The follow-up to 'Sledgehammer' went straight into the chart at No. 31 after just one week on release.Hard to imagine that even in 1986 a new release from one (or even two) established stars entering the Top 40 in release week was really that noteworthy, but I guess they had to make it sound exciting somehow. Presumably they went to press too soon to mention that by its second week, 'Don't Give Up' had progressed to the Top 20 and been joined in the 40 by Kate Bush's solo single 'Experiment IV'. It's fairly well-known now that Peter Gabriel was originally inspired to write this song by images of Depression-era America and so intended the song as a duet with Dolly Parton but she turned it down (Gabriel speculates that she didn't actually know who he was) and forced him to go in another direction.
Tantalising as it is to imagine a Gabriel/Parton duet, his old friend Kate does a more than sterling job. Not only is she obviously a very good singer but the contrast between their two voices accompanies the contrast between their two parts, the despairing man in the verses and the determinedly hopeful woman in the chorus. What saves this from glib sentimentality is the pain in her voice; you know she's not just handing out platitudes, she's struggling herself but they both need each other to keep going. This is accompanied by a relatively minimal soundscape, which fits with the desolate beauty of their situation without suggesting any specific place or time. The most famous element in that production is of course Tony Levin's bass part, which was recorded partly by using one of his daughter's nappies to damp down the strings. One certainly hopes it was a clean nappy.
The resultant track is quite possibly the best on this album, certainly the best in this sort of style (it's harder to compare this with something like 'What Have You Done For Me Lately') but also a song that's not an easy or comfortable listen. Sometimes I don't feel up to it.
Peter Gabriel also appears on: Now 7, 23, 24
Kate Bush also appears on: Now 6, 16
Available on: Hit