Peter Gabriel “Scratch My Back”

As I was watching Press Pause Play again tonight, a recent digital addiction I must get a handle on, I found a much-needed escape from the noise of the week through Classic Records remaster/re-issue of Peter Gabriel’s Scratch My Back.  I often refer to this disk in my analog gear reviews because it’s such an outstanding musical and sonic achievement.  Firstly: The disc is so quiet sometimes I think I’m listening to high rez digital (analog devotees – I count myself among you – please don’t take this as a backwards compliment) until it becomes so visceral the hairs on the back of my forearms rise up.  Now, digital has grown leaps and bounds, and I love each format.  That’s not a bullshit cop-out of the digital vs. analog argument either.  I think old habits die hard and, as a confessed music addict I don’t give a shit how I consume my music as long as it hits me and stays with me.  But, there is something inherently magical about the rituals involved in listening to a big black disk…

For Gabriel fans who don’t own Scratch My Back, it’s an album of covers.  More than that, it’s a cover album where Gabriel flexes his own talents by putting his own insightful signature on each of these creations by other songsmiths.  My admitted favorite is his cover of Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble”.  I’ve heard this song countless times in my home, at parties, at Simon in the Park live (without Garfunkel – 90′s, sorry, I wasn’t alive back then) and Gabriel’s interpretation of this little piece of pure brilliance is so surprising in its sparse darkness.  The song is blackened in a sense, as I always remember it having such an upbeat rhythm and melody.  I can’t believe I’m going to admit it, but I prefer Gabriel’s version now!  Well, not all the time: When I’m actually sitting down and honestly listening to music: Not hearing it fill the background of an already hectic life (for us all I know).

A magnificent surprise is his rendition of Elbow’s “Mirrorball”. It’s fitting however, given the musical similarities between the band and one of the grandmasters.  I hear Gabriel is a huge influence on Guy Garvey; leader singer/songwriter for Elbow.  I was psyched to hear the influences the other way around for the first time here.  I can’t help but think of Peter Gabriel when I listen to Elbow: EspeciallyBuild a Rocket Boys.  His take on “Philadelphia” just cements his keen awareness of the mystery of music.  Sounds like dirty hippie rambling I know, but it’s moving me at the moment.  I can’t help it.

Classic Records is, as many of you are aware, no more.  Chad Kassem and the crew at QRP (Quality Record Pressings) grabbed all they could I hope.  But you can find copies online, and I’m sure some are available through Hobson’s website:  You gotta give credit where it’s due: That’s a killer URL.  If you can find a copy in good condition I can’t offer a higher recommendation.  Well, perhaps that will be left to the 10″ UK import of James Blake’s “Limit to You Love”!  And: I wrote about that album for Positive Feedbackbefore the hype in audiophile-land – so no bandwagons hitched over here, no worries.

Also: Check out QRP’s remaster/re-issue of Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis(scribing about that soon)

Don’t stop listening.  Music can save you life.


Michael Mercer is a veteran reviewer of music and audio components. He got his start working for The Absolute Sound as a teenager and then made his way over to Atlantic Records, working with the legendary producer Arif Mardin. Considered one of the leading "crusaders for personal audio", Mercer can be found writing for many audio publications on the Internet.

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