"Sledgehammer" is a song written, composed, and performed by British musician Peter Gabriel, which he debuted on his 1986 album So, and which Daniel Lanois produced. It hit number one in Canada on July 21, 1986, where it spent four weeks; number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States on July 26, 1986; and number four in the UK singles chart, thanks in part to a popular and influential 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 music video has won a number of awards, including a record nine MTV Awards at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards, and Best British Video at the 1987 Brit Awards. Gabriel was also nominated for three Grammy Awards: Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year. As of 2011, "Sledgehammer" is the most played music video in the history of MTV.
The song was influenced by 1960s soul music, in particular the music made by the Memphis label Stax. The distinctive horn track was provided by the Memphis Horns, the Stax Records label's house musicians. The song also features a synthesized shakuhachi flute generated with an Emu Emulator IIsampler.
The lyrics are a mosaic of sexual innuendos, with references to steam trains, bumper cars, Big Dipper (roller coaster) and fruit cage as metaphors for male and female sexual organs and references to pollination, acting like a sledgehammer, fruit and bees as metaphors of sexual acts. One reviewer[who?] called it a transformation of sexual aggression into high comedy.
"Sledgehammer" was Peter Gabriel's first and, to date, only number-one hit in the United States. It replaced "Invisible Touch" by his former band Genesis, which had been that group's only US number-one hit the previous week. "Sledgehammer" also achieved chart success on other Billboard charts in 1986, spanning the range between Album Rock Tracks (two weeks at the summit in May and June) and Hot Dance Club Play (one week atop this chart in July).
The single release also included a previously unreleased track called "Don't Break This Rhythm" and an "'85 Remix" of his 1982 single "I Have the Touch." US versions of the single contained an extended dance remix of "Sledgehammer." It was among the first singles released on compact disc.
"Sledgehammer" spawned a widely popular and influential music video commissioned by Tessa Watts at Virgin Records, directed by Stephen R. Johnson, and produced by Adam Whittaker. Aardman Animations (of Wallace and Gromit fame) and the Brothers Quay provided claymation, pixilation, and stop motion animation that gave life to images in the song. The video ended with a large group of extras jerkily rotating around Gabriel, among them: Gabriel's own daughters Anna and Melanie, the animators themselves, and director Stephen Johnson's girlfriend. Also included were six women who posed as the back-up singers of the song. Gabriel lay under a sheet of glass for 16 hours while filming the video one frame at a time. Notably, two oven-ready chickens, headless and featherless, were animated using stop-motion and shown dancing along to the synthesized flute solo in the middle of the song. This section was animated by Nick Park, of Aardman Animations, who was refining his work in plasticine animation at the time. The style was later used again in the video for another successful single from the album So, "Big Time."
During the shot where Gabriel wore a Christmas tree suit, he started dancing around in a wild jerky motion. Gabriel was actually being shocked. The video was shot in one week.
Although many of these techniques had already been employed in earlier music videos (such as Talking Heads's 1985 hit "Road to Nowhere"), the Sledgehammer video won nine MTV Video Music Awards in 1987, the most awards a single video has won. It ranked at number four on MTV's 100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made (1999). MTV later announced that "Sledgehammer" is the most played music video in the history of the station. "Sledgehammer" has also been declared to be MTV's number one animated video of all time.
The video was also 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" as well as being named the No. 1 "Amazing Moment in Music" on the Australian TV show 20 to 1 in 2007. The video won Best British Video at the 1987 Brit Awards. Also, the video was nominated for the Best Music Video category for the first annual Soul Train Music Awards in that same year.
In 1986, "Weird Al" Yankovic covered this song as the first song from his polka medley "Polka Party!" from the 1986 album of the same name. He also imitated the video in the music video for "UHF" in 1989, and used the song's style as the basis for his song "Waffle King" from Alapalooza in 1993.
In 1986, the song appeared in the Miami Vice episode "Better Living Through Chemistry," during a scene inside a biker bar. A slightly altered version of the shakuhachi refrain in the opening was used by background musician Jan Hammer at appropriate moments.
The song has been used to promote the comedy Sledge Hammer! in syndication. (The show's creator and chief producer, Alan Spencer, was, however, denied permission to employ it as the theme for the series.)
In 1991, rappers 3rd Bass borrowed the Tony Levin bass line from the song for their hit "Pop Goes the Weasel." The 1993 Naughty By Nature song "Hip Hop Hooray" also samples the shakuhachi intro. In 2000, the song was sampled for "I've Got to Have It" by Jermaine Dupri, Monica and Nas, which appeared on the soundtrack for the motion picture Big Momma's House.
In the late 90's 3HBCT 3ID, nicknamed "Sledgehammer", adopted the song as its theme song played every morning through loud speakers on Kelley Hill the brigades location Ft. Benning, GA.
In 2003, the band The Hang released a cover of the song on their self-titled album.
In 2005, progressive rock band Umphrey's McGee did a rendition of "Sledgehammer" on the Wrapped Around Chicago - New Year's Eve at The Riviera (2005) DVD. The band occasionally covers the song in live performances.
In 2007, Finnish Symphonic Epic Metal Northern Kings featuring Jarkko Ahola from Teräsbetoni, Marco Hietala from Nightwish and Tarot, Tony Kakko from Sonata Arctica and Juha-Pekka Leppäluoto fromCharon covered the song on their album Reborn.
In 2008, R&B singer Maiysha did a sensual rendition of "Sledgehammer" for her album This Much Is True.
This song was the bumper music on The Rush Limbaugh Show, leading to Rush Limbaugh's controversial comments about Sandra Fluke following Fluke's testimony before Congress. Consequently, Gabriel demanded that the program stop using his music.
In September of 2012, the hit BBC Three comedy series Bad Education used the song during the introduction scene and during a gag at the start in which main character "Alfie Wickers" sends a video of an old man manipulating his testicles to "Sledgehammer" to "Mr. Fraser," the school's headmaster.
On October 31, 2013, the band String Cheese Incident covered the song at the first annual Hulaween Music Festival at Spirit of Suwannee Park in Live Oak, Florida.
- Peter Gabriel – vocals, CMI, piano, synthesizer
- Manu Katché – drums
- Tony Levin – bass
- David Rhodes – guitar
- Daniel Lanois – guitar, tambourine
- Wayne Jackson – trumpet
- Mark Rivera – tenor saxophone
- Don Mikkelsen – trombone
- P. P. Arnold – backing vocals
- Coral Gordon – backing vocals
- Dee Lewis – backing vocals