Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel song)

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An blurred image of a sledgehammer. The text reading "hammer" in the song's title is seen italicized, while the artist names appear in white text in a purple rectangle.
Single by Peter Gabriel
from the album So
Released14 April 1986[1]
StudioAshcombe House (Bath, England)
  • 5:12 (album version)
  • 4:58 (7-inch single edit)
  • 4:55 (video version)
Songwriter(s)Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel singles chronology
"Walk Through the Fire"
"Don't Give Up"
Music video
"Sledgehammer" on YouTube

"Sledgehammer" is a song by the English rock musician Peter Gabriel. It was released in April 1986 as the lead single from his fifth studio album, So (1986).[2] It was produced by Gabriel and Daniel Lanois. It reached 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;[3] 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.

The song's video won a record nine MTV Video Music Awards at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards[4] and Best British Video at the 1987 Brit Awards.[5][6] 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.[7] In a 2005 poll conducted by Channel 4 the music video was ranked second on their list of the 100 Greatest Pop Videos.[8]


"Sledgehammer" was among the last songs recorded for the album and was presented to the band as they were packing up their equipment. The original intention was to include the song on Gabriel's next album after So.[9] Manu Katché was about to enter a taxi and return home to Paris when Gabriel coaxed him into recording "Sledgehammer".[10] Katché recorded his part in one take and was asked by Gabriel to record a few more passes, although Katché insisted that any subsequent attempt at recording another drum track would be inferior.[11] Bassist Tony Levin recalled that Katché "was following where the music seemed to be taking us, and [he's] very good at following that direction in his own style...That's what I try to do on bass." Levin opted to record his part on a fretless bass with a pick.[12]

Gabriel noted that he was influenced by soul music when writing "Sledgehammer" and also considered recording a soul-oriented album with a mixture of covers and original compositions.

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[13]

The song also features a synthesised shakuhachi flute generated with an E-mu Emulator II sampler.[14] Gabriel said the "cheap organ sound" comes from an expensive Prophet-5 synth, which he regards as "an old warhorse" sound tool.[15] 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. Genesis lead singer Phil Collins later jested about the occurrence in a 2014 interview, stating, "I read recently that Peter Gabriel knocked us off the No. 1 spot with 'Sledgehammer'. We weren't aware of that at the time. If we had been, we'd probably have sent him a telegram saying: 'Congratulations – bastard.'"[16]

"Sledgehammer" also achieved success on other Billboard charts in 1986, spanning the Album Rock Tracks (two weeks at the summit in May and June)[17] and Hot Dance Club Play (one week atop this chart in July).[18]

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".

Reception and legacy[edit]

"Sledgehammer" has been described as dance-rock,[19] funk rock,[20] and soul,[21] Ryan Reed of Paste called the song a danceable "blue-eyed soul-strut".[22] Trouser Press gave it as an example of Gabriel's "characteristically sophisticated music" which in this case "touches on funk".[23] Stewart Mason of AllMusic thought that "Sledgehammer's" "earthier foundation keeps the song from getting distracted from the pounding, swaggering groove at its core", adding that "it's not his masterpiece, but it's probably his best pop song. Later attempts at rewriting it, like 1992's dismal 'Steam', didn't work half as well."[24]

"Sledgehammer" was used as the now defunct 3rd Brigade 3rd Infantry Division song. The Sledgehammer Brigade was located on Kelley Hill, Fort Moore (Benning), GA. The song was used to increase Esprit de Corps of the brigade at the end of physical training and special events.[25][26]

Music video[edit]

The "Sledgehammer" music video was 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.[27] 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 "Big Time", another single from So.

Gabriel lay under a sheet of glass for 16 hours while filming the video one frame at a time.[28] "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.'"[13] Two dead, headless, featherless chickens were animated using stop-motion and shown dancing along to the synthesised shakuhachi solo. This section was animated by Nick Park, of Aardman Animations, who was refining his work in plasticine animation at the time.[29] 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 backing vocalists of the song. A total of 100 hours were spent shooting the music video, with each second of video consisting of 25 unique poses from Gabriel.[30]

A major hit on music television, "Sledgehammer" won nine MTV Video Music Awards in 1987,[4] the most awards a single video has won.[5] 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.[31] 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.

According to Time magazine, "Sledgehammer"'s music video is the all-time most played music video on MTV.[32]

The music video was remastered into 4K resolution, and was released in 2018 through Apple Music.[33]


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


Credits adapted from the liner notes of So.[34]



Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[65] Gold 400,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Covers and parodies[edit]

In 1986, "Weird Al" Yankovic parodied this song as the first song from his polka medley "Polka Party!" from the 1986 studio album of the same name.[66]

On 2 March 2020, Harry Styles covered this song for the first time publicly on the Howard Stern Show.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BPI".
  2. ^ "Sledgehammer". Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  3. ^ Dean 2003, p. 160.
  4. ^ a b "VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS – Biggest Winners". MTV. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Peter Gabriel, 'Sledgehammer' (1986)". Time. 28 July 2011. Archived from the original on 28 February 2012.
  6. ^ "The BRITs 1987". Brit Awards. 9 February 1987. Retrieved 19 November 2011.
  7. ^ "29th Grammy Awards – 1987". Rock on the Net. Retrieved 19 November 2011.
  8. ^ "100 Greatest ... (The 100 Greatest Pop Videos)". ITN Source. Archived from the original on 21 February 2015. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  9. ^ Scott 2012, 17:38.
  10. ^ Scarfe 2021, pp. 47–48.
  11. ^ Scott 2012, 20:46.
  12. ^ Scott 2012, 21:41.
  13. ^ a b WMMR interview, 16 July 1986, as transcribed by Fred Tomsett in Gabriel fanzine White Shadow #2, circa 1989
  14. ^ "Famous Sounds". Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  15. ^ Hammond, Ray (January 1987). "Peter Gabriel – Behind the Mask". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 20 February 2021 – via Mu:zines.
  16. ^ Barnett, Laura (14 October 2014). "Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford: how we made Invisible Touch". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 July 2022.
  17. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits (8th ed.). Billboard Publications. p. 246.
  18. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco 1974-2003. Record Research Inc. p. 106.
  19. ^ Staunton, Terry (December 2012). "Peter Gabriel: So". Classic Rock. No. 178. p. 103.
  20. ^ Randall, Mac (10 July 2002). "Gabriel, Beck and Miller Struggle with Gravity". The New York Observer. Retrieved 2 May 2022.
  21. ^ Pond, Steve (29 January 1987). "Peter Gabriel Hits the Big Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2 May 2022.
  22. ^ Reed, Ryan (13 October 2011). "Peter Gabriel: The Darwin of Pop". Paste. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 2 May 2022.
  23. ^ Grant, Steven; Robbins, Ira. "Peter Gabriel". Trouser Press. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  24. ^ Mason, Stewart. "Sledgehammer - Peter Gabriel". AllMusic. Retrieved 9 February 2024.
  25. ^ "Op-Ed: Not Fancy, Just Tough, Remembering the Sledgehammer Brigade".
  26. ^ Op-Ed: Not Fancy, Just Tough, Remembering the Sledgehammer Brigade
  27. ^ Cavalier, Stephen. "100 Greatest Animated Shorts / Sledgehammer / Stephen R. Johnson". Skwigly: Online Animation Magazine. Retrieved 1 September 2023.
  28. ^ Cross, Alan (7 October 2001). The Impact of the Music Video. Corus Radio.
  29. ^ Scott 2012, 27:05.
  30. ^ Gallo, Armando (1986). Peter Gabriel. United Kingdom: SonicBond. p. 90. ISBN 0-7119-0783-8.
  31. ^ "Episode Guide – Transcript of MTV's "Top 10 Animated Videos Countdown"". Outpost Daria. 28 June 1998. Archived from the original on 10 July 2012.
  32. ^ Levy, Glen (26 July 2011). "Peter Gabriel, 'Sledgehammer' (1986) | the 30 All-TIME Best Music Videos". Time.
  33. ^ Iahn, Buddy (21 July 2018). "Peter Gabriel 'Sledgehammer' video remastered in 4K". The Music Universe. Archived from the original on 28 August 2021. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  34. ^ So (booklet). Charisma, Virgin, Geffen. 1986.
  35. ^ "Hits of the World". Billboard. Vol. 98, no. 27. 5 July 1986. p. 69. ISSN 0006-2510.
  36. ^ "Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  37. ^ "Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  38. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 0704." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  39. ^ Europe Airplay Top 50
  40. ^ Europe Hot 100 Singles
  41. ^ Pennanen 2006, p. [page needed].
  42. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Sledgehammer". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  43. ^ "Classifiche". Musica e dischi (in Italian). Retrieved 6 June 2022. Set "Tipo" on "Singoli". Then, in the "Artista" field, search "Peter Gabriel".
  44. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 25, 1986" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  45. ^ "Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  46. ^ "Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  47. ^ "Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer". VG-lista. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  48. ^ "South African Rock Lists Website SA Charts 1969 – 1989 Acts (G)". Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  49. ^ "Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer". Singles Top 100. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  50. ^ "Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  51. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  52. ^ a b c d e "So – Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  53. ^ "CASH BOX Top 100 Singles – Week ending JULY 26, 1986". Cash Box. Archived from the original on 2 October 2012.
  54. ^ " – Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  55. ^ "National Top 100 Singles for 1986". Kent Music Report. 29 December 1986. Retrieved 10 December 2019 – via Imgur.
  56. ^ "Jahreshitparade 1986" (in German). Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  57. ^ "Jaaroverzichten 1986" (in Dutch). Ultratop. Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  58. ^ "Top 100 Singles of '86". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. 27 December 1986. p. 5. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  59. ^ "Top 100-Jaaroverzicht van 1986" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  60. ^ "Jaaroverzichten – Single 1986" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  61. ^ "Schweizer Jahreshitparade 1986" (in German). Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  62. ^ "Top 100 Hits for 1986". The Longbored Surfer. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  63. ^ "The CASH BOX Year-End Charts: 1986". Cash Box. Archived from the original on 2 October 2012.
  64. ^ "Jahrescharts – 1986". (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. Archived from the original on 9 May 2015.
  65. ^ "British single certifications – Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 10 November 2023.
  66. ^ Hines, Will (6 January 2015). "An Insanely Thorough and Expansive Ranking of Every Weird Al Polka Medley". Retrieved 4 July 2020.


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