Open main menu

Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel song)

"Sledgehammer" is a song by English rock musician Peter Gabriel. It was released as the lead single from his fifth studio album, So (1986), on 25 April 1986. It was produced by Gabriel and Daniel Lanois. It hit 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;[1] 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.

Sledgehammer Cover.jpg
Single by Peter Gabriel
from the album So
  • "Don't Break This Rhythm"
  • "I Have the Touch" (mix)
  • "Biko" (ext.)
Released25 April 1986
Recorded1985 at Ashcombe House (Bath, England)
  • 5:12 (album version)
  • 4:58 (7" single edit)
Songwriter(s)Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel singles chronology
"Walk Through the Fire"
"Don't Give Up"
Music video
"Sledgehammer" on YouTube

The song's music video won a record nine MTV Video Music Award at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards[2] and Best British Video at the 1987 Brit Awards.[3][4] 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.[5] In a 2005 poll conducted by Channel 4 the music video was ranked second on their list of the 100 Greatest Pop Videos.[6]


"Sledgehammer" has been described as dance-rock,[7] blue-eyed soul,[8] and funk.[9] 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[10]

The song also features a synthesised shakuhachi flute generated with an E-mu Emulator II sampler.[11] 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)[12] and Hot Dance Club Play (one week atop this chart in July).[13]

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 videoEdit

"Sledgehammer" had a video 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 another single from So, "Big Time".

Gabriel lay under a sheet of glass for 16 hours while filming the video one frame at a time.[14] "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.'"[10] Two dead, headless, featherless chickens were animated using stop-motion and shown dancing along to the synthesised shakuhachi solo in the middle of the song. 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,[2] the most awards a single video has won.[3] 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.[15]

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.

List of awards and nominations received by "Sledgehammer"
Year Nominee / work Award Result
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


Chart performanceEdit

Rush Limbaugh controversyEdit

In 2012, radio commentator Rush Limbaugh played "Sledgehammer" on his show during his commentary on Sandra Fluke's crusade for free birth control, during which he called her "a slut". Consequently, Gabriel demanded that the program stop using his music. A spokesperson for Gabriel released an accompanying statement: "Peter was appalled to learn that his music was linked to Rush Limbaugh's extraordinary attack on Sandra Fluke. It is obvious from anyone that knows Peter's work that he would never approve such a use. He has asked his representatives to make sure his music is withdrawn and especially from these unfair aggressive and ignorant comments."[45]

Covers and parodiesEdit

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.[46] The Trey Anastasio Band covered "Sledgehammer" on 4 May 2005.[47] The Dave Matthews Band has covered the song many times dating back to 2008.[48]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Dean, Maury (2003). Rock N' Roll Gold Rush. Algora. p. 160. ISBN 0-87586-207-1.
  2. ^ a b "VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS – Biggest Winners". MTV. Viacom. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Peter Gabriel, 'Sledgehammer' (1986)". Archived from the original on 28 February 2012.. Time. 28 July 2011.
  4. ^ "The BRITs 1987". Brit Awards. 9 February 1987. Retrieved 19 November 2011.
  5. ^ "29th Grammy Awards - 1987". Grammy Awards. Rock On The Net. Retrieved 19 November 2011.
  6. ^ "100 Greatest ... (The 100 Greatest Pop Videos)". ITN Source. Archived from the original on 21 February 2015. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  7. ^ Staunton, Terry (December 2012). "Peter Gabriel: So". Classic Rock (178): 103.
  8. ^ Reed, Ryan (13 October 2011). "Peter Gabriel: The Darwin of Pop". Paste. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  9. ^ Grant, Steven; Robbins, Ira. "Peter Gabriel". Trouser Press. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  10. ^ a b WMMR interview, 16 July 1986, as transcribed by Fred Tomsett in Gabriel fanzine White Shadow #2, circa 1989
  11. ^ "Famous Sounds". Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits (8th ed.). Billboard Publications. p. 246.
  13. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco 1974-2003. Record Research Inc. p. 106.
  14. ^ Cross, Alan (7 October 2001). The Impact Of The Music Video. Corus Radio.
  15. ^ "Episode Guide – Transcript of MTV's "Top 10 Animated Videos Countdown"". Archived from the original on 10 July 2012.. Outpost Daria. 28 June 1998.
  16. ^ "Hits of the World". Billboard. 98 (27): 69. 5 July 1986. ISSN 0006-2510.
  17. ^ " – Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  18. ^ " – Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  19. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 0704." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  20. ^ Pennanen, Timo (2006). Sisältää hitin - levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1972 (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Tammi. ISBN 978-951-1-21053-5.
  21. ^ " – Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  22. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Sledgehammer". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  23. ^ a b "I singoli più venduti del 1986" (in Italian). Hit Parade Italia. Creative Commons. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  24. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  25. ^ " – Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  26. ^ " – Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  27. ^ " – Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer". VG-lista. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  28. ^ "South African Rock Lists Website SA Charts 1969 – 1989 Acts (G)". Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  29. ^ " – Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer". Singles Top 100. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  30. ^ " – Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  31. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  32. ^ a b c d e "So – Awards". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  33. ^ "CASH BOX Top 100 Singles – Week ending JULY 26, 1986". Archived from the original on 2 October 2012.. Cash Box.
  34. ^ "Forum – ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts – Top 100 End of Year AMR Charts – 1980s". Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  35. ^ "Jahreshitparade 1986" (in German). Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  36. ^ "Jaaroverzichten 1986" (in Dutch). Ultratop. Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  37. ^ "Top 100 Singles of '86". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  38. ^ "Jahrescharts – 1986". (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. Archived from the original on 9 May 2015.
  39. ^ "Top 100-Jaaroverzicht van 1986" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  40. ^ "Jaaroverzichten – Single 1986" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  41. ^ "Schweizer Jahreshitparade 1986" (in German). Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  42. ^ "Top 100 Hits for 1986". The Longbored Surfer. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  43. ^ "The CASH BOX Year-End Charts: 1986". Archived from the original on 2 October 2012.. Cash Box.
  44. ^ "British single certifications – Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer". British Phonographic Industry. Select singles in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type Sledgehammer in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  45. ^ Schillaci, Sophie A.; Zakarin, Jordan (5 March 2012). "Peter Gabriel Withdraws Music From Rush Limbaugh Show Following Sandra Fluke Controversy". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  46. ^ Hines, Will (6 January 2015). "An Insanely Thorough and Expansive Ranking of Every Weird Al Polka Medley". Retrieved 24 October 2019.
  47. ^ "Sledgehammer Every Time Play". Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  48. ^ "DMBAlmanac". Retrieved 25 August 2008.

External linksEdit