Don't Give Up

Last updated 09:50 13/08/2012

The original plan Peter Gabriel had for his song Don't Give Up was for it to be a duet between him and Dolly Parton. He wrote it with Dolly in mind. She gave up before she began; she had no interest in recording the song with him. Gabriel heard it, in part, as a country song.Don't Give Up

You hear the song in a new way imagining Dolly Parton performing it with Peter Gabriel. And it would have worked. But it would have been very different. We know it would have worked because Willie Nelson and Sinead O'Connor gave it the country makeover.

Also, there is a tone about the song. Its sentiment could translate that way; the country way.

That small gem of information, Gabriel thinking of Dolly, wanting her to record the song with him - something I didn't know previously - had me rethinking this tune, a piece of music I've always loved. I first heard it when it was released - the middle single between Sledgehammer and Big Time - the two big-statement singles from the parent album, So; the record that made Gabriel a superstar.

Now he was a video pioneer and a pop star - Before So he was a cult artist, his four eponymously titled albums and his soundtrack work carving a path that retained many of the faithful fans from his early days in Genesis but always offered dark, surprising twists - rather than the obvious commercial pop music that Genesis went on to make.

After So Gabriel would continue with soundtrack work and make a couple of albums that didn't have the same impact as So but nicely built on some of the ideas; he collided with the mainstream and on that point of contact seemed to recoil somewhat.

The actress called in to complete the duet Don't Give Up was of course Kate Bush - the song relies on her, it works because of her contribution. She was a phenomenon by the time she stepped in to record her part of Don't Give Up. I call her an actress because that is what is required of the part, to sell the song. In a sense that is true of any singing but with duets it is about the story that is being told through the song as well as in the song, the unspoken connection between the voices - and the channelling of emotion from the voices when partnered. And then everything that makes up the song, the melody, the lyrics, the phrasing.

Producer Daniel Lanois remembers that Bush "was royalty" and that people were in awe of her as she nailed the session. She was, critically and commercially, a huge star, revered with a catalogue of hits. Her aesthetic - her approach to pop music as something of a conceptualist - seemed to marry up well with Gabriel's instincts and motives in music-making.Kate Bush & Peter Gabriel

Don't Give Up rides on the curl and purr of Tony Levin's bass - there's something reassuring in the way Bush answers/comforts Gabriel. And just as you start to hear it as being a subverted country song - albeit dressed up in the mourning clothes of dramatic pop music - there is the introduction of gospel piano. Bush's character tells Gabriel's "rest your head/you worry too much/it's going to be alright/when times get rough/you can fall back on us/don't give up" and all the while a type of Bridge Over Troubled Waters-piano sits underneath inspiring the vocal performance of Peter Gabriel's career: "Gotta walk out of here/I can't take any more/gonna stand on that bridge/keep my eyes down below".

One of the biggest influences on Peter Gabriel's career was Otis Redding - if that ever seemed odd, it makes a lot of sense in that middle section of this song. The music of the church inspiring a new sound that relies on the gospel archetype and architecture.

Don't Give Up was inspired by a set of black'n'white photographs. Gabriel sees it as a song of hope. And sings it as a song of hope. He says, "the basic idea is that handling failure is one of the hardest things we have to learn to do".

I don't hear Don't Give Up as a cheesy ballad, I don't hear it as a song stuck in the 1980s, I can't. I hear it as a song of encouragement, reminding us to be proud (but never too proud) in the face of difficulty, to dig deep and stay as strong as is able; to support one another. I hear it as one of the defining performances in Kate Bush's remarkable career. And one of the most amazing songs in Peter Gabriel's catalogue.

And in a sense I hear it just as I did the first time. Although every time I hear it I feel as though I focus in on a new part, some tiny nuance - a new glimpse of a new shape.

I hear it as a country song. A gospel song. A pop song. I hear it for Tony Levin's warm, empathetic lick of bass. I hear it for the gorgeous piano playing from Richard Tee (who, had, by this point played Bridge Over Troubled Water as a member of both the Paul Simon and Simon & Garfunkel touring bands). I hear it as a song that has captivated me for close to 30 years. I hear it as one of my favourite songs.SO

And now I hear it as the song Dolly Parton could have sung with Peter Gabriel. The song that he wrote for her.

One simple story in the incredible documentary feature about the album So from the classic albums series got me hearing an old favourite song in an all new way - and I can't even actually hear it - I have to imagine it. That's the power of the great songs - they stand up through time. They urge you on to continue not only listening to them, but thinking of them; about them. Living with them and living inside them, letting the song live on inside you, continuing to grow and inspire and influence. They don't give up.

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27 comments
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Danny   #1   10:04 am Aug 13 2012

I have nothing to add, other than to say I think this is an amzing song, and loved the blog. Thanks Simon.

Bettena Roza   #2   10:09 am Aug 13 2012

Thank you Simon. This is a terrific piece of writing about an iconic song.

steve w   #3   10:24 am Aug 13 2012

Nice work Simon, great song, out of the ordinary for the 80s.

Si   #4   10:43 am Aug 13 2012

A classic and very moving song. Wonderful video too.

Niri Tacen   #5   10:47 am Aug 13 2012

Excellent blog. The song clearly would have been different if Parton had sung, but I think Bush gave it a nice ethereal touch that really lifts the song.

AndiNZ   #6   11:01 am Aug 13 2012

I still love that song, too.

I find it hard to imagine it with Dolly Parton, it came out not that much after she had a massive hit with Islands in the Stream with Kenny Rogers.

Need to have another listen, I think...

Bobbyfranc   #7   11:05 am Aug 13 2012

I've never grown bored of this song, I think it is the emotive power of it, and a beautiful duet. I think Dolly Parton would have done well too. Nice write up.

Scott A   #8   11:05 am Aug 13 2012

Ooooh, snap. Yeah, when watching the Classic Album doco on So, this bit caught my attention immediately too. Had to pause the doco, and just stop for a while, thinking about how the song would've sounded in a more country vien, with Dolly's high twang over the top. Would've loved to hear that version, but then, as you point out, there's nothing to complain about with the version we did then get.

Amazing song.

Dr Zoidberg   #9   11:08 am Aug 13 2012

steve w #3, most great songs have come from the 80s. Chuck in 1991 and you've pretty much got music covered.

bill   #10   11:37 am Aug 13 2012

Why is it when people think cheesy the 1980s more or less solely crops up? On a scale of whatever other decades had their share. The 1970s had such illustrious acts like the Bay City Rollers (embarassing quality acts like Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper to name a few) and The Carpenters. As for the 1990s where to start, Aqua, Backstreet Boys, Hansen, Steps..., Rage, Seven Mary Three, Pearl Jam, Tool must have wiped their brows that they didn't follow similar paths. My point is no one decade is worse than the other. Unless i suppose you do an exhaustive study.

For the record real music for me died in the first few years of this century, good stuff comes along nowadays but by far less frequently


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