Lest there be any doubt about the prog rock foundations of Peter Gabriel’s musical artistry, even the seemingly straightforward ballad “Red Rain” has its beginnings — its genesis, if you will — in one of those profundity-laced song cycles that serious minded pop musicians were pursuing in the nineteen seventies. Though released as the lead track on So, the 1986 album that represented Gabriel’s major commercial breakthrough, “Red Rain” was first composed several years earlier, in conjunction with the songs that made up Gabriel’s sophomore solo album, self-titled but often referred to as “Scratch.” It was part of the extended story of Mozo, a character introduced in the song “On the Air.” Mozo developed a fantasy world based on fragments he heard coming over his short wave radio. He also served as a disruptive force, swooping into situations and leaving things upended through his meddling. “I have always been interested in transformation of one sort of another,” Gabriel explained. “When Mozo came in he upset the status quo and the story is about the struggles after his appearance.” Gabriel had in mind shaping the songs around the character into a film or stage experience, but that plan was eventually dropped. “Red Rain” remained unfinished and unreleased until Gabriel wanted a track to begin So that would, as he put it, “crash open at the front.” There’s not much evidence of Mozo in the final lyrics. Instead, the song is full of imagery that came right out of Gabriel’s slumbering subconscious. “‘Red Rain’ was written after a dream I’d had about the sea being parted by two walls,” Gabriel told Mojo. “There were these glass-like figures that would screw themselves into each wall, fill up with red blood and then be lowered across the sand, as it were to the next wall, where they’d unload the blood on the other side. I used to have these extremely vivid dreams that scared the hell out of me.”
Like most entries in the Psychedelic Furs songbook, “The Ghost in You” was written by brothers Richard and Tim Butler, the band’s lead singer and bassist, respectively. “We would write songs together,” Tim Butler later explained. “I would start playing a riff and if a particular riff caught Richard’s fancy, he’d start writing lyrics and then go from a riff to a chorus. I remember that song came together very quickly. Richard would write lyrics on napkins or pieces of paper; they’d be falling out of his pockets!” “The Ghost in You” was released as the second single from Mirror Moves, the Psychedelic Furs’ 1984 album. It was part of their gradual headway toward broader commercial success in the United States, becoming their second song to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, though stalling out at a middling #59. Though no one in the band was likely to cop to actively pursuing hits, “The Ghost in You” was in line with other tracks on the album that took care to ease the more abrasive elements of the Psychedelic Furs’ sound. That gentle transformation included a shift in Richard Butler’s lyrics, which were deliberately more straightforward. In an interview at the time, Richard conceded he “made the lyrics simpler on purpose, clearer.” The added accessibility has likely added to song’s endurance. It’s one of the most covered songs in the Furs’ catalogue, sometimes brilliantly, but more often with an unseemly film of sonic disaster.
Acknowledging that the aspirational intellectualism of Sting would become deeply wearying as time wore on, it all still seem strikingly fresh in 1981, when the Police released their fourth studio album, The Ghost in the Machine. Openly boasting that his lyrics drew inspiration from the late-sixties psychological philosophy of Arthur Koestler (whose book provides the album’s title) would today likely earn Sting eye rolls (and reflexive Grammy nominations), but it made him seem like the inspiring professor of rock ‘n’ roll when his legitimacy as a punk presence was a recent phenomenon. “I thought that while political progress is clearly important in resolving conflict around the world, there are spiritual (as opposed to religious) aspects of our recovery that also need to be addressed,” Sting later wrote about the song’s underpinnings. “I suppose by ‘spiritual’ I mean the ability to see the bigger picture, to be able to step outside the narrow box of our conditioning and access those higher modes of thinking that Koestler talked about. Without this, politics is just the rhetoric of failure.” Sting wrote the song on a synthesizer, an instrument he was just beginning to experiment with. That contributed to the increasing fractiousness within the Police when Sting’s original preference was to record the song with much the same sound, a choice that would seriously marginalize guitarist Andy Summers. The indignity was compounded by Sting’s suggestion that the extended minor ninth chord in the song’s opening might be too complicated for Summers to play on his instrument, which led the guitarist to insist in his memoir, “I can play the whole part standing on my head if need be — no problem.”
As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown.
The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.