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Sledgehammer

by

Peter Gabriel



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

This was influenced by the '60s Soul music Gabriel listened to as a teenager, in particular Otis Redding, who Peter saw perform at the Ram Jam club in London in 1967. The horn section was typical of this sound.
This song is about sex; the lyrics are loaded with phallic symbols. In addition to the word "sledgehammer," other references to the male member include the train, bumper cars, and the big dipper. The innuendo was typical of the Blues music Gabriel drew from.
Gabriel said regarding the theme of this song: "Sometimes sex can break through barriers when other forms of communication are not working too well."
Some of the lyrics were inspired by a quote from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who said a good book breaks through like "An ax in a frozen sea."
Gabriel used a horn section on this song, which led to criticism that he was trying to copy the style of Phil Collins to gain commercial success. Collins was using horns and getting a lot of radio play with songs like "Easy Lover" and "Sussudio." Gabriel has said that this was never his intent and that he was more of an influence on Collins, his band mate with Genesis.
The wildly innovative video was directed by Stephen R. Johnson and featured stop-motion claymation techniques. It swept the MTV video music awards in 1987, and is considered a major breakthrough.

Johnson directed the Talking Heads video for "Road To Nowhere" the previous year, where he used many of the techniques that would appear in "Sledgehammer." Jeff Ayeroff at Gabriel's record company showed Peter the clip and had him work with Johnson, who says he didn't even like the song. "I thought it was just another white boy trying to sound black," he said in the book I Want My MTV.

Johnson enlisted a team of animators, including the British team the Quay Brothers, to work on the clip, preparing a rough cut on a video tape machine that could job through frames of video for reference.

Typical of animated videos at the time, the concepts were bigger than the budgets and the timeframe - the chickens were supposed to do a more complex dance, but they ended up doing a some simple steps instead, as the real chickens (the kind you buy in the grocery store) they used for modeling turned foul quickly. There were also some problems with electrical current running through Gabriel when he put on a lighted suit for the ending scene. This was solved by covering a suited Gabriel and the rest of the set in Scotchlite tape. The video starts with an egg being fertilized, then ends with Gabriel wandering into the cosmos, providing an interesting storyline centered on the continuum of life to go along with the eye-catching effects.
The video was #4 on MTV's list of the Top 100 of all time. #1-3 were "Thriller," "Vogue," and "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
During an episode of Johnnie Walker's Long Players on BBC Radio 2, Gabriel recounted how he spent 16 hours lying beneath a heavy sheet of glass for the video, while each frame was shot, one after the other.

Gabriel recalled in the same program that Stop motion animator Nick Park of Wallace & Gromit fame worked on the famous scene involving oven-ready chickens dancing to a flute solo.
This was Gabriel's first #1 single in the US. His former band Genesis had their first #1, "Invisible Touch," shortly before Gabriel did, hitting the top spot on July 19, 1986 while Gabriel held the #2 spot that week. On July 26, 1986, Gabriel unseated his former bandmates to take the #1 position, and Genesis fell to #3.
The "Big Dipper" is a reference to a wooden roller coaster at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in England.
The song's promo received ten nominations at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards, setting a record for the most nominations for a single video. The clip went on to win a record nine VMAs. Lady Gaga's video for "Bad Romance" also received ten nominations in 2010.

Grammy voters were less kind to Gabriel, and gave the award for Best Concept Music Video to Genesis for "Land Of Confusion," which featured puppets rather than the band. It remains the only Grammy award Genesis ever won.
Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel Artistfacts
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Comments (31):

German rapper Sido's song "Bilder im Kopf" seems to use some sledgehammer horn samples in the beginning of the track. Does anyone know any facts about this?
- Chris, Munich, Germany
OMG, I'm so naive. I just figured he was being very "eighties"; I had no idea it was about sex!! And I'm in my forties now!
- Susan, Airdrie, AB
The main theme of this song is Peter Gabriel changing his style of music and breaking out of old style shell.
- Lou, Hartford, CT
This song is AMAZING!!! So catchy! DANG! I love it so much:)
- Megan, Stevenson, AL
I don't care what the lyrics of the song mean; it's just a terrifically fun song to sing along to. This video was incredibly popular when it came out, and deservedly so.
- Camille, Toronto, OH
Re: 'cocaine...everybody's using.' I'm sorry, but that has to be the greatest example of selective hearing and revisionist history I've ever encountered since the FBI hearing dirty lyrics in "Louie, Louie"!!
- Brian, Chicago area, IL
Awesome song, love it very much!!
- Roberta Trevisan, S?o Paulo, Brazil
Annabelle: That's a panflute added with some echo..
- Budoshi, Sandnessj
Whatever this song about, noone can deny the fact that this is a great song..:D
- Budoshi, Sandnessj
I thought the second half of the song ("I kicked the habit...") was Peter Gabriel announcing he was now a R&B/Soul singer, rather than the rocker he was in Genesis.
- Ken, Louisville, KY
This video is so much better than Smells Like Team Spirit. It deserves #2 or #3.
- electric926, Unknown, NJ
this is for sure about sex. Watch the video if you disagree. But i understand the drug connections especially towards the end of the song
- Chris, Seattle, WA
i'm sorry to inform you that you're all idiots. (well, not YOU) the song is not about sex. listen again and you'll notice at the very top he says, in very slurred fashion, 'cocaine...everybody's using.' then he goes on to say, 'you could have a steam train, if you just lay down your tracks. you could have an airplane flying, if you bring your blue sky back.'

he's talking about what you can gain if you get off drugs, as the next verses also echo.

why do i believe this? because later in the song he says, 'i kicked the habit. shed my skin. this is the new stuff. i come dancing in.'

draw your own conclusions.
- tony, los angeles, CA
This song came out when I was about 8, I had NO IDEA it was about sex. Heard it again when I was about 18 and laughed me wee little arse off. Ok, not so wee...
- Mel, Riverbank, CA
@ Jim from Dayton: Actually, he played drums on "Big Time" and hi-hat on "Red Rain". Nothing on this song, though.
- Angie, Jacksonville, FL
2nd best song on the So album, 1st best is In Your Eyes
- Ed, York, PA
great song, neverthelesss
- Hunta, St. Louis, MO
Oops, someones already answered that, and done a better job...
- Jonathan, Thame, England
the strange flute is a shakuhachi, it's a flute from japan
- Jonathan, Thame, England
"Fruit cage is evidently a British slang term for a woman's reproductive organs". You maybe right, Im from England and I have never heard of "Fruit Cage".
- Rich, Birmingham UK, England
Stewart Copeland of The Police played drums on this track.
- Jim, Dayton, OH
Don't you love how - in the "fruit" part of the video - the last fruit Gabriel eats is a cherry? Sexual innuendo, indeed.
- Mike, Brooklyn, NY
According to petergabriel.com, the video was directed by Stephen R. Johnson, not Steve Jordan. He also directed the videos for Big Time, and Steam
- Sean, Chesapeake, VA
The flute sound that is heard in this song is from a Japanese bamboo woodwind instrument called the Shakuhachi. The shakuhachi sound being played in the song was sampled and manipulated on an E-Mu Emulator II synthesizer.
- Chris, Charleston, SC
Actually, this song knocked out Genesis first no.1 "Invisible Touch" from the top of Billboard
- mirza, jakarta, Indonesia
It's not really a flute, it's a synthesizer (A Prophet or a Fairlight not sure)
- Pete, Sydney, Australia
"Show me 'round your fruitcake" is one of the most mis-heard lyrics of all time. The line is actually:

"Show me 'round your fruit cage"

Fruit cage is evidently a British slang term for a woman's reproductive organs.
Knowing this fact, and then seeing Peter perform these lines with his daughter must've made things a tad uncomfortable if they stopped to think about what they were saying.
- Brad, Chicago, IL
In some parts of the song, there's a strange flute part. What kind of flute is that?
- Annabelle, Eugene, OR
the footage of swimming sperm was included in the video partly because Gabriel wanted to get pictures of sperm shown on Top of the Pops
- travis, Somwhere, United States
This song was played so often by MTV when it was popular that Peter Gabriel himself called MTV and asked them to quit playing it, but they refused.
- Jordan, Aberdeen, SD
The part of the video with the dancing chickens was animated by three-time Oscar winner Nick Park (co-director of "Chicken Run").
- Brad Wind, Miami, FL
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