I’ve been climbing up on Solsbury Hill ever since I was about 14 years old. It came into my life with a CD that my mother bought “Capitol Gold: British Legends”. I loved an awful lot of songs on that album, but while the rest seemed to slide into the background of my life, Solsbury Hill has moved to the place where it’s one of my favourite songs of all time.
As a person deeply devoted to music; it’s difficult to define what I mean by a Favourite Song. Currently, I have “favourites” that whirl round my head for up to a fortnight before another tune slots in (“I’m Yours” Jason Mrasz; “Cat’s in the Cradle” Harry Chapman; “Hollywood Nights” Bob Seger to exemplify a very small few). There are other songs that have some “The Best” feature (“The Obvious Child” Paul Simon = The Best Drum intro; “Lola” The Kinks = The Wittiest & Clever Lyrics; “Life with you” The Proclaimers = The Best (long-term) Love song).
And yet Solsbury Hill is more than that. A lot more. It does something to me when I hear it. It instantly alters my mood in the upwards direction. It soothes and reassures me. It has so much beauty that I can’t help but feel more positive about the world. I’ve used it to cure homesickness, to help me make some tough decisions, to erradicate sadness/low self-esteem, to celebrate happiness, to get me excited.
Firstly, let’s look at the tune. Often, I hear a song come unannounced onto the radio, and it will take me a while to figure out what it is, either it’s only vaguely familiar or reminds me of several songs. Solsbury Hill’s opening notes: utterly unique and unforgettable. I can recognise them playing over the speakers in a noisy cafe when I’m concentrating on writing a letter. There’s something so unstoppably positive and upbeat about the oddly syncopated chords, they just keep on building and building throughout the song in a very delicate layering.
Then the lyrics. Peter Gabriel is readily interpreted as having spiritual overtones and ambiguity. In Solsbury Hill he could be singing about a biblical text, a revelation he had with God, or anything in between. I’m an atheist and I don’t care: I view it as a healing spirituality, and I don’t think “spirituality” needs to be religious.
It’s because of the ambiguity in the lyrics that I can apply them so readily to my own life and situations. I just paste over the meanings as I see fit.
“Grab your things I’ve come to take you home” “To keep in silence I resigned” “Open doors will soon be shut” “I was feeling part of the scenery; I walked right out of the machinery” “And Liberty she pirouettes, when I think that I am free.” “The day I don’t need a replacement, I’ll tell them what the smile on my face meant.” “You can keep my things they’ve come to take me home.”
I get shivers just writing them. The emotions and memories they stir up are spread across the whole of the United Kingdom (and now the United States) and the whole of a decade: from committees to social circles, from academia to parties. However you want to cut & paste your own personal meaning in there, the song still carries the same message. Hope. When you’re in an unhappy and dark place, YOU have the power to act and change the situation for the better. As simple as that.
The title itself anchors the song into my life. In the middle of the city of Edinburgh there is a mountain called Arthur’s Seat. Running along one side of the Seat is an elavated ridge called Salisbury Crags.
It’s a location I can’t get enough of: I love nothing more than to run around the top of the ridge looking out at the city panorama on one side, and Arthur’s Seat on the other. It’s a place of beauty, calmness and nature. The spelling is different, and they are Crags, not a hill…but when you’re listening to the song on your mp3 player, you can’t HEAR the difference between Solsbury and Salisbury, can you?
One of the most important & powerful songs in my life (from an emotional standpoint) is Solsbury Hill. Just putting that out there.