It’s Wednesday, folks, and I hope this week has been kind to you. This also means it’s that time again when I take a closer look at a song I’ve only mentioned in passing or haven’t covered at all to date. My pick for this installment of Song Musings is In Your Eyes, one of my longtime favorite tunes by Peter Gabriel.
I first heard Gabriel unknowingly on the radio back in Germany after Genesis had released their single The Carpet Crawlers. Had you asked me whether that song was a hit, I would have said ‘yes’ without any doubt. But according to Wikipedia, it didn’t even chart – I’m still in disbelief! It was on the radio pretty frequently.
The first Peter Gabriel solo tune I recall hearing back in Germany was the live version of Solsbury Hill, which appeared as a single in August 1983, off his first live album Plays Live. While I liked the song from the get-go, it wasn’t until Gabriel’s fifth solo album So from May 1986 that I started to explore his music.
With Solsbury Hill and the tracks on So being pretty pop-oriented, much of Gabriel’s earlier music was an acquired taste. But I came around fairly quickly and still dig a good number of his songs that are on albums that preceded So. That said, So still remains my favorite.
This brings me to In Your Eyes. Written by Gabriel, the tune also appeared separately as So’s second single in September 1986. I still get chills when listening to this song and Gabriel’s vocals. Speaking of vocals, In Your Eyes also features Senegalese singer-songwriter Youssou N’Dour who sings a part at the end translated into his native Wolof – quite appropriate for a tune with lyrics that per Wikipedia were “inspired by an African tradition of ambiguity in song between romantic love and love of God.”
In Your Eyes didn’t match the chart success of the album’s lead single Sledgehammer, which hit, well, like a sledgehammer, topping the pop charts in the U.S. and Canada, and climbing to no. 3 in each Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. By comparison, In Your Eyes reached no. 26 and no. 29 on the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts, respectively. That said, thanks to strong radio play and MTV rotation, it ended up topping Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Elsewhere, the single got to no. 50 in New Zealand and no. 97 in Australia.
Here’s a cool extended live version from Gabriel’s concert film Secret World Live, which was released simultaneously with a companion live album of the same name in August 1994. The footage was captured during two concerts in Modena, Italy in November 1993, conducted as part of Gabriel’s tour that supported his sixth solo album Us, released in September 1992. I had not watched this clip until I did some research for this post – wow!
Songfacts provides a ton of additional insights about In Your Eyes, including the tune’s prominent use in the 1989 U.S. teen romantic comedy-drama motion picture Say Anything… directed by Cameron Crowe, and starring John Cusack, Ione Skye and John Mahoney. Full disclosure: I knew nothing about the film until the late ’90s after I had gotten married to my dear wife who is a huge John Cusack fan.
While some of the other Songfacts content gets into territory that could be characterized as inside baseball, especially if you’re not a musician, I didn’t want to cut anything. So here it is in its full beauty. The clip from the movie was my brilliant addition! 🙂
According to Gabriel, the lyrics could refer to either the love between a man and woman or the relationship between a person and God.
The West African musician Youssou N’Dour sang backup on this track, giving it a distinctive vocal texture. Gabriel learned about him in 1984 when N’Dour was performing in England. They became friends and collaborators, with a mutual respect for each others’ music. N’Dour joined Gabriel on the So tour and was very well received – he was part of an extended version of “In Your Eyes” and also sang on “Biko.” In 1991 Gabriel performed the song in N’Dour’s native country of Senegal before a crowd of 70,000.
This was featured in the 1989 movie Say Anything in a scene where John Cusack plays this from a Boom Box he holds over his head to win the heart of Ione Skye. Cameron Crowe, who directed the film, was going to use Billy Idol’s “Got To Be A Lover,” but it didn’t work with the scene. Crowe got the idea to use this when he played a tape from his wedding which had the song on it. Because it was a deeply personal song, Gabriel did not want to let him use it, but when Crowe called and sent him a tape of the movie, Gabriel loved it and gave his approval.
The producers of Say Anything were charged about $200,000 to use the song, but it was worth the price as it became one of the most famous scenes in movie history. The scene became a cultural touchstone, which was a little strange for Gabriel. He told Rolling Stone in 2012: “I’ve talked to John Cusack about that. We’re sort of trapped together in a minuscule moment of contemporary culture.”
Gabriel combined various real and electronic instruments to create the song. He worked the Fairlight CMI synthesizer and the Linn drum machine, and also played piano. Other musicians on the track, along with N’Dour, were:
David Rhodes – guitar, backing vocals
Jerry Marotta – drums
Richard Tee – piano
Larry Klein, Tony Levin – bass
Manu Katche – drums, talking drum, percussion
Ronnie Bright – bass vocals
Jim Kerr (from Simple Minds), Michael Been – backing vocals
A special 7:14 mix of this song was released to radio stations by Geffen Records. It features extended singing by Youssou N’Dour. This promotional copy also included a 6:15 version of the song, and an 8:36 of Gabriel’s “Biko.”
Peter Gabriel produced the So album with Daniel Lanois, who had worked on U2’s 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire and after finishing up with Gabriel, started work on The Joshua Tree. Lanois will develop an understanding of a song on an emotional level and craft the production accordingly, which lyricists like Bono and Gabriel appreciate. In a Songfacts interview, he explained what this song means to him: “‘In Your Eyes,’ Peter had this idea that by looking into someone’s eyes, you would see, quite specifically in the lyric, the doorway to a thousand churches. I think it’s as simple as that – the power of commitment and care and love will be stronger.”
This is one of the few slow songs that gets consistent airplay on rock radio. It was not very popular when it came out, but continues to get constant airplay on a variety of formats, as listeners never seem to tire of it.
Peter Gabriel’s elaborate concerts are highly choreographed, but with “In Your Eyes,” he made sure there was lots of room for improvisation. His keyboard player on the So tour, David Sancious, told Songfacts how it came together. “We were rehearsing the song and Peter said he wanted to extend the ending,” said Sancious. “There was going to be a break where I’d just play something, make up something for like eight bars. It’s just a drumbeat and piano. Manu Katché is playing the drums and would give me a signal to come back in.
So that was different every night and he very much enjoyed it when I would come up with different things. It was a gospel-y kind of break and then it went back to the chorus of ‘In Your Eyes.’ And there were other points where I got to do little different things that weren’t the same every night, and he enjoyed that.”
In 1994, Gabriel did a version of “In Your Eyes” live, which appears on Disc 2 of the double CD set of Secret World Live, and lasts 11:34. On this version, he improvises a lot in the song with the backup singers.
According to Daniel Lanois, the drums on this song add a lot of flavor and power the song along. “Everything on that record was cut to a beatbox initially, as was the case with ‘In Your Eyes,'” he told Songfacts. “Manu Katche from Paris – a great drummer – played that beautiful drum part. So that ‘down push,’ it’s an old carnival beat – it keeps it motoring along. Even though it’s quite a contemplative song, it has a little bit of carnival in its engine that keeps the zip in the step going and keeps you interested in the lyrics.”
When Guitar Player magazine questioned whether David Rhodes was upset over his 12-string being buried beneath synthesizers, the guitarist replied: “I think that’s fine. Often, I prefer that. I think sometimes it can be unnecessary to have a lot of definition between instruments. All the instruments should blend to make the song work, to build the atmosphere. The fact that you can’t hear your part, a particular sound, shouldn’t worry you at all. A lot of guitarists enjoy playing very loud and doing big solos. I’m not into that.”
He added: “The idea of making things work appeals to me a lot more. I approach things texturally and build them up, giving the music space to develop. With Peter, we use a lot of effects, so that it sounds as little like a guitar as possible.”
In addition to Say Anything, this was also used in these TV shows:
The Righteous Gemstones (“Better Is The End Of A Thing Than Its Beginning” – 2019)
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (“The Gang Gets Romantic” – 2019)
The Last Man On Earth (“Not Appropriate For Miners” – 2017)
The Flash (“Gorilla Warfare” – 2015)
Lilyhammer (“Out Of Africa” – 2013)
The Goldbergs (“The Ring” – 2013)
Glee (“Girls (And Boys) On Film” – 2013)
Cold Case (“Family” – 2005)
American Dad! (“It’s Good To Be The Queen” – 2006)
Felicity (“Pilot” – 1998)
And in these movies:
Yes, God, Yes (2019)
Deadpool 2 (2018)
The Rocker (2008)
Co-producer Daniel Lanois explained to Sound On Sound how a small musical toolbox created a dynamic album. “It’s a mysterious album,” he said. “What’s interesting about that record, is that if you listen closely there aren’t that many unusual instruments on it but it sounds sonically innovative.
It was created with a fairly limited supply of tools, if you like. Most of the keyboards are acoustic piano, Yamaha electric piano and Prophet 5 – an old Prophet 5 polysynth, one of the very first ones to come out. Also an old Fairlight Series II with some good sampled sounds. Yet So has a variety of sounds and you don’t get the feeling that it’s the same things over and over again. It’s another lesson in the theory of the small toolbox and learning to love your tools. Learning the difference between that setting and this setting and not necessarily using wildly different instruments or components to come up with variety but using a concentrated small area and drawing a lot from them.”
The singer/guitarist Jeffrey Gaines recorded a popular version of this song that got a lot of airplay on Adult Contemporary radio and appears on his 2001 album Always Be. Gaines writes most of his own material, but his cover of “In Your Eyes” has become his best-known work. When we asked him about performing a song written by someone else, he replied: “The conviction I have within that material is my joy of singing.”
The rock band SR-71 did a cover of this song that appears on their 2004 album Here We Go Again. They performed it live at the Gravity Games that year.
Peter Gabriel wanted to use “In Your Eyes” as So’s final track, but its prominent bassline meant it had to be placed earlier on the vinyl edition to give the phonograph stylus more room to vibrate. This restriction was no longer an issue for later CD releases, so the track was placed at the end.
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube