashburn, VA
It may be an urban legend, but I had heard that the song is really about something that used to happen in strip clubs.

Let's say the dancer would do a novety act, including picking up coins placed on the stage by customers, with her Monkey (slang for vagina).

Well, sometimes, a nasty customer would take out his lighter, and turn it on under the coin, making it very hot, and then place it on stage, to which the poor stripper would get her monkey shocked. God that's sick. Anybody else heard this?
- Tony, San Francisco, CA
Is used in an episode of "South Park" in a spoof on the famous boom box scene from the John Cusack movie "Say Anything".
- Dominic, London, England
I wonder, Gary, why the album Security, on which this song appears, entered the charts in 1982, whereas the movie was released in 1987... I guess sometimes filmmakers re-use existing songs. Maybe you should have posed it as a question instead of disqualifying the songfacts. Moreover Peter Gabriel says on his site (www.PeterGabriel.com): "Shock the Monkey is probably one of the better known tracks um most people saw that as a sort of animal right song, but it wasn't actually it was a song about jealousy."
- Maurice, Amsterdam, Netherlands
The song "Shock the Monkey" is from the movie "Project X" Great movie, and Peter Gabriel's hit song topped the charts! Oh..by the way...to set the record straight..the movie is about using shock therapy on monkeys to teach them to fly fighter aircraft sans humans. Thus.."Shock the monkey"....In no way is the song related to anything implied by the previous comments!
Gsharp10, W. Spfld. Ma.
- Gary, Springfield, MA
It's a German metaphor.
- Eric, Lake Forest, CA
No, that's 'Spank The Monkey'
- Luke, Manchester, England
I've heard that "shock the monkey" is a metaphor for masturbation. We can only speculate if that was Peter Gabriel's inent.
- Adrian, Wilmington, DE
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