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Genesis

Whether one was a fan of the theatrical early-to-mid-70s prog-sters with maverick frontman Peter Gabriel at the helm, or the drummer-cum-voxish Phil Collins rock/pop-centric take from 1975 onwards (barring the ill-advised 1997 debacle), GENESIS, in all its shapes and formations were the most imaginative and talented prog-rock act ever.
Made up from Charterhouse public schoolboys Peter Gabriel (vocals *), Tony Banks (keyboards *), Michael Rutherford (bass), Anthony Phillips (guitar) and Chris Stewart (drums) – collating via two Godalming-based acts The Garden Wall (*) and The Anon – the young and talented GENESIS almost immediately inked a deal with Decca Records in 1967 having sent demo tapes to solo artist/Svengali producer Jonathan King.
However, the group’s first two singles (`The Silent Sun’ and `A Winter’s Tale’) flopped when issued in 1968, as did their subsequent BEE GEES-meets-MOODY BLUES styled LP FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION (1969) {*5}, a record which only sold around 500 copies at the time; during its recording they had chosen to undergo their first of many personnel changes as John Silver replaced Stewart. Only the truly dedicated fan member would praise its merits, but there were moments of potential (albeit pleasant and pastoral) during bubblegum-psychedelic cuts `Where The Sour Turns To Sweet’, `The Serpent’ and early gemstone `In The Beginning’.
Early in 1970 (complete with third drummer John Mayhew on board), GENESIS were spotted live by the equally entrepreneurial Tony Stratton-Smith, who became their manager after signing them to his newly-found Charisma label. As KING CRIMSON, YES and others had explored the advent of prog-rock, the quintet’s sophomore set TRESPASS (1970) {*6} failed to break through commercially, although it did contain lengthy live favourite `The Knife’, while other tracks such as `Looking For Someone’ and `Visions Of Angels’ were also commendable efforts.
Shortly after its release, Gabriel, Banks and Rutherford decided to recruit drummer extraordinaire Phil Collins (ex-Flaming Youth) and the equally talented guitarist Steve Hackett (ex-Quiet World); Mayhew would virtually disappear from the music scene, while stage-shy ANTHONY PHILLIPS took up an enterprising but initially low-key solo career after helping to lay down the foundations of fresh compositions.
Towards the end of ‘71, the newly-inspired GENESIS ensemble delivered their third set, NURSERY CRYME {*9}, a Lewis Carroll-inspired record which boasted at least two more genuine prog-rock artefacts by way of `The Musical Box’ and `The Return Of The Giant Hogweed’. By this point the band had transformed into one of the leading purveyors of progressive rock, bizarre extrovert Gabriel – example 3-minute ditty `Harold The Barrel’ – proving a compelling, theatrical focus for the critically-lauded group. It was also the debut on lead vox for Collins, who sang on the short song `For Absent Friends’, while charmers `Seven Stones’ and finale piece `The Fountain Of Salmacis’ guaranteed them a newfound fanbase.
A year later, with many sold-out gigs behind them, the Fab Five had their first taste of chart success when FOXTROT (1972) {*9} entered the UK Top 20. The classic album contained the compelling concept piece `Supper’s Ready’ an at times whimsical art-rock-opera which virtually took up one side (nigh-on 23 minutes!) and highlighted the tongue-twisting, schizoid lyrics and vox of “Mad Hatter”-incarnate Gabriel. Two other excellent cues, `Watcher Of The Skies’ and `Get ‘Em Out By Friday’, were also showcased on the subsequent GENESIS – LIVE (1973) {*7} album; concert LPs at the time were in-vogue and obligatory.
Studio follow-up SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND (1973) {*10}, boasted another epic Tolkien-esque cue `The Battle Of Epping Forest’ (all 11 minutes!), alongside another squeaky-clean Collins lead vocal via `More Fool Me’. Album sales (UK Top 3) were undoubtedly helped by the UK Top 20 entry of the unforgettable (and at the time, uncharacteristically subtle) hit 45, `I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’; their English-ness and complex eccentricity never greater than on the likes of `Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’, `Firth Of Fifth’ and another monster track `The Cinema Show’. A fanciful fairy-tale for a new glitterati literary muso – i.e. prog-rock w/ glam.
The self-indulgent concept double album was not exactly a fresh phenomenon by the time GENESIS made their mark in the prog-rock-opera genre, but THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY (1974) {*9} pushed all the right buttons. The almost nightmare-ish tale of Puerto Rican hustler Rael and his tentative steps in the Big Apple, the colossal set was duly performed in its track-for-track entirety as part of a worldwide live show between November 20, 1974 and May 22, 1975. Both complex and sprawling, this imaginative work scaled the heights of theatrical composition, all five peaking in their considerable instrumentation, while GABRIEL led the way, drawing in the listener on menacing pieces like `Fly On A Windshield’, the bouncy `In The Cage’ (all 8 minutes), `Back In N.Y.C.’, `The Carpet Crawlers’ and the title track. And who could forget the odd quirky dirge `Cuckoo Cocoon’, `Counting Out Time’ and `The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging’ (with ENO in hand on the latter). On to disc two; yes, everything previously mentioned was on disc one! Certainly the most slow-burning, dark and anxious, but there were shape-shifting moments of delight courtesy of instrumental `Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats’, the 8-minute medley of `The Colony Of Slippermen’ and the culminant `It’.
To most GENESIS fans the shock of losing frontman GABRIEL to a solo career in August 1975 was too much to bear, but much to the band’s tenacity to stick together, and after many (too many) auditions to find a suitable replacement, the replacement was there all the time in drummer-cum-singer Phil Collins. Surprisingly, this didn’t harm the commercial and curiosity appeal of the group when they returned with a Top 3 album, A TRICK OF THE TAIL (1976) {*8}. Compositions as always were always spread collectively as best they could, while Banks now took on the role main orchestrator on the likes of several classic pieces by way of opener/salvos `Dance On A Volcano’, the quieter `Entangled’ and the elastically intense `Squonk’. The quirky `Robbery, Assault And Battery’ showed that Collins could tongue-twist his lyrical prowess in a near GABRIEL-like aplomb, while the wine-and-dine `Ripples’ was emotive and prog-friendly both; reprise instrumental finale `Los Endos’ polished off the set with Phil at his best on sticks.
Hot on its heels, WIND & WUTHERING (1976) {*7} took the band in a softer, less theatrical direction, although there were moments of complex drama and whimsical mischief via the 10-minute Banks-penned epic `One For The Vine’; Rutherford’s melancholy edit of `Your Own Special Way’ was the band’s second UK hit. Co-scribed with Collins (who’d moonlighted as initial instigator of jazz-rock outfit BRAND X), `Wot Gorilla?’ was another signature instrumental from the group, while he and the cerebral Hackett combined for the equally sedate and forlorn `Blood On The Rooftops’. Underrated by comparison to their previous sets, the quartet excelled on other connected pieces `Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers…’ and `…In That Quiet Earth’.
Collins’ drum-stool was filled for live gigs by the seasoned Bill Bruford (ex-YES and KING CRIMSON), then Zappa/Mothers sticksman Chester Thompson, who both appeared on the 1977 live double album SECONDS OUT {*7}. Trekking through GENESIS highlights old and new was a tough task for Collins and Co, but even the new man’s confident take (all 24 minutes of it!) of a PG staple `Supper’s Ready’ found favour with staunch early incarnation acolytes; ditto `The Cinema Show’, the 8-minute `I Know What I Like’, `Firth Of Fifth’ and the closing section of `The Musical Box’.
Sadly, this was also the last album to feature solo-bound STEVE HACKETT, who’d taken on his own career back in the transitional ’75 with his excellent `Voyage Of The Acolyte’ set and was about to unleash his first post-GENESIS sophomore LP `Please Don’t Touch’ – his first of many.
In 1978, GENESIS’s next studio album, appropriately titled …AND THEN THERE WERE THREE… {*7} was another Top 3 entry and confirmed their rise in America where the record reached Top 20 status; the band had taken on drummer Daryl Stuermer to fulfil/augment the live duties of singer Phil. Helped by the gross sales of major hit `Follow You Follow Me’, the album was an earnest attempt to distinguish the perplexing prog for a sophisticated pop-rock sound; further examples on board were `Undertow’, `Say It’s Alright Joe’, `Snowbound’ and other UK hit `Many Too Many’. But there were golden pieces to look for in `Burning Rope’, `Deep In The Motherlode’ and `Scene From A Night’s Dream’, all literate and hookline catchy layered with perfect harmonies and an insight into the new direction that was about to unfold.

While Phil’s BRAND X had already delivered a handful of sets (including `Unorthodox Behaviour’ in 1976), BANKS was finding his own solo time through A Curious Feeling (1979) – check out `The Waters Of Lethe’ and `Somebody Else’s Dream’ – while RUTHERFORD completed his not so memorable Smallcreep’s Day (1980). All triumphant triumvirate would carry on moonlighting, RUTHERFORD with Acting Very Strange (1982), BANKS with a second UK Top 50 set, The Fugitive (1983) – released at the same time as his introduction to soundtracks The Wicked Lady – and of course the R&B-processed star COLLINS (`In The Air Tonight’, etc.).
Fresh from their own first batch of solo/band projects, Messrs Banks, Rutherford and Collins got back to work on their day jobs courtesy of chart-topping DUKE (1980) {*6}. That distinctive keyboards-based sound of Tony, Mike’s rhythm and Phil’s manic percussion were all in evidence on opening track `Behind The Lines’, but the saturation of melodious AOR-infused numbers like lead UK hit `Turn It On Again’, minor hit `Duchess’ and American smash `Misunderstanding’ generated a backlash in some quarters of the media and some of their hardest fanbase – the 8-minute `Duke’s Travels’ aside.
Opening with the unedited Top 10 title track, album chart-topper ABACAB (1981) {*6} found them treading a similar prog-pop path, Phil’s R&B influences and the inclusion of EARTH, WIND & FIRE’s horn section took a more contemporary stance (example `No Reply At All’); `Man On The Corner’ could well’ve been better served on Phil’s own solo pop starts. Yes, the 80s were taking shape and the trio were not about to be left out. Fans of the old GENESIS had to be content with `Dodo – Lurker’ with its edgy funk beat or the quirky minor hit `Keep It Dark’.
Time for another cash-in double-set concert batch? (or even a second EP – `3 x 3’ – to follow the 1977 fruits of Top 20 `Spot The Pigeon’), well, probably not, but THREE SIDES LIVE (1982) {*6} featured the extra talents of the aforementioned Stuermer and Thompson. Incidentally, the UK and US versions varied on the fourth side, the latter finding room for their recent studio EP which included lead-off number `Paperlate’.
Regaining some ground with their disgruntled, but always loyal disciples, awaiting a biblical second coming of sorts, the eponymous GENESIS (1983) {*6} was a confident balance between the contemporary and pop-propelled prog. The record’s defining moment (or at least Phil’s) was through gritty opener and Top 5 hit `Mama’ (a song about a prostitute), while there were cheesy shapes via the Men At Work-like `Illegal Alien’ or introspective Top 20 ballad `That’s All’.
COLLINS had vast become a bona fide solo act in his own right, Rutherford too was establishing his new AOR-pop supergroup MIKE + THE MECHANICS; only Banks at this stage in the mid-80s was keeping the act alive. INVISIBLE TOUCH (1986) {*7} was the programmed pop product upwardly-mobile GENESIS fans craved. Containing no less than five UK Top 30 hits (from the title track and `In Too Deep’ to `Throwing It All Away’), there was at least substance in retro connection in their art through at least two of them, `Land Of Confusion’ (a protest song!) and the chilling near-9-minute dirge `Tonight, Tonight, Tonight’ (about junkie life). In pop-rock terms, a well-above average timepiece.
Once again, GENESIS took a backseat to the trio’s side-line projects, Tony this time forming own act Bankstatement, basically a short-lived one-set trio (alongside unknown singers Jayney Klimek and Alistair Gordon); generally looked upon by “real” Gen fans as a diversion too far.
With the 80s out of the way, WE CAN’T DANCE (1991) {*5} finally emerged, although the GENESIS formula was on repeat prescription via hard-edged lead-off cue `I Can’t Dance’ (in parts as close a song to DEEP PURPLE’s rockier `Strange Kind Of Woman’), plus other Top 20 hits `No Son Of Mine’ and `Jesus He Knows Me’. Running in at over 70 minutes and delivered on double-disc vinyl (as well as the usual formats), the trio ventured into long-song territory once again on 10-minute explorations `Driving The Last Spike’ and `Fading Lights’ – those expecting a few “Musical Boxes” were indeed expecting too much. BANKS also released Still the same year, and there was more extracurricular activities to come via 1995’s eponymous Strictly Inc album he shared with Jack Hues of WANG CHUNG. Just what one might have predicted, GENESIS subsequently succumbed to stage material – but this time recordings were split into two money-spinning sets, LIVE / THE WAY WE WALK VOLUME ONE – THE SHORTS (1992) {*5} and the double LIVE / THE WAY WE WALK VOLUME TWO – THE LONGS (1993) {*6}, the latter saved by an “Old Medley” featuring pre-80s material.
With PHIL COLLINS now out of the picture by the mid-90s, Banks and Rutherford opted to carry on with the relatively young Scotsman, Ray Wilson, an adequate singer who’d previously fronted UK chart-toppers STILTSKIN (remember `Inside’). The results were as expected when the new GENESIS issued their Mk.III album, the dire …CALLING ALL STATIONS… (1997) {*2}. Of course, radio airplay must’ve been a certainty for minor hits like `Congo’, `Shipwrecked’ and `Not About Us’. If the omission of GABRIEL then COLLINS was hard to take, this polished yuppification caused uproar, resulting in Wilson quickly finding his own departure lounge; he was indeed in a rock and a “soft” place.
Although GENESIS (up to 1975, and 1993 at a push) remain one of the rock circuit’s largest grossing bands and draws, the group have always caused frictions between old diehards and new fans. In 2004, GENESIS finally released a career-spanning anthology PLATINUM COLLECTION {*8} compiled in reverse chronology with the third disc covering the cream of the GABRIEL period. This prompted a return to arms and a reunion tour by Banks, Rutherford and Collins; the obligatory double-concert summary LIVE OVER EUROPE 2007 {*4} was squeezed out to a fanbase getting ready for a recession – both politically and musically.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD-MCS // rev-up MCS Dec2011

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