In his letter to me in response to criticisms about the forthcoming So super deluxe edition box set, Peter Gabriel stated that the demo disc in the box – referred to as “So DNA” – was where he did most of his work. He trawled through “thousands of hours of demos” mostly on cassette tape “looking for the pieces that would tell the story of how the songs evolved”. With editor Dickie Chappell, Peter Gabriel has created unique versions of all the album tracks by piecing together different demos and creating an audio patchwork that, for the most part, takes you from Gabriel working alone at a piano to almost complete finished productions.
I’ve had the opportunity to listen to this disc and offer some thoughts and descriptions of the tracks below. The disc mirrors the running order of the album, although as you will see, the tracks are mostly longer than their album counterpart.
Red Rain DNA Version (6.16)
- 0:00 PG starts on a piano with unfamiliar lyrics and melody. Quite rough and ready!
- 0:40 Well developed and familiar music comes in. PG now sings of “Red Rain” but with small melody variations.
- 1:20 An unfamiliar rhythmic track comes in, to which PG starts singing “so crazy here, so crazy there, keep our eyes closed / We like it here, we like it there, got nothing exposed..”. There follows two minutes or so of this interesting demo section featuring largely unused music and lyrics – this part would have been very interesting on its own.
- 3:35 New lyrics “put down your parasols…” to music more or less the same as the finished version.
Sledgehammer DNA Version (6.31)
- 0:00 Beat box with bass piano figure playing the horns part of the intro. PG wails in the background working on melody… goes quite plaintive in the verse. Has a soulful feel to it. Piano figure apart, unrecognisable as Sledgehammer at this point
- 1:31 A more produced arrangement in play. Verse melody starting to be recognisable, lyrics different.
- 2:00 Different version kicks in, bass prominent.
- 2:40 PG works on verse lyrics
- 3:00 Chorus is getting there but no mention of “Sledgehammer” yet!
- 3:20 Familiar bass comes in, verse melody sorted but lyrics still completely different. Vocal quite low down in the mix during this section.
- 4:30 The outro music being developed ‘I kicked the habit, shed my skin…” lyrics in place.
- 5:00 Signature horns! More work on outro element. Whistling!
- 6:30 Track ends with “Sledgehammer” not sung once in the whole DNA version!
Don’t Give Up DNA Version (6.10)
- 0:00 Straight in with PG singing a different verse lyric, against synth string backing.
- 1:11 PG sings the Kate part “Don’t give up now, you still have us…” Lyrics similar, but melodic differences.
- 2:27 Electric rhythm guitar chugs along as PG works out different melodies.
- 3:43 “Moved on to another town..” starting to sound like the song we know.
- 4:00 Please welcome Kate Bush…! A different vocal take, with some echoey background vox that don’t really work.
- 5:14 The ‘classic’ Don’t Give Up outro kicks off. That bass. Some piano comes in with PG ad libbing neither of which are present on the finished version.
That Voice Again DNA Version (6.36)
- 0:00 Solo piano with PG’s voice..”I just wanna talk to you with nothing in the way..”. Melody different, lyrics different, music recognisable.
- 1:06 More produced, percussion and drums come in.
- 2:00 Semi- familiar intro beats. Verse melody is there, but lyrics different. Longish piano break. Chorus isn’t really formed at this point. This section lasts for around three minutes.
- 5:00 PG comes in with “Only love can make love…” Chorus is sorted with lyrics and melody.
Mercy Street DNA Version (7.50)
- 0:00 Straight in with the familiar verse melody (PG sings “Looking down on city streets…”) with a simple electric piano backing and an echo-laden guide vocal. Spine tinglingly good. In terms of composition, PG obviously had this track sorted from the start.
- 2:10 Heavy bass comes in with percussion.
- 2:40 Different version kicks in, well produced vocal. Heavy piano chords. This song sounds so good, no matter what the treatment.
- 3:53 Less percussion, more minimal. Voice up in the mix, music faded low. Familiar keyboard effects in place, quite similar to the album version at this point. An ill-advised sax makes an appearance! Ending section worked out. “Looking for Mercy..!“
Big Time DNA Version (6.52)
- 0:00 Heavy slightly boogie piano ‘action’ going down, with ticking drum machine backing. No vocals.
- 0:55 Big jump to verse vocal melody with different lyrics. Funky bass in place.
- 1:31 Chorus instrumental with cheesy, synthy horn stabs.
- 2:00 “So much larger than life” female backing vox in place, then BIG TIME! Starting to sound like the finished track!
- 2:41 Lots of cowbells and percussion – a ‘let’s take it down’ type section
- 3:03 Heavy (and rather messy) drums with bass riff, no vocals (this is the “the place where I come from” bit).
- 4:00 Vocals come in “I’m on my way I’m making it..” Sounds near to master version… but with some background differences. Like this until the end which is similar to finished track, with the bulge in his big, big, big, big…
We Do What We’re Told DNA Version (5.01)
- 0:00 BIG dramatic piano chords, with PG trying to working up melodies over the top.
- 1:00 “We do what we’re told” comes in…
- 1:38 Electric guitar chords loud in the mix – intro section with familiar percussive backing.
- 2:15 Big drums enter. All instrumental at this point.
- 3:05 Vocals come in – sounds a bit Bowie-esque. Bigger and more dramatic than the album version. Weird discordant background noises and sound effects are evident. Fades to the end. Missing the “One doubt…” vocal coda.
This Is The Picture DNA Version (3.56)
- 0:00 Ethereal vocals.
- 0:21 Funky rhythm section. Vocals familiar. Music very similar to album.
- 0:55 Vocals much lower in the mix than master version.
- 02:00 Unlike other DNA tracks this is more like one demo.
- 03:56 Ends abruptly.
In Your Eyes DNA Version (10.05)
- 0:00 Band intro, familiar bass.
- 1:06 PG on his own singing with piano. Chorus melody and lyrics are more or less correct but verse not there yet.
- 3:00 Well produced version kicks in – arrangement coming together nicely – PG’s voice sounds brilliant, with lots of echo.
- 5:20 Another verse, different backing, different demo.
- 8:00 Different lyrics sung by PG, lots of vocals doing the “In Your Eyes” chorus. No sign of Youssou N’Dour yet.
- 9:15 It’s still going.
- 9:45 Dramatic piano ending.