Mercy Street

Album: So (1986)
Charted: 43

Songfacts®:

  • This is based on the book of poems of the same name by Anne Sexton. An American mental patient, she wrote as a form of therapy. Gabriel was impressed that she wrote entirely for herself rather than an audience.

    Sexton made five suicide attempts, the fifth being successful: She died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1974.
  • The title came from Anne Sexton's 1969 play Mercy Street. She was also working on a poem similarly titled "45 Mercy Street" at the time of her death.

    Gabriel could relate to Sexton as a deep thinker with a troubling depression who searches for meaning through her art. He used the image of darkness on Mercy Street to signal her depression.
  • The end of this song was very intense when Gabriel performed it during live shows, where he used a high-pitched wail to simulate Sexton's death.
  • The video was a subdued black and white piece. It was quite different from his extravagant "Sledgehammer" video.
  • The song also came out of an experience that Gabriel had on a plane. He told Mojo magazine September 2013: "Pan Am had started doing mileage programmes. I got up to 100, 000 miles from touring, so I booked a free flight from LA to Rio. The catch was that I had to travel economy. On the way onto the plane, I said hello to the bass player in Earth Wind & Fire (Verdine White)."

    "After we took off," Gabriel continued, "the plane developed a fault - something with the landing gear - and the pilot told us we had to fly over the Pacific and dump some fuel. That's when everyone became very scared, writing farewell letters. I even scribbled some notes. Earth Wind & Fire's bass player came back from First Class to see me in economy and just said (in a sonorous voice ) 'Pray brother.' The pilot got us down, thank God. In Rio, I met the drummer Djalma Correa. I worked on some ideas with him, and that led to the track that 'Mercy Street' was built around."
  • This was used in episodes of Miami Vice ("Killshot" - 1986) and Cold Case ("The River - 2006), and in the movies Waking the Dead (2000) and Life or Something Like It 2002.
  • Canadian producer Daniel Lanois co-produced So with Gabriel in between co-producing two U2 albums: The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree.
  • This is a special song for Larry Klein, a noted jazz musician and producer who contributed bass to the track. He recalled in an interview with Berklee: "I was in England working on producing an album for Ben Orr of The Cars, when Peter Gabriel called me to come in and play on some songs of his that were to become part of his album So. This was an incredible honor for me, as I had been a big fan of his work since his Genesis days. I came into the studio and the first thing that Peter and Daniel Lanois asked me to play on was a song about Anne Sexton, who was one of my favorite poets. The piece just about brought me to tears, and I set to putting together a part composed of two bass parts. The piece still moves me immensely."

Comments: 14

  • Gabor from Szekesfehervar, HungaryBeautiful song, sometimes I just play it again and again and again because I can't stop listening to it. The lyrics is great as well.
  • Fred from Laurel, MdThis is very much a clamshell song
    -
    it can pass unnoticed in inconspicuousness
    -
    until you pay attention,
    and actually open up the clamshell,
    and look inside.

    Wow!
  • Fabio from Rio De Janeiro, BrazilThe rhythm structure of this song is based on a northeastern brazilian popular style called Baião (pronounced by-aun).
  • Steve from Chicago, IlThere is a poem she wrote called "Rowing" which seemed to explain the lines at the end where Gabriel talks about "Ann in her little boat".
    "I am rowing,
    though the wind pushes me back
    and I know that that island will not be perfect,
    it will have the flaws of life,
    the absurdities of the dinner table,
    but there will be a door
    and I will open it
    and I will get rid of the rat inside me,
    the gnawing pestilential rat.
    God will take it with his two hands
    and embrace it."
    Wonderful
  • Glenn from Na, OnPeter did a great job with this song as far as a tribute to a tormented poet. It has obviously caused people to truly ponder the lyrics and search out more information. I have looked up Anne Sexton and read 45 mercy street. Personally I find the song more powerful now after knowing it's inspiration. After listening I feel sad for Anne and Peter for the sadness they must have felt to write something so powerful - I then feel very blessed to be living a happy life. Simply the most powerful song I've heard.
  • Ira from Denver, CoMercy Street is one the most moving songs I have ever heard; I listen to it frequently. Sometimes, I play it over and over again cause I just can't get enough of it. I never get tired of hearing it. I am surprised to learn what it's about, but then again, that just makes the song even better. Wow.
  • Mel from Riverbank, CaLOVE this song. Gives me chills each time I listen to it. Great album, I think I've bought 'So' three times in the past 15 years.
  • Hunta from St. Louis, Moincredible. I would've never guessed it was about a troubled lady and suicide. still, its moving, i listen to this song when i go to sleep.
  • Tim from Cockeysville, MdFar and away my favorite PG song. I have to listen to it alone as it most time brings me to tears.
  • Tony from Crewe, EnglandUnbelievable emotions for a simle classic record.
  • Nicola from Rome, ItalyOh Jenny, that's exactly it. It brings tears to my eyes each and every time, I don't know why.
  • James from Westchester, EnglandWow. I had no idea. Chilling.
  • Jenny from Chicago, Ilthis song cuts me to the bone. i can relate to it so very well.
  • Mike from Houston, TxI've never understood what this song was about, but the simple, crisp musicality of it has always riveted me whenever I hear it. I can't just let it go in the background; when it comes on, I stop what I'm doing and focus.

    After reading that this is inspired by the poetry of a mental patient, I don't feel bad for not understanding the lyrics!
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