Home Music Music Lists

20 Insanely Great Peter Gabriel Songs Only Hardcore Fans Know

Explore the art-rock icon’s hidden gems – from funky B sides to expansive soundtrack epics

Peter Gabriel Home Best Songs Hardcore Fans know

United Kingdom - Peter Gabriel at his home in 1984

Peter Noble/Redferns/Getty

Art-rock innovator, soul-pop craftsman, "world music" ambassador: Peter Gabriel has evolved substantially with each LP, often abandoning a comfortable style to stake out new creative ground. And whether he's wielding his soulful "Sledgehammer" or channeling an evil "Intruder," his music always aims for the grandiose – even his leftovers are crafted with imagination and verve. 

It's been 14 years since Gabriel's last batch of new material, Up, but he's remained active since – releasing two orchestral albums (2010's covers-only Scratch My Back and the following year's New Blood, full of revamped originals) and touring the world multiple times, most recently with the classic So lineup on his Back to Front trek.

Gabriel recently launched the Rock Paper Scissors tour – a collaborative, co-headlining jaunt with Sting – and released a dynamic Muhammad Ali-inspired single, "I'm Amazing." It's an ideal time to explore the lesser-known corners of his sprawling discography. From obscure soundtrack tunes ("Party Man") to anthemic B sides ("Don't Break This Rhythm"), these are 20 great Peter Gabriel songs only hardcore fans know.  

Peter Gabriel Home Best Songs Hardcore Fans know Walk Through the Fire

“Walk Through the Fire” (1984)

Back in 1984, when soundtracks were all-star events, Gabriel snuck this obscure gem onto the Against All Odds LP. And "Fire" sounds exactly like the product of its era: more playful and immediate than Security, more keyboard-heavy and textured than So – pairing imagistic lyrics with clanking percussion and synth-horn emulations. "Darkness heavy on my shoulder," Gabriel confesses. "Smell the smoke, sickly sweet/The body's weak, the shadow's strong." ("Against All Odds," of course, is a Phil Collins powerhouse, and the soundtrack also features a Mike Rutherford solo tune, making the set essential for Genesis fans. Who knew it would take a middling romantic thriller to unite 3/5 of the band's classic lineup?)

Peter Gabriel Home Best Songs Hardcore Fans know Don't Break This Rhythm

“Don’t Break This Rhythm” (1986)

Peter Gabriel catapulted into the pop mainstream with 1986's So, marrying African rhythms and soul melodies with art-rock synth textures. But "Don't Break This Rhythm," his finest fusion of those three elements, didn't crack the final track list, appearing only as the B side to horn-fueled single "Sledgehammer." It's a glaring omission. "All this momentum keeps stealing through," Gabriel yelps, his voice ricocheting off warped keys and muted, polyrhythmic tom-toms.

Peter Gabriel Home Best Songs Hardcore Fans know Curtains

“Curtains” (1987)

This near-instrumental, the B side to hammy So single "Big Time," earns immense impact with ordinary tools: a static kick-drum pulse, New Age synth pads and stray electric-piano chords. "Curtains" is cut from the same ambient cloth as So closer "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)" – slow-building to a suspenseful anti-climax. "There are angels on our curtains/They keep the outside out," Gabriel croons. "There are lions on our curtains/They lick their wounds; they lick their doubt." An expanded version, re-tooled with composer Jack Wall, appeared during a transitional sequence in the 2004 video game Myst IV: Revelation. But the original, with its less-is-more melancholy, strikes a deeper chord.  

Peter Gabriel Home Best Songs Hardcore Fans know Zaar

“Zaar” (1989)

Three years after transforming into a pop heartthrob with So, Gabriel delivered his sharpest creative curveball with 1989's Passion, an arty New Age bricolage of instruments and inspiration from across the world. The Grammy-winning LP, which originated from his soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, united Gabriel with musicians from the Middle East, Asia and Africa – and the unnerving "Zaar" is the most accessible showcase of that multicultural approach. Formed around a driving Egyptian rhythm designed to fend off evil spirits, the track weaves in L. Shankar's eerie double-violin, kamancheh (an Iranian bowed instrument) and thickets of percussion, including the surdo (a Brazilian bass drum). While Passion's heady textures are best digested in full, "Zaar" remains the album's majestic stand-alone moment. 

Peter Gabriel Home Best Songs Hardcore Fans know Quiet Steam

“Quiet Steam” (1992)

The original "Steam" is an underwhelming "Sledgehammer" rewrite, copping that song's soul groove but dulling it with overstuffed production. The "Quiet" version, released as the B side to Us single "Digging in the Dirt," is the sonic opposite: Gabriel trims back the arrangement to a minimalist core of barely there organ and electric-guitar throb, almost whispering his words. There's more drama at play when the singer, voice quivering, praises a "life with the dreamer's dream" and glances down at the dogs sniffing at his feet. 

Peter Gabriel Home Best Songs Hardcore Fans know Lovetown

“Lovetown” (1993)

Gabriel is one of rock's most theatrical performers – from his early days donning a fox head with Genesis to navigating elaborate stage sets during his solo Us tour – so his reverence to the soundtrack form is only appropriate. The soulful "Lovetown" appeared in the 1993 drama Philadelphia – better known for spawning Bruce Springsteen's Oscar-winning ballad "Streets of Philadelphia" – and was later buried on the tongue-in-cheek "Miss" disc of Gabriel's 2003 Hit collection. But the track, which foreshadows the hushed majesty of Up's "Sky Blue," always beckoned for a wider audience. Over Tony Levin's rubber-band bass and David Rhodes' smoky tremolo guitar, Gabriel compares romantic love to a city with walls. "In each other's shadow/The roots reach into the soil," he emotes in that signature whine. "All these knots so tightly tied/We could not uncoil." 

Peter Gabriel Home Best Songs Hardcore Fans know Across the River

“Across the River” (1994)

This atmospheric powerhouse, a rare Gabriel songwriting collaboration, was co-crafted by trusted guitarist David Rhodes, Police drummer Stewart Copeland and violinist L. Shankar for the 1982 WOMAD compilation Music and Rhythm. It's trademark Eighties Gabriel – a forgotten precursor to Security's "The Rhythm of the Heat," full of ethereal synth pads and multicultural bombast. But Gabriel brought the piece to life onstage: The cathartic version captured on his second live LP, 1994's Secret World Live, builds to a more dynamic climax, with Manu Katche's tom-tom fills injecting a manic rhythmic thrust.

Peter Gabriel Home Best Songs Hardcore Fans know Party Man

“Party Man” (1995)

Co-written with the World Beaters (the random teaming of Tori Amos and music supervisor George Acogny), this textured ballad is one of Gabriel's most obscure one-offs – available only on the soundtrack to 1995 thriller Virtuosity, a virtual-reality flop starring Denzel Washington. That's one odd dumping ground for such a high-profile collaboration. But "Party Man" is far from B-side quality: Over lush synthesizers and feathery nylon-string guitar, Gabriel gazes out from a "high wall" down to street lights "spread out like a banquet." The lyrics feel unfinished, but he sings them with raw angst, careening to a squealed falsetto on the chorus. Far from the jovial romp its title suggests, "Party Man" ranks among Gabriel's most cathartic Nineties tracks. 

Peter Gabriel Home Best Songs Hardcore Fans know The Tower That Ate People

“The Tower That Ate People” (2000)

This buzzing industrial-rock epic is the centerpiece of OVO, Gabriel's 2000 multimedia performance and soundtrack LP, which explores a feud between "the earth people and sky people." "Tower" remains one of Gabriel's most exhilarating post-So arrangements, mutating from distorted, funky electronics to a wistful bridge of overlapping vocals. And while the overall OVO concept is nonsense, the words here operate on a broader scale: "Tell it like it is/Till there's no misunderstanding," Gabriel intones. "When you strip it right back/Man feed machine; machine feed man."

Peter Gabriel Home Best Songs Hardcore Fans know My Head Sounds Like That

“My Head Sounds Like That” (2002)

While designing the sonic palette for Security, Gabriel famously trekked to the junkyard with recording equipment – smashing TVs, breathing into pipes and feeding all the noises into his brand-new Fairlight CMI sampler. It was an ideal marriage of artist and instrument: No other rocker has better utilized the musical potential of abstract sound. "My Head Sounds Like That," the slow-building centerpiece of Up's second side, finds Gabriel meditating on the raw emotional power of noise. Over glacial piano chords, digital tablas and sighing brass, he transforms the mundane – squeezed sponges, oil "spitting" into sauce pans, knives scraping across "burnt brown toast" – into the cosmic. 

"I was just thinking about a depressed state but where you have suddenly heightened consciousness of sound, a bit like when you are about to throw up when suddenly smell goes into 3D, if you know what I mean," Gabriel wrote of the track. "It becomes a sort of heightened experience, and so I was just trying to picture it."

Peter Gabriel Home Best Songs Hardcore Fans know Baby Man

“Baby Man” (2004)

Gabriel performed this electro-orchestral epic nine times throughout his 2004 European tour. But the authorized bootleg concert version, recorded in Brussels, teases the brilliance locked away in the singer's sprawling vaults. "Baby Man," the not-so-distant cousin of lush Up opener "Darkness" and OVO's biting "The Tower That Ate People," juxtaposes the organic (flute, violins) and synthetic (synth pads, industrial programming) with childlike giddiness. So why the lock and key? It's possible Gabriel, ever the perfectionist, never arrived at a final draft of th