Sometimes a record is so jammed with great songs that something worthy has to be shipped out to a b-side. Despite its huge success, Peter Gabriel’s So isn’t one of those records. Singles like ‘Red Rain’ and ‘Sledgehammer’ are terrific, and ‘That Voice Again’ is a very solid album track, but it’s a step down from past (Melt, Security) and future (Us) classics.
‘Don’t Break This Rhythm’ is an outtake from So that was used as the b-side of ‘Sledgehammer’. The emotional vocal against a percolating rhythm recalls tracks like ‘The Rhythm of the Heat’ from 1982’s Security. It’s a very good track that would have bolstered So, but Gabriel instead developed parts of the song into the beloved ‘Mercy Street’.
The link between ‘Mercy Street’ and ‘Don’t Break This Rhythm’ isn’t immediately obvious. The similarities are more apparent on the draft version of ‘Mercy Street’ included on the deluxe version of So. The disc So DNA featured embryonic versions of the So material. The early draft of ‘Mercy Street’ has an upbeat section (from about 2:10 to 3:55 in the running time) where the similarities are much more obvious. Gabriel referred to Don’t Break This Rhythm as “the beta version” of Mercy Street.
Despite the similarities to ‘Mercy Street’, ‘Don’t Break The Rhythm’ is too good to be forgotten. It’s since been anthologized, on 2019’s exhaustive Flotsam and Jetsam, which collates three discs of outtakes, remixes, and songs for outside projects.