I Want My MTV: Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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I Want My MTV: Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel

You could have a steam train, if you'd just lay down your tracks.
The lead single from Peter Gabriel's fifth studio album, So, was released on April 21st 1986. A top 10 hit in just about every territory released, Sledgehammer married Gabriel's artistic style with a more accessible commercial vibe. Described as a collage of dance-rock, blue-eyed soul and funk, Sledgehammer reached No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart, No. 1 in Canada, No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States (replacing Invisible Touch by his former band Genesis), and No. 1 on other U.S charts including the Album Rock Tracks, Cash Box and Hot Dance Club Play, thanks in no small part to its incredibly memorable music video...

Directed by Stephen R. Johnson (who Gabriel would collaborate again with for the similar style music videos to Big Time and Steam), the Sledgehammer video shoot was a grueling one. When doing promotion for the track's release, Peter Gabriel explained that he had to lay under a sheet of glass for 16 hour long days while filming the video one frame at a time.
"It took a lot of hard work, I was thinking at the time, 'If anyone wants to try and copy this video, good luck to them.'"
What Gabriel was perhaps unaware of at the time was that Johnson had employed almost the same technique for one of his previous music videos, when he directed the 1985 promo for The Talking Heads track, Road To Nowhere...
For Sledgehammer, Bristol's Aardman Animations (who at the time were primarily known for their work on the BBC TV show Vision On and Morph, but would later have huge success with Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, and Arthur Christmas etc) and the American stop-motion animators the Brothers Quay (perhaps their best known work is 1986's Street of Crocodiles) provided the claymation, pixilation, and stop motion animation that gave life to images in the song. Among which was a sequence featuring two dead, headless, featherless chickens which were animated using stop-motion techniques (by Nick Park of Aardman Animations) and seen dancing along to the synthesised shakuhachi solo featured in the track.
The Sledgehammer video ended with a large group of extras jerkily rotating around Gabriel, among them were his daughters Anna-Marie and Melanie, the animators themselves and director Stephen Johnson's girlfriend, plus six backing dancers.
The video for Sledgehammer had originally been commissioned by Tessa Watts at Gabriel's record label, Virgin Records. (who was said to have produced over 1500 music videos during her career), and went on to win nine MTV Video Music Awards in 1987, the most awards a single video has won. After the video's huge success, Watts was lured away from Virgin to oversee the August 1987 launch of MTV Europe and subsequently head-up the programming department for the channel.

At that year's Brit Awards, Sledgehammer won the Best British Video gong (as well as being nominated for Best British Song), and in 1999 MTV ranked Sledgehammer at number four on their countdown of the 100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made, the highest placing animated video on the list. The video continues to impress 35 years on, having recently been voted the second greatest music video of all time by a Channel 4 countdown. And it has since been calculated that Sledgehammer remains to this day the most-played music video in the history of MTV.

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