Meaning of “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel (ft. Kate Bush)

The premise of this song is the harsh economic conditions which were present in Peter Gabriel’s homeland, the United Kingdom, during the era this song was penned. Succinctly put, Peter plays the role of a man who is down on his luck. More specifically, he suddenly finds himself in a situation where he is economically impotent, as in being out of work and seeking a job in a market that doesn’t ‘need’ him or the countless others who are in a similar position.

Kate Bush’s steps in to support

Meanwhile Kate Bush plays the role of the supporting voice, i.e. his friends.  And what she is telling him, as the title suggests, is “don’t give up”. And her rationales for him to stay optimistic include making Peter realize he is “not the only one” going through this problematic situation. She also assures him that there is “a place where he belongs’, as in he will eventually overcome it.  But perhaps most importantly is the fact that his friends have his back and are “proud of” him despite what he is going through.

Conclusion

So all things considered, this is not actually a song about depression even though the main character is definitely suffering from this ailment, amongst other issues. Rather it is based on remaining encouraged and optimistic in the face of such calamities and in Gabriel’s own words the difficulty associated with learning how to handle failure.

Lyrics of "Don't Give Up"

Inspiration behind “Don’t Give Up”

A number of things inspired Peter Gabriel to pen this track. They include the following:

  • A news article about a woman who committed suicide while holding her child
  • A television show about an unemployed family
  • Sad photographs of impoverished Americans during the Great Depression

Speaking to music site Songfacts, Gabriel’s ex wife (Jill) said she was the one who gave Gabriel the newspaper containing the story about the woman who committed suicide. According to her, that sad story in the newspaper was what originally inspired the song.

Moreover Gabriel himself suffered from a serious personal crisis shortly before this song was written. And according to him, the song served as a tribute to those, specifically his family members, who stood by him during that harrowing time in his life.

Migrant Mother
Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother”

The photograph above was one of the many images of impoverished Americans from the Great Depression that inspired Gabriel to write this song. The image above was taken by renowned photographer Dorothea Lange.

Facts about “Don’t Give Up”

  • Peter Gabriel’s first choice for this collaboration was legendary country music singer Dolly Parton. However, he ultimately expressed satisfaction that Parton turned him down, being more than pleased with the job Kate Bush rendered.
  • “Don’t Give Up” is featured on Peter’s fifth solo record titled So, which Geffen Records issued on 19 May 1986. It was later released as a single during October of 1986 in the United Kingdom and the following year in the United States.
  • Peter Gabriel is the sole writer of “Don’t Give Up”.  
  • Despite the fact that Peter’s marriage to his wife, Jill, was on the rocks at the time he dropped this song, he still asked her permission before filming an intimate scene with Kate Bush for the music video.
  • “Don’t Give Up” was featured in a 1988 episode of the hit American television show Miami Vice entitled “Redemption in Blood”.
  • Peter Gabriel produced “Don’t Give Up” in collaboration with Daniel Lanois.

Covers of “Don’t Give Up”

Besides Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel has gone on to perform this song with other singers. One such notable performances was with singer Paula Cole.

That said, other prominent artists have covered it also, including the following:

  • Willie Nelson alongside Sinead O’Connor
  • P!nk with John Legend
  • Alicia Keys beside Bono.

How did “Don’t Give Up” perform on the charts?

This song reached number 9 on the UK Singles Chart and number 72 on the Hot 100. The country where it actually charted highest was Ireland. It peaked at number 4 on the Irish Singles Chart.

Did “Don’t Give Up” win Peter Gabriel a Grammy?

No, it didn’t. However, the album it appears on (So) received a nomination for the Album of the Year at the 1987 Grammy Awards.

6 Responses

  1. Donna Schmidt says:

    It is done beautifully in the SYFY television series in it’s last season. In this arrangement The male lead is sung by Olivia Taylor Dudley (Alice) and the female part sung by Kate Bush is arranged for the male voice of Hale Appleman. It is really beautiful.

    • Anonymous says:

      Omg… That is why I’m delving deeper. In the context used their rendition and switched voices was artistic in it’s own right.

  2. Rickyp says:

    One of the all time great songs. It’s shows a true artist at the peak of his singing and songwriting abilities. Kate Bush is an inspired choice as the supporting wife to his husband at the end of his tether. Absolutely brilliant song and should have been at No1 in the charts, both sides of the atlantic

  3. MH Raseroka says:

    This song really inspires me. I relate with its words molodiusly. I won’t give up on my life and situations. It’s not easy for my family/ relative member to help you. My true friends did it. I hope that one day it can be sang in my language- Setswana.

  4. N.Drake says:

    Love this song! It is my “sober” song. It truly reached my heart and helped me stay sober! I have16 years sober! I’ve shared this song with countless people over the years.

  5. D. Arthur says:

    An astonishing and very moving version of this song was recorded by Anthony Roth Costanzo and Justin Vivian Bond on their 2022 album “Only an Octave Apart”. I saw them perform it live at Lincoln Center, and after two years of life diminished by a pandemic , it was like a balm.

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