After Peter Gabriel’s exodus from Genesis, the band was scrambling to replace the lead singer that was essential in the group morphing into one of the top prog rock acts of the early ’70s. The band reportedly auditioned hundreds of singers before deciding to promote drummer Phil Collins from backup to lead vocalist.
As time would prove, the split ultimately benefited both parties, with many rock critics later saying Collins sounded “more like Gabriel than Gabriel did.”
Hearing just the opening few bars of the first track released from Gabriel’s self-titled debut solo effort, it becomes apparent this man was much more than the dramatic stage behavior and the over-the-top costumes that trademarked his time with Genesis. With “Solsbury Hill,” Gabriel suddenly became a sort of spiritual yogi, even transcending his earlier days of symphonic rock perfection.
Built around an acoustic guitar riff and a quirky 7/4 time signature for the majority of the song, the track sounds more simple and identifiable than his lavish work with Genesis. Even more impressive, it’s the autobiographical tale of his split from the band in an inspiring, spiritual format that’s filled with optimism.
The debut album was produced by Bob Ezrin, who had previously worked with Alice Cooper and later produced Pink Floyd. Many rock historians claim that by securing Ezrin, a top producer at the time, Gabriel’s demonstrated his commitment to moving past his Genesis days and creating something unique to himself.
Although the track wasn’t a chart topper, peaking at No. 68 on the U.S. charts, “Solsbury Hill” remains a timeless rock classic, possibly because it wasn’t murdered by Top 40 radio, but more than likely because of its relate-ability.
In 2011, Gabriel recorded new versions of 13 of his older songs on the New Blood album. Gabriel sent his engineer to the actual Solsbury Hill (in Sumerset, England) to record the sounds of the environment, which was used as the intro to the new version of the song. Gabriel said he initially planned to leave the song off the 2011 tracklist, but eventually added it after demands from his fans.
For years, many music fans suspected the lyric “eagle flew out of the nest” was referring to Bruce Springsteen and even that the tune itself was about Bruce, who inspired him to leave Genesis. While doing interviews for the promotion of his 2011 album Gabriel was asked about this rumor several times, to which each time he responded, “that’s hogwash.”