Sometimes you hear a song so much, that you don’t really even hear it. There are other times – that when you finally DO hear it – the impact is like that of a lightning bolt!
And all it took was for me to have Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel come up on shuffle on my mp3 player while I was cleaning my house about a year ago! Maybe the revelation “Hey… this song is totally about sex” provided a welcome respite from cleaning my basement!
Sledgehammer was a huge hit song in 1986 – hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The song’s music video won a record nine MTV Video Music Awards at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards. Gabriel was also nominated for three Grammy Awards for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
It’s just funny that someone like me – who has been known to say that virtually every rock/pop song is about sex and/or drugs or the pursuit of either/both things would have been oblivious to Sledgehammer all of these years. Some songs are more obvious with their messages than others. Consider the case of Love is the Drug by Roxy Music (pssst – it’s about sex):
The locked embrace, the stumble round
I say go, she say yes
Dim the lights, you can guess the rest
So why did Sledgehammer slip under my radar all of these years? I suspect it’s because Peter Gabriel crafted a song (along with producer Daniel Lanois) that managed to entrance listeners in so many other ways besides the very obvious sex message:
You could have a big dipper
Going up and down, all around the bends
You could have a bumper car, bumping
This amusement never ends
I mean…it’s SO obvious the song is all bout sex when you actually take the time to listen to the lyrics – and look them up online! But when you’re listening to the horn section, the catchy melodies, the soul-inspired vocals all the while watching it on your family’s wood-cabinet TV set (I was quite the MTV junkie in the ’80s) the whole “I really want to plow you” message can… get lost in translation.
With images like this in the Sledgehammer video, no wonder the whole “I’m horny” message could have been easy to miss. This looks like a scene from Pee Wee’s Playhouse!
Keep in mind, I was no stranger to listening to rock and pop songs that were all about sex! I recorded Prince’s Erotic City from the radio, I rebelled against Tipper Gore’s explicit lyrics war by listening to Prince’s Darling Nikki with complete and utter gusto. When I was little, a Cat Stevens album my mom played frequently was Mona Bone Jakon – guess what that album title (and song title) is about? Yup, Cat Stevens’ “mona bone.”
Yes, I’ve got a mona bone jakon
But it won’t be lonely for long.
Fun fact! Did you know Peter Gabriel was a session musician on this album? You can hear him playing flute on the track Katmandu. Also, this album’s producer, Paul Samwell-Smith, was part of a musical group called the Yardbirds. Samwell-Smith also produced records for Carly Simon, who dated Cat Stevens. It’s time for six degrees of Cat Stevens (LOL)!
I also grew up listening to mom’s disco records – which were pretty much ALL about the sex – and drugs. Consider this thoughtful prose from Rod Stewart’s Da Ya Think I’m Sexy, which I used to hear while skating at the local roller rink as a kid:
His heart’s beating like a drum
‘Cause at last he’s got this girl home
Relax, baby, now we’re all alone
Of course I was way too young to be analyzing song lyrics to the songs I skated around to under the disco ball when I was 7 – and certainly didn’t know (or care) what they meant! As for Sledgehammer? Well played, Peter Gabriel – well played! It took me 32 years to figure out this song was all about sex!