English singer Peter Gabriel has one of the most varied and brilliant discographies in all of popular music.
The former Genesis frontman penned a raft of classic songs during his time with the band and as a solo artist.
Today we’ll cover the 20 best Peter Gabriel songs, including both his time with Genesis and his work as a solo artist.
20. “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” – Genesis
“Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” is one of the best Peter Gabriel Genesis songs. It’s from their 1973 masterpiece Selling England by the Pound.
The song sprang from several pieces of piano music that Gabriel wrote. Its lyrics include the line “selling England by the Pound,” which inspired the album name.
Rolling Stone called the ambitious prog workout an “epic commentary on contemporary England.”
19. “The Knife” – Genesis
“The Knife” is a hard-rocking Genesis song from the band’s second album, Trespass.
The aggressive sound of “The Knife” was a departure for Genesis. Gabriel said that after hearing the heavy-hitting “Rondo” by The Nice, he wanted to write something with the same excitement.
As with many Peter Gabriel songs, there’s a story behind the lyrics.
He wrote them after reading a book by Gandhi and said he “wanted to try to show how all violent revolutions inevitably end up with a dictator in power.”
18. “Blood of Eden” – Peter Gabriel
An indication of an artist’s genius can be gained by looking at the caliber of the musicians who collaborate with them. The best don’t just work with anyone.
One of Ireland’s biggest exports, Sinéad O’Connor, lent her talents to “Blood of Eden,” providing the backing vocals and appearing in the film clip.
One of Gabriel’s slow-burn tracks, the song is minimalist and starkly beautiful.
17. “The Musical Box” – Genesis
“The Musical Box” is a dark fantasy from Genesis’s 1971 album Nursery Cryme.
Gabriel wrote a Victorian fairy tale, which was later used as the basis for the lyrics. The story of the song involves two children in a country house, Cynthia and Henry.
The former decapitates Henry with a croquet mallet and subsequently discovers his music box, which plays “Old King Cole,” prompting Henry to reappear as a spirit.
The tale ends with Cynthia throwing the music box at Henry, causing both of them to be destroyed.
Clearly, “The Musical Box” is among of the most interesting Peter Gabriel songs.
16. “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” – Genesis
“The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” was one of the Peter Gabriel songs he co-wrote with Genesis and features a strident vocal intro by the frontman.
The song is from the 1974 album of the same name, which was Gabriel’s last album before leaving Genesis. It’s also one of the best Peter Gabriel songs from the Genesis era.
This rocker is direct and to the point, helped by Mike Rutherford’s aggressive bass playing.
15. “The Carpet Crawlers” – Genesis
Most of the music in “The Carpet Crawlers” was written by keyboardist Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, with some input from Gabriel, who also wrote the lyrics.
The frontman’s soulful vocals show a real pop sensibility that Genesis had begun to implement.
The band re-recorded the song in 1995 and later released it as “The Carpet Crawlers 1999,” which was the final time Gabriel and Phil Collins shared lead vocals on a Genesis song.
14. “Watcher of the Skies” – Genesis
We’re going all the way back to 1972 with “Watcher of the Skies,” which was the opening track to Genesis’s second album Foxtrot.
The track is a dramatic progressive rock epic that clocks in at over seven minutes and is one of the best Peter Gabriel songs for those who love going on a journey.
Gabriel co-wrote the song, although the lyrics were written by Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, who were inspired by the science fiction writing of Arthur C. Clarke.
The title of the song is taken from the 1817 John Keats poem “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” which includes the lines “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies, when a new planet swims into his ken.”
13. “Firth of Fifth”– Genesis
“Firth of Fifth” is a brilliant display of the virtuosity and creativity of Genesis in the ’70s.
The song, which begins with a classical piano section written by Banks, is an odd time-signature workout in 13/6, 15/6, and 2/4.
Gabriel’s pensive vocals bookend the song, and he also provides a flute melody in the middle interlude.
The title is a pun on the estuary of the Scottish River Forth, which is known as the Firth of Forth.
12. “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” – Genesis
“I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” is a milestone, as it is the Genesis song that entered the charts, hitting 21 on the UK singles chart.
The funky, bass-driven groove is one of the best Peter Gabriel songs for those who love a massive chorus, with Gabriel and Phil Collins providing a stunning dual vocal hook.
11. “The Book of Love” – Peter Gabriel
One of two covers on this list, “The Book of Love” was originally written by Stephin Merritt for his band The Magnetic Fields.
The track was released on Gabriel’s 2010 cover album Scratch My Back. It’s a real testament to his brilliance that one of the best Peter Gabriel songs was released so late in his career.
10. “Supper’s Ready” – Genesis
“Supper’s Ready” is Genesis’ longest song at a whopping 23 minutes and fills the entire second side of the vinyl release of their fourth album Foxtrot.
It is considered the band’s undisputed masterpiece and one of the greatest progressive rock songs of all time. Tony Banks also called the song “probably our peak.”
The song features numerous changes in key and time signature. It is divided into seven musical sections.
Gabriel provided the lyrics, flute, oboe, and percussion parts.
9. “Steam” – Peter Gabriel
“Steam” is a lewd funk jam from Peter Gabriel’s sixth solo album Us, released in 1992.
The racy lyrics address a relationship between a sophisticated woman and a simple man who knows little about the world but understands the woman perfectly.
Gabriel wrote and co-produced the song, as well as providing the keyboards, percussion, and horn arrangement.
It’s no doubt one of Peter Gabriel’s best songs in a straight-up pop format.
8. “Games Without Frontiers” – Peter Gabriel
“Games Without Frontiers” is an unconventional pop song with a new wave touch from the vocalist’s 1980 album Peter Gabriel III.
The song is a collaboration with Kate Bush, who provides the eerie high register backing vocals.
It’s one of the best Peter Gabriel songs that showcases how well he can play with the rock and pop format and bring unconventional ideas to the table.
7. “Shock the Monkey” – Peter Gabriel
An upbeat and slithering synth-pop jam, “Shock the Monkey” was described by Billboard as a “mysterious but infectious track” and as being absolutely unlike anything else on the radio in 1982.
Gabriel wrote the tune as “a love song” which looks at how jealousy can release our animal instincts, with the monkey being a metaphor for feelings of jealousy.
6. “In Your Eyes” – Peter Gabriel
“In Your Eyes” is one of many legendary Peter Gabriel songs from one of his finest albums, 1986’s So.
The song was the second US single from the album, and in 2005 it became his first US Gold single.
Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour provides the uplifting vocals layered in the outro, which he sang in his native Wolof language.
Gabriel was inspired to write the lyrics by an African tradition of ambiguity in song between love of God and romantic love.
5. “Heroes” – Peter Gabriel
“Heroes” is a David Bowie and Brian Eno composition and became known as one of the best Bowie songs over time.
It became one of Peter Gabriel’s songs via his 2010 cover album Scratch My Back.
Gabriel’s version takes an ambient approach in comparison to Bowie’s more upbeat version.
4. “Red Rain” – Peter Gabriel
What is Peter Gabriel best known for? The mega-hits on his fifth album, So, are perhaps his greatest legacies.
Described as progressive pop, “Red Rain” opens the album and is, without a doubt, one of the most creative and inspired pop songs ever composed.
Clocking in at almost six minutes, the song is packed with inspired performances from his band and profound lyrics from Gabriel.
The hard-grooving tune was inspired by recurring dreams Gabriel had, which featured people in bottles falling off a cliff, leaking red liquid as they smashed and culminating in a torrential downpour of the same red liquid.
3. “Don’t Give Up” (feat. Kate Bush) – Peter Gabriel
What are Peter Gabriel’s top hits? “Don’t Give Up,” a stunning duet with Kate Bush, is certainly one of his creative and commercial peaks.
The art-pop song has a down-tempo vibe, and the way Gabriel’s and Bush’s vocals intertwine is simply beautiful.
The song addresses a man despairing at his desperate financial situation, with Bush playing the part of the lover who is encouraging him.
The message really hits home, as evidenced by the fact Elton John attributes his sobriety to the reassuring words sung by Bush in the song (which are Peter Gabriel lyrics).
2. “Sledgehammer” – Peter Gabriel
One of Peter Gabriel’s number-one hits is “Sledgehammer,” a slinky dance-pop tune that went to number one in both the US and Canada.
Gabriel commented on the origins of the soul vibe on “Sledgehammer”:
“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.”
1. “Solsbury Hill” – Peter Gabriel
What is Peter Gabriel’s most famous song? Look no further than “Solsbury Hill.”
He turned his experience of leaving the hugely successful Genesis into the best Peter Gabriel song with “Solsbury Hill.”
“It’s about being prepared to lose what you have for what you might get … It’s about letting go,” Gabriel said.
The song, which was Gabriel’s solo debut single, explores a spiritual experience he had atop Little Solsbury Hill in Somerset following his departure from Genesis.
The track rides on an uplifting vocal by Gabriel and Steve Hunter’s superb acoustic guitar playing.
The song is in 7/4 time signature, which has been described as “giving the song a constant sense of struggle.”
It also hit the top 20 in the UK, which surely very few songs in such an odd meter have ever reached. It’s also his most commonly performed song in his live set by a huge margin.
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