The Making of Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill"

Steve Hunter recounts the making of Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill"
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In my opinion, “Solsbury Hill” is one of the most perfectly written and produced pop songs ever. I know that Peter was having trouble with a line or two in the lyrics at one point, so this song ended up being the last one we recorded. Literally, the day after we recorded it, all the New York musicians were scheduled to fly back to New York. Robert Fripp had already flown back to England because he had sessions scheduled.

I remember Peter and I went into producer Bob Ezrin’s office so that Bob could show me what he had in mind for the tune on piano. As Peter was playing it, I began to realize it was in an odd time—7/4—and that it was a particular style of 7/4. The first section was counted as a bar of 3, and then a bar of 4. But the next section was counted as a bar of 4, and then a bar of 3. Just to make things even more interesting, at the end of the cycle were two bars of 4. Okay, so I was already sweating a little. Then, Bob said he would like to do the whole song on acoustic guitar with modified Travis-style picking. Now I’m really sweating. To my credit, I didn’t panic—at least visibly—and Bob showed me the idea on a nice acoustic. Oh, yeah—I almost forgot: The song is in the key of B. To make the Travis picking flow better, we put a capo on the second fret, so that the part could be played as if it were in the key of A. I worked out the chord voicings and the Travis picking in Bob’s office with just the three of us as an audience.

The beautiful thing about this song is that it’s so well written it flows from your fingers. It wasn’t long before I had completely forgotten the meter was 7, and I simply played the song. I triple-tracked the acoustic part, and as I added each overdub, Bob sped up or slowed down the tape speed so that each pass was slightly out of tune with the previous track—which created this lovely, natural, and lush chorusing. After we were finished with the acoustics, we recorded some beefier guitars at the end.

As most of you know, “Solsbury Hill” has become one of Peter’s signature songs, and it is, without a doubt, one of the most brilliantly written songs I have had the great pleasure of playing on.