TotW 10/02/2023 - 10/08/2023: PETER GABRIEL - Solsbury Hill

    • Official Post

    Your rating for "Solsbury Hill" by PETER GABRIEL 32

    1. 15 points - outstanding (18) 56%
    2. 14 points - very good (9) 28%
    3. 13 points - very good - (3) 9%
    4. 12 points - good + (1) 3%
    5. 11 points - good (1) 3%
    6. 10 points - good - (0) 0%
    7. 09 points - satisfactory + (0) 0%
    8. 08 points - satisfactory (0) 0%
    9. 07 points - satisfactory - (0) 0%
    10. 06 points - sufficient + (0) 0%
    11. 05 points - sufficient (0) 0%
    12. 04 points - sufficient - (0) 0%
    13. 03 points - poor + (0) 0%
    14. 02 points - poor (0) 0%
    15. 01 points - poor - (0) 0%
    16. 00 points - abysmal (0) 0%

    We invite you to share interesting facts and tidbits about this track. Let's look at the track in the context of the band's / the artist's history, at the music, the songwriting and all other aspects that are relevant for this track. Please do stick to the discussion of the track above. Comparisons to other tracks are okay, but remember that the other track you may be keen to talk about has or will have its own Track Of The Week thread. If you spot a mistake or if you can close a gap in the fact sheet above please feel free to contact martinus or Christian about it; we will gladly add and improve!

    PETER GABRIEL - Solsbury Hill
    Year: 1977
    Album: Car
    Working title: ?
    Credits: Gabriel
    Lyrics: Yes
    Length: 4:21
    Musicians: Peter Gabriel, Robert Fripp, Tony Levin, Larry Fast, Allan Schartzberg, Steve Hunter, Jimmy Maelen
    Played live: 1977, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2023
    Cover versions: plenty, i.e. Erasure

    External Content
    Content embedded from external sources will not be displayed without your consent.
    Through the activation of external content, you agree that personal data may be transferred to third party platforms. We have provided more information on this in our privacy policy.

    Notes: Solsbury Hill was not only the first single from Peter Gabriel's first solo album, it also reached number 13 in the British charts, a higher position than any single he had previously released with Genesis. At the same time, he moved away musically from his ex-band and created a live classic that couldn't be killed...
  • Always enjoyed this song. It became a classic radio evergreen, a lot of radio stations kept playing this song way up into the 2000s. Production-wise this is a pretty unusual song, there's no bass guitar, no actual drum set, a strange rotary speaker effect (or sth similar) on the whole mix, a keyboard that is hard to make out if it is strings or woodwinds or something else.

    And yes, it is nearly impossible to talk about this song without mentioning the time signature. Aside from Dave Brubeck's Take Five, this might be the one song that became most famous for its odd-time signature. The cool thing about it is how unnoticeable the 7/4 is. Pretty much every song in an odd-time signature will give you the feeling you are tripping over the beat, as if someone is trying to mess with your dancing feet. This one doesn't. The rhythm is seamlessly flowing, and the song will be stuck in your ear.

  • I agree with both the above. It's a strong tune that indeed still sounds fresh nearly 50 years on, it has that timeless quality.

    And yes the mix is odd - I've always had a problem with Ezrin's rather murky production on that album apart from Moribund where it actually kind of works. But in this one there is indeed a sort of 'wavy' 'washy' effect, maybe a bit Lesleyesque. The main musical motif definitely strongly features flute but I agree there's other stuff in there too. Maybe there's more than one flute track, bounced down in the way the Beatles overlaid 5 or 6 piano tracks to create the rich sound in Penny Lane. However it was done, it's a great demonstration of how a simple 4-note phrase can be such a strong defining part of a song.

    I've occasionally read the song is about his split from the band he was previously in. That seems to make sense but has he ever actually said as much in interviews?

    What do we think of the live versions of it? It's an odd one for me in that of course it's great seeing him do his classic first hit, everyone loves it, how can he not do it. But it's never anywhere near the equal of the original. I suppose in its original form it's such a singular track with a particular sound, he's got to go a different way with it on stage. But I've never much cared for the extended "uh-uh-uh-uh-uh..." stuff.

    Abandon all reason

  • What do we think of the live versions of it? It's an odd one for me in that of course it's great seeing him do his classic first hit, everyone loves it, how can he not do it. But it's never anywhere near the equal of the original.

    I love both the studio and virtually every live version I've ever heard though I particularly like the way it was performed from '78 to '83. During that stretch, it seemed, to my ears, it was performed more tightly and even that improvised bit at the end had a certain consistency to it that I liked.

  • It’s pretty much perfect, agreed the production could be clearer and the silly noises at the end do nothing for me but it’s timeless and sounds simple even though there is a lot going on. I think in more recent times, in answer to Backdrifter’s question, Peter has suggested that it’s more subconsciously about leaving Genesis than a deliberate theme. But it’s uplifting music and lyrics about being freed to pursue your own destiny make it a winner and impossible for him to drop from a tour list, even if he wanted to. I used to think his live sound was a little too stripped back - it isn’t now - and Solsbury Hill suffered a little from that and I don’t think any live version captures the slight sense of yearning in the original, but that is replaced by an exuberant joy which connects with large audiences each night.

  • the silly noises at the end do nothing for me

    I forgot about that - I agree with this and others saying they could do without the daft vocalisations in the fade-out. At first did he ever try to reproduce that live, do we know? Or has he always had the 'uh-uh-uh-uh' bit?

    Abandon all reason

  • 14 for me, losing one point for the silly noises which undercut the poignancy of the rest of the song. The acoustic guitar part is sublime and the flute-like tone for the melodic phrases in the verses made me think of his flute playing in Genesis. A really wonderful melody and lyrics that reflect some kind of journey of self-actualization, whether that was about leaving Genesis or something more general.

    I would rate the live versions similarly, for different reasons. I really miss the acoustic guitar part. But his vocals are stronger and more assured from about 1980 onward. Even if there wasn't any bass in the original, I certainly don't mind what Tony Levin adds. And I don't mind the "ho-ho-ho-ho..." part at the end as it's at least better than the silly noises. I do miss the anchoring power chord in the outro of the studio version.

    • Official Post


    It sometimes has this "not this track again" feeling, but it was and remains a great song!

  • Pretty much a masterpiece, going beyond being one of Peter's best tracks and becoming one of the finest and most uplifting pop songs of the era. I never had any problem with the funny noises at the end. That's Peter, freed from his restraints! A little monkey shocked into life!

    I've always found it fascinating that Phil's reference to Supper's Ready and farewell line to Peter on A Trick of the Tail ("There's an angel standing in the sun / Free to get back home") is echoed in the repeating motif of being taken home (as a metaphor for freedom) in this song. Such a lovely link, and probably completely subconscious.

  • 13

    It sometimes has this "not this track again" feeling, but it was and remains a great song!

    That's a great observation - the "not this track again" tracks that are actually brilliant no matter how familiar they've become. Feels like a topic in it's own right... off the top of my head, In The Air Tonight has a similar or even greater element of this. For Genesis, maybe Turn It On Again.