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Joseph Arthur's Five Essential Peter Gabriel Songs

Joseph Arthur (photo by Ehud Lazin, PR)

Joseph Arthur (photo by Ehud Lazin, PR)


As the first North American artist signed to Peter Gabriel's Real World label, Joseph Arthur has had a unique perspective on his boss, collaborator, and friend. Arthur's debut album, Big City Secrets, was recorded at Real World Studios and released in 1997. That same year, Gabriel covered Arthur's "In The Sun" for the album, Diana, Princess of Wales: Tribute, a big vote of confidence from Gabriel for this young artist from Ohio. Many years later, Arthur covered "Shock the Monkey" for Gabriel's 2014 album And I'll Scratch Yours.

Arthur's album The Family was released on Real World in June, marking a nearly twenty year relationship with Gabriel and his label. Not surprisingly, Arthur deeply admires his longtime friend's music and drew up an insightful, personal list of "Five Essential Peter Gabriel Songs" for FUV Essentials.

Joseph Arthur's Five Essential Peter Gabriel Songs:

"Shock the Monkey," Peter Gabriel IV (Security)
This one is a standout for me because it was the first 45 I ever bought. First piece of outside music I brought into my folks' home in Ohio. It alerted me then, as much of his music does and has done since, that there is otherness. It's hard to explain that singular space his music occupies. As it, in ways, complies with tradition while at the same time invents it.

"Don't Give Up" (featuring Kate Bush), So
This song has helped me, and I'm sure many others, to not give up. You can feel it comes from something personal, though it's obviously framed in, I think, a fictional story line. This is a great example of strength and vulnerability coalescing to make something very powerful. Very human. And something that would be hard not relate too.

"Mercy Street," So
Peter is big into lyrics and words in general. Whenever I would play him new songs, he would ask about lyrics to clarify that he was getting them all. He told me he loved [the poet] Anne Sexton because of her straightforward approach, which you can really hear in his own work. This song, I believe, he wrote for her. An incredibly moving tribute.

"Solsbury Hill," Peter Gabriel I (Car)
This is everyone's favorite. But I have a funny story about it. Firstly, I think its massive popularity is down to the fact that it communicates that feeling we have when we feel we can overcome our obstacles. When we get our courage and strength to do the impossible. It strides ahead; the way we do when we believe in ourselves. It's an anthem of self-belief. And it's youthfully exuberant in the face of all challenges.

My funny story about it is a conversation I had with the late and great Lou Reed, who covered it for the covers project Peter did in the recent past. I was contributing "Shock The Monkey" and I asked Lou what he was doing and he told me this song. I said, "That's cool." He said, "I had to change one lyric." I said, "Oh yeah? Which one?" He said, "I had to change 'nut' to 'slut'."

"In the Sun," Diana, Princess of Wales: Tribute
Rich of me, I know, to pick my own song but here's my backwards logic. It's to illustrate how giving Peter is and has been. He helped me find my way with my own music. Guided me and taught me many things. It wasn't until I heard his version of my song that I really heard my own lyrics. Before that I just heard my voice which distracted me away from meaning. And the minimalism of this recording is something I still think about. I heard an earlier version of this song that was filled with instruments. So the fact that they made it so minimal helps me to continue to strive for that kind of clarity.

- Joseph Arthur
June 2016

Read all of FUV's Five Essentials.