Genesis

TrackAlbum / Single
The ConquerorFrom Genesis To Revelation
StagnationTrespass
The Musical BoxNursery Cryme
The Fountain Of SalmacisNursery Cryme
Happy The ManCharisma CB.181
Supper's ReadyFoxtrot
Dancing With The Moonlit KnightSelling England By The Pound
I Know What I Like
(In Your Wardrobe)
Selling England By The Pound
The Lamb Lies Down On BroadwayThe Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
Carpet CrawlersThe Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

Genesis photo 1

Genesis (l to r): Tony Banks, Phil Collins,
Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett, Peter Gabriel

 

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Genesis playlist

 

The Many Costumes of Peter Gabriel

 

Contributor: Marc Fagel

One of the easiest ways to start a music nerd war is to walk into any gathering – a set-break at a concert, the aisles of that one last record store in the rough part of town, anywhere music nerds may be congregating – and make a bold proclamation as to the superiority of either Genesis’ early progressive rock period with Peter Gabriel, or the later pop years with Phil Collins at the mic. An angry argument will immediately ensue, as significant others slink away, embarrassed that this is happening yet again.

As you can see from the Top 10 up top, I am firmly in the Gabriel-era corner. Yet I also fall into that small Venn diagram overlap of folks who manage to enjoy both bands (well, up to a point). And yes, particularly after guitarist Steve Hackett left a couple albums into the Collins era and they became an increasingly pop-oriented act, we really are talking about two different bands, who just happen to share some of the same musicians. So while my list above (and the write-up below) focuses on the Gabriel era highlights, I’ll also share my thoughts on the Collins years for those of you who stick around until the end.

 

THE GABRIEL YEARS

Genesis’ 1969 debut, From Genesis To Revelation, is generally given short shrift by critics and fans alike, not to mention the band itself – Genesis never performed any of the songs live after they released the follow-up album; and the 2008 box set collecting remastered versions of the Gabriel-era albums didn’t even bother to include it (though presumably licensing difficulties were a factor). And to be sure, it falls far short of the groundbreaking progressive rock they’d soon be championing, instead comprised of short, gentle pop songs that echoed the early work of the Bee Gees and Moody Blues. That said, I actually find the album perfectly enjoyable. The songs are melodic and sweet, and Peter Gabriel’s distinctive vocals alone make them noteworthy. Unfortunately, the addition of strings buries everything in a sea of easy-listening gauze; the band, barely out of college, viewed themselves more as songwriters than performers, and this sounds more like Gabriel backed by a studio orchestra than an actual rock band. Still, a few of the tracks rise above their humble beginnings. I’m partial to The Conqueror, a rollicking little number that hits on lyrical themes the band would revisit to far greater effect on later releases; but Where The Sour Turns To Sweet, In The Beginning, and In The Wilderness are likewise far better than the album’s reputation would have one believe. (The Genesis Archive 1967-1975 box set includes a disc of outtakes and rough mixes from this period; freed from the syrupy strings, it’s actually much stronger, and essential listening for the small number of Genesis fans who enjoy the debut.)

It was on the next album, 1970’s Trespass, that the Gabriel era truly began. Gone are the pithy pop songs and the strings. The record contains a mere six tracks, the band stretching out musically and lyrically, the influence of King Crimson’s 1969 debut obvious; from the opening notes of Looking For Someone, it was evident the band was operating on a wholly different plane. For the first time, the novel interplay of Anthony Phillips’ 12-string guitars and Tony Banks’ keys takes center stage. Gabriel’s vocals, already impressive on the debut, become wise and portentous. And while Trespass seems to get less attention than the balance of the Gabriel albums, I think the songs are surprisingly sturdy, earning their extended running times. The longest (and best), Stagnation, is a complex suite moving through several movements, each compelling, an impressive showcase for the band’s musical chops as well as Gabriel’s attention-grabbing vocals. The Knife, an uncharacteristically heavy rocker, became a centerpiece of their live show for a few years, with its driving (though arguably grating) riff.

1971’s Nursery Cryme is even better. Phil Collins joined up as the band’s new drummer, bringing a playfulness to the percussion that countered the at times overly-fussy nature of the music; and while Phillips had left the band, his replacement, Steve Hackett, comfortably slotted in, the guitar work no less adventurous. Opening suite The Musical Box is remarkable, the band seamlessly moving from a gentle ballad to boisterous hard rock to a sweeping coda within the course of its running time, held together by the intriguing nursery rhyme-driven lyrics. Closing track The Fountain Of Salmacis is no less impressive, a mythological tale buoyed by Banks’ dynamic keyboards. (The album’s other epic, the concert crowd-pleaser The Return Of The Giant Hogweed, has always struck me as bogged down by its narrative, something that would be the one recurring drawback on the Gabriel-era albums.) In contrast to Trespass, these lengthier tracks are given some breathing room by some shorter, lighter tunes. For Absent Friends, with a rare lead vocal from Collins, is gorgeous; and the peppy Harold The Barrel inserts some humor into the band’s largely serious oeuvre.

1972’s Foxtrot was not a marked departure, with a similar mix of seriousness and whimsy. The album is highlighted by the LP side-long Supper’s Ready, viewed by some fans as the pinnacle of the Gabriel era. My personal feelings are more mixed; the suite includes some of the band’s most durable passages, but I also find it drags a bit in the final third (not a unique complaint for side-long prog epics). The balance of the album is solid, if less impressive than Supper’s Ready – Watcher Of The Skies is an upbeat rocker; Time Table is another lovely, shorter tune; and Can-Utility And The Coastliners is an oft-overlooked minor classic (to say nothing of the brief but gorgeous instrumental Horizons). The sprawling Get ˈEm Out By Friday, however, is another example of the band getting dragged down by the narrative.

The band followed Foxtrot with the obligatory live album (titled simply Live). It confirms that, despite the growing complexity of the band’s music, they were a surprisingly tight and compelling live act. Alas, as a mere single LP, it lacks the sweep of a complete show, and would have benefitted greatly from a second disc (retaining Supper’s Ready from the performance as well as Gabriel’s imaginative spoken-word introductions).

The next studio release, 1973’s Selling England By The Pound, is my personal favorite. Musically, the band makes a huge leap from the complex but at times self-indulgent predecessors, no less sweeping in scope yet with a lighter, more airy sound. Everything is just a little warmer, breezier, and more inviting, while still firmly in the rich prog framework. The relatively brief I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) is about as close as the Gabriel-helmed combo would get to a ‘pop’ single, an almost conservative verse-chorus-verse structure yet still far afield from standard radio fare. The album’s opening suite, Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, is among the band’s finest tracks, a quiet, melodic opening segment cutting loose into a rollicking, harder rocking section, reminiscent of The Musical Box; while the closing suite, The Cinema Show, is positively beautiful. The short Collins-helmed More Fool Me is slight, and The Battle Of Epping Forest is another one of those wordy narrative epics, but listened to as a whole it is a monumental achievement, one of the handful of truly essential prog masterpieces.

Which brings us to the more divisive and controversial cap to the Gabriel era, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. A sprawling double-length concept album, it (sort of) tells the tale of a troubled gang member’s trek through a dreamlike-fantasy vision of New York City, with an elusive brother/alter ego, mythical creatures, and a large dose of castration anxiety. So, yes, it’s just a big ol’ mess. The band was a little short of material, and the soon-to-be-departing Gabriel was distracted by other projects, so like many double albums there’s a bit of fat that could be trimmed, particularly as it wears on. Yet the album also includes another handful of the band’s finest work, and stylistically sees Genesis continuing Selling England’s break from their more musically ponderous early prog work. The title track that opens the album is an infectious wonder, Banks’s piano work stealing the show. Carpet Crawlers is one of the band’s lovelier tracks, a slow build from a quiet ballad to a captivating monster. Pithy tunes like Lilywhite Lilith and Anyway (both drawn from the band’s earlier, unfinished projects) are terrifically catchy, songs that are inexplicably absent from the classic rock canon; while a few lengthier numbers, like In The Cage, retain the prog elements without falling victim to the record’s narrative excess. Lamb is a crucial component of the Genesis discography, and merits a long afternoon with a pair of headphones and the lyric sheet, but I personally find it more flawed than the band’s work to date.

Peter Gabriel decided to leave the band upon the record’s completion, departing after a final tour which featured them performing Lamb in its entirety.

Beyond the core discography, there are a few compilations essential for fans of the Gabriel era. The afore-referenced Archive, in addition to the fascinating disc of demos and rough mixes from the pre-Trespass era, includes a complete show from the Lamb tour (criticized by some purists for the addition of a few overdubs, yet sounding great), as well as additional live and studio recordings. A personal fave here is the rare single Happy The Man, an uncharacteristically poppy song that never made it onto any albums (as well as the epic B-side Twilight Alehouse, which would have been a worthy inclusion on Trespass). A later box set, Genesis 1970-1975, is a beautiful package collecting the studio albums (again, aside from Revelation) as well as extensive videos and other ephemera. The box includes a disc of rarities, some of which overlap with Archive, though a collection of early demos, some of which would be dramatically overhauled for later songs, is new to the collection and of interest to serious fans.

Finally, a further box set, Genesis Live 1973-2007, includes an official release of an oft-bootlegged show from 1973, containing the entirety of Selling England as well as other early classics, standing (for me at least) as the essential live document of the Gabriel era.

 

THE COLLINS YEARS

Following Gabriel’s departure, the band determined to soldier on without its charismatic frontman. Though they auditioned several potential new singers, they ultimately opted to have Phil Collins come out from behind the drums and take the mic. (Collins continued to play drums on the albums, though they brought additional drummers along for live performances.) While perhaps a shade less distinctive than Gabriel, Collins’ vocal tone was surprisingly similar, and though early diehards may bemoan the change, it was an almost shockingly smooth transition.

It didn’t hurt that, at least on the first couple albums, the band pretty much picked up where they’d left off (setting aside Lamb’s grandiose concept album pretentions), with a gradual transition towards more radio-friendly songs while retaining the musical complexity that set them apart from other bands.

1976’s A Trick Of The Tail in particular was an album that even the most dedicated fan of Peter Gabriel’s reign would be hard-pressed to criticize. Sure, Collins’s vocals are arguably a bit more suited for commercial popularity, and the album includes some mainstream-friendly ballads, but plenty of songs embrace an approach that sounds like a logical outgrowth from Selling England. The triad of tunes that opens the album – Dance On A Volcano, Entangled, and Squonk – are all terrific; Dance’s boisterous and rhythmically intricate drive reminiscent of Watcher Of The Skies, the others a bit more straightforward yet still retaining the enchanting charm of Genesis’ finest work. The title track similarly harkens back to the band’s strength as storytellers.

The follow-up later that year, Wind & Wuthering, was a bit more schizophrenic. It kicked off with two lengthier tracks, Eleventh Earl Of Mar and One For The Vine, both of which carried on in the band’s grand story-telling tradition. But the album also included some straight pop ballads – and while Your Own Special Way and Afterglow are inarguably lovely, they seemed to presage the band’s leap into more radio-friendly, adult-contemporary space. Indeed, guitarist Steve Hackett, feeling underutilized and less interested in the move to shorter, less intricate songs, abandoned ship, leaving Collins and band co-founders Banks and Michael Rutherford a mere trio.

The band’s final tour with Hackett was documented on the double-live Seconds Out, mixing Gabriel-era favorites (including a complete Supper’s Ready) with cuts from Trick (and one from Wind). One’s view of the album likely turns on one’s willingness to embrace Collins as a Gabriel substitute; personally, I find Collins’s handling of the Gabriel-era tracks perfectly fine – sure, he lacks some of Gabriel’s charisma, but he gives some old songs a fresh spin, and the newer tunes are a touch livelier than on the more staid studio versions, so I’m a fan.

The band’s first release as a trio, 1978’s aptly-titled And Then There Were Three, is no doubt where many Gabriel-era fans bid the band farewell. But to call this a clean break from prog to pop is an oversimplification. Yes, the band continues its moves in a more radio-friendly direction, but several songs are still far afield from straight pop. Personally, I think the biggest problem with the album is that it’s just not very good. Indeed, in my view the album’s high point is the band’s most ‘pop’ song to date, the sappy yet relentlessly catchy Follow You Follow Me (while another stand-out, Ballad Of Big, is a bit of a throwback to earlier work). But many of the songs are just dull and uninspiring; plus, Hackett’s absence is keenly felt, leaning way too heavily on Banks’s at times grating synths.

That And Then was more a bum note than the death-knell of a once great band was confirmed by its follow-up, 1980’s excellent Duke. By this point there is no disputing that Genesis had become a full-fledged adult contemporary pop band, with Turn It On Again and Misunderstanding getting a ton of radio airplay, leading to the band’s greatest commercial success to date. At the same time, these are great songs. Sure, you can’t compare them to The Musical Box (or even I Know What I Like); but viewed as the work of an entirely different band, they stand up as perfectly enjoyable sing-along pop songs. And they weren’t even the album’s high points. Opener Behind The Lines is a terrific romp, engaging and catchy yet still musically and lyrically interesting. It segues into a fantastic little bit of electronic percussion before launching into Duchess, a touching little narrative of a singer’s rise and fall; an unusually effecting tune. The mostly instrumental medley of Duke’s Travels and Duke’s End that closes the album (with a reprise of Behind The Lines) is mostly a showpiece for Banks, but unlike And Then, the music is warm and exciting, highlighting the band’s willingness to still engage in a bit of post-prog instrumental showmanship.

1981’s Abacab sheds the instrumental work-outs from Duke and retains just the pithier pop songs. It may divide fans, but I’ve always enjoyed it for what it is, a radio-friendly pop album packed with stellar songwriting. Like It Or Not, Another Record, No Reply At All, Man On The Corner and Me And Sarah Jane are all sophisticated FM-band catnip. The band gets (marginally) more creative on the nonsensical yet buoyant title track, while Keep It Dark has a compelling riff and Dodo/Lurker makes a rare concession to the band’s earlier days, a wickedly tuneful keyboard refrain tucked into its center. (Alas, Abacab also contains Who Dunnit, their most unlistenable song to date.)

This particular era was bookended by another live album, Three Sides Live. It’s comprised almost entirely of Duke/Abacab tunes, most of the band’s first decade compressed into a single medley (coming across like a begrudging concession to long-time fans). That said, the Duke/Abacab material sounds much better live. Oddly, as the title indicates, the US version of the album didn’t even fill two LPs with live music, instead tossing some leftover studio cuts onto side 4. The UK version, and later reissues, replaced side 4 with some additional live tracks from deeper in the catalog, making it a much more satisfying release (while the studio tracks – which are essential for fans of the Duke/Abacab era – showed up in a later box set).

And then came Genesis. By giving their 1983 album an eponymous title, the band seemed to be signaling some sort of reinvention. Maybe that’s why this is where many of us jump off the bus. Genesis (like the two that followed, 1986’s Invisible Touch and 1991’s We Can’t Dance) is, I suppose, perfectly fine for fans of the post-Hackett band, but aside from a couple respectably workmanlike tunes on each album, I find I never, ever, play these albums. Yeah, That’s All is a cute little single; hell, even Illegal Alien has a catchy hook, if you can get past the unbearably offensive lyrical content. (You can’t.) But much of the material was simply dreadful, and even the redeemable cuts seemed to add little to the catalog that stood up to anything that had come before. Once again, they closed out the era with a live album (or, rather, two, dividing the cuts into an album of short songs and an album of long songs, again compressing the band’s earlier history into an obligatory medley).

So, if I was to put together a Top 10 from the Collins era, it would look like this:

TrackAlbum
Dance On A VolcanoA Trick Of The Tail
EntangledA Trick Of The Tail
SquonkA Trick Of The Tail
Eleventh Earl Of MarWind & Wuthering
Ballad Of BigAnd Then There Were Three
Follow You Follow MeAnd Then There Were Three
Behind The LinesDuke
DuchessDuke
Turn It On AgainDuke
Keep It DarkAbacab

 

THE WILSON YEAR

When Phil Collins finally decided to leave the band, Banks and Rutherford apparently figured, hey, we replaced our singer with some success already, how hard could it be to do it again? They enlisted Ray Wilson for a single album, 1997’s Calling All Stations. And the first rule of Genesis Club is … you don’t talk about Calling All Stations.

 

Genesis official website

Genesis Fan: news, interviews etc

The Genesis Archive

Genesis News

The Waiting Room: Genesis web-fanzine (founded 1999)

The Movement: English fansite

World of Genesis: North American fansite

Peter Gabriel official website

Phil Collins official website

Steve Hackett official website

Tony Banks official website

Mike & the Mechanics official website

Anthony Phillips official website

Daryl Stuermer official website

Peter Gabriel Toppermost #187

Phil Collins Toppermost #598

Genesis biography (Apple Music)

Marc Fagel is a recovering lawyer living outside San Francisco with his wife and his obscenely oversized music collection. He is the author of the recently-published rock lover’s memoir “Jittery White Guy Music”. His daily ruminations on random albums in his collection can be seen on his blog of the same name, or by following him on twitter.

TopperPost #869

3 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    May 24, 2020

    Did Genesis spawn the most solo successful projects post-band? Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, and Mike and the Mechanics all had major hits. Being that bit younger (can remember ‘I Can’t Dance’ given the convict policy on radio here – flog it to death) I missed the Gabriel genesis, and despite loving Queen, Bowie, T-Rex, post Syd Floyd, etc, the two real blank spots are Genesis and Roxy Music. I’m enjoying this playlist as I write.
    I’ve heard Lamb, and enjoyed it but am reminded of The Simpson’s Nelson Muntz on coming out of a showing of The Naked Lunch – there’s at least two things wrong with that title …

  2. Alex Lifson
    May 25, 2020

    Loved your essay Marc. Extremely smart of you to separate the Gabriel and Collins eras. For the record, I loved both periods. Growing up in Montreal, we were the city that broke Genesis in North America so they got plenty of airplay. As well, each album release was an event here. Thank you for taking the time to write and post.

    • Marc Fagel
      May 29, 2020

      Thanks, Alex. Would’ve been great to be in Montreal for the arrival of Genesis (though I was too young to have caught them during the Gabriel era, discovering them only when Duke/Abacab came out during high school). I have a Montreal 1974 bootleg and it’s amazing.

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