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Flashback Video: 'Shock the Monkey' by Peter Gabriel

Ever since the dawn of MTV and Friday Night Videos, the music video has significantly impacted musical tastes and pop culture. It might not be as extreme as when the Buggles declared that "Video Killed the Radio Star", but there is no arguing that the music video certainly could make or break a song's popularity. So this regular Flashback Video feature will serve to remember some of the music videos from the great '80s decade that made an impact on me in one way or another.

This issue we will cover "Shock the Monkey" by Peter Gabriel. His videos for "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time" are two of my favorites from the entire decade which he released off of his So album from 1986. "Shock the Monkey" was released back in September of 1982 and it actually became his first Top 40 hit in the U.S. peaking at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100. It has a music video that is both bizarre and somewhat disturbing which received heavy airplay on MTV at that time. It is particularly memorable for featuring Gabriel in that white tribal face paint and a frightened-looking Capuchin monkey.

The music video for "Shock the Monkey" was directed by Brian Grant who was one of the most prolific music video directors of the decade. We have already covered his work on "Physical" by Olivia Newton-John and "How Will I Know" by Whitney Houston.

I had the pleasure of an interview with Brian Grant and asked him about how it was working with Gabriel and how the concept/imagery for the video was developed. Here is a portion of what he had to say:

I ended up working on "Shock the Monkey" just because Peter had seen some of the work I had done and he liked it. Working with Peter was one of the nicest experiences I have ever had. He is a brilliant man and a total sweetheart. He is really easy to work with and will do almost anything to get it right. He's not high maintenance. He's a perfectionist, but in the nicest way. It was a concept that came from an idea that men, as time has progressed, have sort of lost their primeval instincts. As we become more modern and the more technology takes over, the less instincts we have. That's what the two men in the video basically represent. The man in the business suit represents modern man. The man in all white is representative of his more primal side trying to tap into his subconscious. The white just felt more tribal, more primeval and we drew our inspiration from some tribes in South America. It wasn't that difficult working with monkeys. Children and animals, they say you should never work with, but I don't think we had that much trouble with the monkey. There was lots of symbolism in the images used including the ceiling coming down on him and running through the forest. Other ideas in there, the lights inside and the lights outside, came because we had just seen a private screening of the film 'Blade Runner' and I was fascinated by all of the machines and the lights that whizzed by outside the windows. That is where that inspiration came from and then we had to do the opposite inside.

With all that said, now enjoy watching the music video for "Shock the Monkey" by Peter Gabriel...

Peter Gabriel himself has described "Shock the Monkey" surprisingly as a love song; one that examines how jealousy can release one's basic instincts and the monkey (not a literal monkey) is actually a metaphor for one's feelings of jealousy. It is not one of my very favorite Gabriel songs, but the video is quite memorable. In my interview with director Brian Grant, he is quite proud of the video saying:

I think the "Shock the Monkey" video is one of the best things I have ever done. It's a great song, it's a great artist. We got lucky that all of the imagery worked and it can be interpreted in different ways. Something very important about music videos is that you have to be able to watch them over and over again. The imagery must be able to stand up to scrutiny. I think it does in this case. The pictures seem to work with the music and people all seem to have a different opinion about it. I'm still very fond of it and, yeah, I think it is one of the best things I've ever done.

With his impressive resumé from the decade, that is saying a lot.

Hope you enjoyed another trip back to the '80s thanks to Flashback Video!

1 comment

1 Comment

Photog Smurf
Photog Smurf
Apr 15, 2021

Having never understood any of Gabriel's videos, it's nice to get some incite into what the heck was going on here from the horse's mouth.

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