On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be… legendary!
Peter Gabriel – Shock the Monkey (1982)
Time to head back to the UK and to Chobham in Surrey for our music lesson, dear reader. Once the lead singer of Genesis, Peter Gabriel left the group in 1975 and since then has pursued a successful solo career. When we join him in 1982 Gabriel is working on his fourth solo album, Peter Gabriel, and from that record 1001 Songs have decided that the most noteworthy of tracks is Shock the Monkey.
With the title and even some of the lyrics, Shock the Monkey has often been interpreted as a track that addresses animal experimentation, especially linking to the work of Stanley Milgram who looked at obedience to authority and, by the sound of things, shocks being delivered to monkeys. The reality is that Peter Gabriel’s song is about jealousy and insecurity. The lyrics speak of a monkey and how the narrator does not want it to be shocked but here the primate is being used as an extended metaphor throughout the track for the idea of jealousy. We hear of the monkey falling from the trees, the jealousy clearly provoked, and the unnamed individual the narrator sings of continues to shock the monkey (jealousy) until it’s beyond control. Whether or not this jealousy is justified is unclear.
Peter Gabriel’s Genesis became very different when Phil Collins took over as lead singer while continuing with his drumming duties. Gabriel may have outgrown the group or simply branched off in a different direction. His avant garde music contrasts greatly with his former group and the same is true here with Shock the Monkey. From the sound of things, a lot of Gabriel’s tracks were misinterpreted or the music just overwhelmed any search for the core of the meaning. While this isn’t as strong as Sledgehammer or Games Without Frontiers, it still demonstrates a singer who was comfortable in his own skin and not remotely missing Genesis.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)
Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now (1978)
The Police – Message in a Bottle (1979)
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)
Ultravox – Vienna (1980)