Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel song)

Last updated

Sledgehammer Cover.jpg
Single by Peter Gabriel
from the album So
  • "Don't Break This Rhythm"
  • "I Have the Touch" (mix)
  • "Biko" (ext.)
Released21 April 1986
Studio Ashcombe House (Bath, England)
  • 5:12(album version)
  • 4:58 (7" single edit)
  • 4:55 (video version)
Songwriter(s) Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel singles chronology
"Walk Through the Fire"
"Don't Give Up"
Music video
"Sledgehammer" on YouTube

"Sledgehammer" is a song by English rock musician Peter Gabriel. It was released as the lead single from his fifth studio album, So , on 21 April 1986. [1] It was produced by Gabriel and Daniel Lanois. It reached No. 1 in Canada on 21 July 1986, where it spent four weeks; No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States on 26 July 1986; [2] and No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart, thanks in part to its music video. It was his biggest hit in North America and ties with "Games Without Frontiers" as his biggest hit in the United Kingdom.


The song's music video won a record nine MTV Video Music Award at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards [3] and Best British Video at the 1987 Brit Awards. [4] [5] The song also saw Gabriel nominated for three Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Record of the Year and Song of the Year. [6] In a 2005 poll conducted by Channel 4 the music video was ranked second on their list of the 100 Greatest Pop Videos. [7]


"Sledgehammer" has been described as dance-rock, [8] blue-eyed soul, [9] and funk. [10] The song was influenced by 1960s soul music, in particular that made by Memphis label Stax. The distinctive horn track was provided by a horn section led by Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns, Stax's house musicians.

"It's probably about three years old… I was playing at that time with the idea of doing an album full of soul songs – mainly other people's, but maybe a couple of my own. I'm still tempted, although probably that would be construed as an even greater sell-out. But, as a teenager, soul music was one of the things that made me want to be a musician. It was really passionate and exciting… Wayne Jackson, who plays on that track, was also with Otis Redding and was touring with him when I saw them in London. So that was a thrill for me, just to get a whole lot of fan stories. But I think the song was more influenced by many of those Stax and Atlantic tracks rather than Otis particularly." – Peter Gabriel, July 1986 [11]

The song also features a synthesised shakuhachi flute generated with an E-mu Emulator II sampler. [12] Gabriel said the "cheap organ sound" comes from an expensive Prophet-5 synth, which he regards as "an old warhorse" sound tool. [13] The backing vocals were by P. P. Arnold, Coral "Chyna Whyne" Gordon, and Dee Lewis, who also did the backing for "Big Time".

"Sledgehammer" is Gabriel's only US No.1. It replaced "Invisible Touch" by his former band Genesis; coincidentally, that group's only US No.1. "Sledgehammer" also achieved success on other Billboard charts in 1986, spanning the Album Rock Tracks (two weeks at the summit in May and June) [14] and Hot Dance Club Play (one week atop this chart in July). [15]

The single release included the previously unreleased "Don't Break This Rhythm" and an "'85 Remix" of 1982's "I Have the Touch". US versions of the single contained an extended dance remix of "Sledgehammer".

Music video

The "Sledgehammer" video was commissioned by Tessa Watts at Virgin Records, directed by Stephen R. Johnson and produced by Adam Whittaker. Aardman Animations and the Brothers Quay provided claymation, pixilation, and stop motion animation that gave life to images in the song. Many of these techniques had been employed in earlier music videos, such as Talking Heads's 1985 hit "Road to Nowhere", also directed by Johnson. The style was later used in the video for "Big Time", another single from So.

Gabriel lay under a sheet of glass for 16 hours while filming the video one frame at a time. [16] "It took a lot of hard work," Gabriel recalled. "I was thinking at the time, 'If anyone wants to try and copy this video, good luck to them.'" [11] Two dead, headless, featherless chickens were animated using stop-motion and shown dancing along to the synthesised shakuhachi solo. This section was animated by Nick Park, of Aardman Animations, who was refining his work in plasticine animation at the time. The video ended with a large group of extras jerkily rotating around Gabriel, among them his daughters Anna-Marie and Melanie, the animators themselves and director Stephen Johnson's girlfriend. Also included were six women who posed as the back-up singers of the song.

"Sledgehammer" won nine MTV Video Music Awards in 1987, [3] the most awards a single video has won. [4] It ranked at number four on MTV's 100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made (1999). "Sledgehammer" has also been declared MTV's number one animated video of all time. [17] The video was voted number seven on TMF's Ultimate 50 Videos You Must See, which first aired 24 June 2006. It ranked at number 2 on VH1's "Top 20 Videos of the '80s" and number one on "Amazing Moment in Music" on the Australian TV show 20 to 1 in 2007. It won Best British Video at the 1987 Brit Awards and was nominated for the Best Music Video category for the first annual Soul Train Music Awards in that same year.

A remastered high-definition 4k was released in 2018. [18]


YearNominee / workAwardResult
1987 Brit Awards British Single of the Year Nominated
British Video of the Year Won
Grammy Award Record of the Year Nominated
Song of the Year Nominated
Best Male Rock Vocal Performance Nominated
MTV Video Music Award Video of the Year Won
Best Male Video Won
Best Concept Video Won
Most Experimental Video Won
Best Overall Performance Won
Best Direction Won
Best Visual Effects Won
Best Art Direction Won
Best Editing Won
Viewer's Choice Award Nominated
Soul Train Music Awards Best Video of the Year Nominated


Credits adapted from the liner notes of So . [19]

Chart performance

Covers and parodies

In 1986, "Weird Al" Yankovic covered this song as the first song from his polka medley "Polka Party!" from the 1986 album of the same name. [48]

See also

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