When they first came out, I was slightly too young to appreciate Peter Gabriel’s four, self-titled solo albums that spanned 1977-1982, but ‘Birdy’, his first film soundtrack, really caught my attention.
I’m not quite sure what came first, but suspect it was Alan Parker’s film, which I might have come to on the back of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, which he also directed. I loved ‘Birdy’, which features my favourite ending to any film, ever. An under-rated Vietnam flick, it tells the story, in flashback, of two Pennsylvania teenagers, Birdy (Matthew Modine), a gentle soul who is obsessed with our winged friends and their ability to fly, and his gung-ho best pal Al Columbato (Nicolas Cage).
“I am very pleased to have done this soundtrack for my first attempt at a score,” wrote Gabriel rather stiffly in the sleeve notes. Thing is, ‘Birdy’ really was something out of the ordinary. “Warning” it said on the sleeve “this record contains recycled material and no lyrics”. While Gabriel was busy passing me by, I was however very much au fait with the remix. In 1982, Martin Rushent’s ‘Love And Dancing’, his remake of The Human League’s ‘Dare’, had laid some serious foundations, so when I discovered ‘Birdy’ was built from elements of existing Gabriel tracks, well.
Working with Daniel Lanois for the first time, Gabriel had lifted passages, phrases and segments from his solo work and with them built an instrumental score. He was at pains to point out that this was indeed a film soundtrack and not a Peter Gabriel record. “I do not wish anyone to be deceived by the sleeve” he added in his notes.
And yet ‘Birdy’ is as much his album as ‘Love And Dancing’ is a Human League record. It is, like ‘Love And Dancing’, quite, quite brilliant. ‘Birdy’s Flight’, which accompanies the scene where our hero wishes he could actually be a bird and in a dream sequence (or is it?) takes to the Philly skies, is culled from ‘Not One Of Us’, which appears on his third solo album, 1980’s ‘Melt’ (the one with the melty face). There’s ‘Close Up’ from ‘Family Snapshot’, also from ‘Melt’, ‘The Heat’ is from that amazing percussive swirl at the end of ‘The Rhythm Of The Heat’ from 1982’s ‘Security’… that moment when I first heard it and realised it’s the song from ‘Birdy’.
Talk about a musical journey.
‘Birdy’ is hands down not only one of my favourite soundtrack albums, it’s one of my favourite albums full stop and, joy of joys, it’s just been reissued by Real World/Caroline International along with two other soundtracks – ‘Passion’ (perhaps Gabriel’s finest score) and 2002’s ‘Long Walk Home’. They all come as a lavish 180 gram, half-speed remasters (at Abbey Road, natch) double vinyl sets. I have a copy of ‘Birdy’. It is bloody glorious.