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3 Songs You Didn’t Know Peter Gabriel Wrote for Other Artists

His inception into music was Genesis, but after parting ways with the band in 1975, Peter Gabriel‘s musical scope extended into and beyond artier rock and pop, world beats, the ambient, and all in between. From this point on, Gabriel began experimenting with more progressive-leaning sounds, and helped pioneer and popularize some recording techniques used today, including gated reverb—a mesh of reverb and noise gate sound-altering platform commonly used with drums.

Releasing his self-titled debut in 1977—the first of four subsequent parts—Gabriel was more concerned with how he could manipulate sounds than making a hit song. Following his quartet of Peter Gabriel releases, his fifth album, So, unintentionally turned him into a pop star with his 1986 hit “Sledgehammer.”

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Fused by overdubbed vocals and a carefully curated pastiche of instruments, the core components of “Sledgehammer” were a mash of sounds, featuring a synthesized Japanese shakuhachi bamboo flute, horns, and more soulful bass and drums. Along with Gabriel’s cool and charismatic vocals, and a transfixing stop-motion video, “Sledgehammer” took off into another dimension, soaring to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and bumping his former band Genesis from their perch on the chart with “Invisible Touch.”

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Following the explosion of So and its other hits—”Big Time,” “Red Rain,” “In Your Eyes,” and “Don’t Give Up,” a duet with Kate Bush—the stretch in years between Gabriel’s albums slowly expanded with Us, released in 1992 and the follow-up, Up, a decade later. In 2010, nearly 10 years since his previous album, Gabriel released Scratch My Back, back-to-back with a ninth album New Blood a year later.

Still experimenting with sound at his Real World Studios near Bath, England, Gabriel’s tenth album i/o features Dark and Bright soundscapes.

Throughout his career, Gabriel has also collaborated with a number of artists, including Natalie Merchant, Trent Reznor, Sinéad O’Connor, Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Frasier, Stewart Copeland, and even Phil Collins; Gabriel appears in backing vocals on Collins’ 1986 hit “Take Me Home.”

Briefly departing from his solid body of work, here’s a look behind three songs Gabriel wrote for other artists in the 1980s and 2010s.

1. “Atmospherics: Listen to the Radio,” Tom Robinson (1984)
Written by Peter Gabriel and Tom Robinson

Known for a number of U.K. hits in the late 1970s with The Tom Robinson Band, the namesake of the group was trying to keep up the momentum following his 1983 debut, North by Northwest. For his second album, Hope and Glory, Robinson covered Steely Dan‘s “Rikki Don’t You Lose That Number” and had a hit with his single “War Baby,” a song about the divisions between East and West Germany that reached No. 6 in the U.K.

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Robinson wrote the entirety of the album with the exception of his Steely Dan rendition and the more art-pop ode to audiophiles, “Listen to the Radio: Atmospherics.” Co-written with Gabriel, the song only charted at No. 39 on the U.K. singles chart, then jumped into the Top 20 when it was later covered by the Pukka Orchestra in Canada.

Leave the bureau in the snow
Catch a tram to Onkel PO
Early evening ring around the moon
Slip in by the concierge
By the bikes and up the stairs
Snap the latch and creep into the room
You throw off your coat, pick up the post
And put a coffee on
Lie down on the bed, lay back your head
And smoke a cigarette

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2. “Excellent Birds,” Laurie Anderson (1984)
Written by Peter Gabriel and Laurie Anderson

On her second album, Mister Heartbreak, avant-garde artist and composer Laurie Anderson wrote one track with famed Beat novelist Williams S. Burroughs, the closing “Sharkey’s Night.” Also within her track list was “Excellent Bird,” co-written with Gabriel, who also co-produced the song with Anderson and provides backing vocals on several other tracks on Mister Heartbreak. Gabriel later recorded his own version of the song and released it on the CD and cassette version of his 1986 album, So, with the title “This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds).” His version features Nile Rodgers on guitar.

Flying Birds.
Excellent Birds.
Watch them fly.
There they go.
Falling snow.
Excellent snow.
Here it comes.
Watch it fall.
Long words.
Excellent words.
I can hear them now.
This is the picture.
I’m sitting by the window.
Watching the snow fall.
I’m looking out.
And I’m moving.
Turning in time.
Jump up!
And I can land on my feet.
Look out!

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3. “A.I.,” OneRepublic, featuring Peter Gabriel (2016)
Written by Peter Gabriel, Ryan Tedder, and Brent Kutzle

Marking the first time OneRepublic collaborated with other artists, the band’s fourth album, Oh My My, features Santigold and Cassius, and a sole song featuring its co-writer Peter Gabriel. “A.I.” explores a conflicted love where the narrator considers seeking out something more artificial (i.e. artificial intelligence) or automated over real-life.

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The Peter Gabriel track is turning out, within the record label and band, to be everyone’s favorite song,” said OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder while recording. “What he did on this record is unbelievable. I get goosebumps when I listen to it.”

Elaborating on their collaboration with Gabriel, Tedder added, “He doesn’t do collaborations. It was just a relationship thin— hanging out, having tea, talking about music, and me telling him I worship him like 30,000 times.”

Remember when we met?
I got obsessed on a Monday
And I’ll never forget
I felt such a cliche
I’m wanting to be there
Dreaming of your soft skin
With no emotion
You can really make my head spin

Yeah I just want my love automatic
If artificial love makes sense
I just want your love, I’m an addict
Artificial intelligence
Yeah I just want my love automatic
If artificial love makes sense
I just want your love, I’m an addict
Artificial intelligence

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Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation

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