The best of times, the worst of times: Genesis is arguably the most popular of the progressive rock giants, but it's considered by those same fans to be one of the lamest pop-schmaltz acts on radio. They helped lead the British vanguard that popularized progressive rock
in the 1970s, alongside acts like Yes
and Emerson, Lake and Palmer
Genesis remains among the most popular of the "classic" prog rock acts, thanks to some gorgeous songwriting often packed with dense, swirling chords. Many fans prefer the earlier albums when Peter Gabriel still lent his stage presence to the band. For others including me, Tony Banks' keyboard pieces are a particular highlight -- the relentless pitter-patter opening for "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," the lightly dancing synth solos of "The Cinema Show."
Phil Collins is accused of turning Genesis into popsters rather than prog rockers -- "Collins-ization," if you will. But Banks and Rutherford did their share, too. Even before Mike and the Mechanics, Rutherford had tried a straight-rock approach with his solo albums (Acting Very Strange, e.g.). And Banks got increasingly poppy over the years with embarrassing attempts at reaching Collins-like airplay. His stiff, non-rhyming songs seem to work well under Genesis' umbrella but fall flat on his solo albums. 'Course, I still think Phil Collins sucks, and Tony Banks rules, but I'm just trying to be accurate here. :)
For brevity's sake, I'm hitting mostly highlights here, hoping that most anecdotes and enhancements can be noded under the individual album titles. I'm including only major LPs here; most notable omission is the EP, Spot the Pigeon, which came after Seconds Out. I'll probably be updating and re-editing this thing for the rest of my E2 life, so feel free to /msg any corrections.
Gabriel - Phillips - Banks - Rutherford
Genesis met as school mates in England, and they'd gotten together in hopes of becoming a songwriting team -- like Rogers and Hart but with more people. The band itself was considered a temporary vehicle ... one that ended up lasting 30 years.
Genesis was fronted by 19-year-old Peter Gabriel on vocals and Anthony Phillips on guitar, with Tony Banks on keyboards and Mike Rutherford on bass. Songs were credited to the entire band -- "All by all" is how future albums listed the writing credits.
From Genesis to Revelation: 1969. We know them as prog-rockers, but Genesis wanted to be a pop act from Day One. Their first album, produced by Jonathan King, featured lots of two-minute gems with production reminiscent of early Moody Blues. The band had no regular drummer at this point; Chris Stewart played on their first singles, and John Silver did the honors for this first album.
Trespass: 1970. A 90-degree turn into longer song forms. Lots of soft, pastoral stuff here, showing the influence of Anthony Phillips, who was doing quite a bit of the songwriting even though tracks were credited to the whole group. Yet another new drummer: John Mayhew. The highlight of Trespass is the closing track, "The Knife," clocking in at 9 minutes and gleaming with the sinister edge that would become Gabriel's best on-stage trait.
At this point, trouble hit. Anthony Phillips
had never been comfortable on stage, and the problem was getting worse. Unable to continue performing, he bowed out of the band, a move that would leave Banks and Rutherford to shoulder the bulk of the songwriting.
Auditions for a guitarist turned up Steve Hackett, then sporting a spooky moustache and goatee. He liked the new sounds the band was producing; there were tracks where he couldn't tell what was guitar and what was keyboard, and that intrigued him. The band also auditioned for a steady drummer, having used studio musicians up until now. The part was landed by none other than Phil Collins.
Gabriel - Banks - Rutherford - Hackett - Collins
When people scream for "the old stuff" at concerts, these are the albums they want. During these years, Genesis would become famous for an elaborate stage show, spurred by Peter Gabriel's strong personality and love of the stage, and highlighted by his bizarre costumes -- you can see one on the cover of Genesis Live.
Gabriel would also sometimes play a bass drum on stage, but he wasn't very good, and the off-time thudding was impossible to ignore. The others made him give it up.
Nursery Cryme came out in 1971 and introduced the proggier elements that would make the band famous; it opens with "The Musical Box," a 10-minute suite that would become a band hallmark ... but not as much as the tracks on...
Foxtrot, the band's 1972 offering. With "Watcher of the Skies" and the seminal 23-minute "Supper's Ready."
Genesis Live: 1973.
Selling England by the Pound: 1974. Includes "I Know What I Like," a catchy tune with a radio-friendly length. Hackett came up with the original riff for it. Also includes live favorite "The Cinema Show."
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway: 1975. Peter Gabriel's swan song with the band, and also his magnum opus, a double album's worth of surreal visions and rhymes culled from dreams. The other four band members jammed to produce the music for the songs, which would then be handed to Gabriel for lyricizing.
That was typical; Gabriel wrote almost no music for Genesis. You can tell the lyrics he contributed, because they rhyme manically (see "Supper's Ready" and "The Battle of Epping Forest") but the music itself was Banks' and Rutherford's purview.
The Lamb was accompanied by an ambitious tour, where the entire album was played while Gabriel went through several of his now-famous costume changes. One problem was that the second half of the album is a bit weaker, so that the live show lost momentum after the first half.
During this time, Genesis albums were hitting the Top 10 in England like clockwork. But they still got very little recognition (and less radio play) in America.
Banks - Rutherford - Hackett - Collins
Including unsolicited demo tapes, more than 400 vocalists reportedly tried out for Gabriel's spot in the band. Nick Lowe was reportedly one of them.
With Gabriel gone, Genesis became Tony Banks' group. Not really, but he admits his ego got pretty large. And there's no question he took the bulk of the songwriting, producing some awesome material in the process.
If Gabriel's lyrics were characterized by rhyme and flow, Banks' are just as recognizable for their lack of both. Somehow they work, and in the best cases you don't even notice it ("Squonk" and "Dance on a Volcano" work for me), but the worst cases feel stiff and academic.
A Trick of the Tail: 1976.
Wind and Wuthering: 1977. Produced Genesis' first top 100 single in America: "Your Own Special Way," by Rutherford. But for me, the highlight is "One for the Vine," a 10-minute Banks song that shows off the complex, multi-phased style of composing he preferred (and would soon abandon). It's a gorgeous song with a moving keyboard solo.
Like Gabriel, Hackett would leave at the apex of his contributions. Wind
saw him contribute quite a bit of songwriting, but so much of his stuff was rejected, particularly his beloved instrumental "Please Don't Touch
," that Hackett decided he'd had enough. Frustrated, he left for a solo career. Collins would later remark that Hackett could have stayed on while doing solo projects on the side (Hackett had released a solo album in 1975, after all), but Hackett apparently didn't consider that an option.
Seconds out (1977) is a double live album, the last record with Hackett. Notable for having Bill Bruford sitting in on drums so that Collins could take lead vocal duties. The cover shows the Varilights, a complex and dynamic lighting system that would become a band trademark for the next decade or more. The 8-minute "I Know What I Like" on here includes Collins' tamborine-juggling act, which you obviously can't see but was spectacular, if the crowd is any indication.
The songs are all well done, but Gabriel himself summed it up best after seeing his old mates in concert. Speaking to Phil Collins, he said: "You sing 'The Carpet Crawlers' better than I do. But you don't sing it like I do."
Collins - Rutherford - Banks
The aptly named ... And Then There Were Three was released in 1978, with Rutherford taking over the guitar parts. The album is moody and drab; Collins has said he doesn't like the overall feel.
Banks and Rutherford still handled most of the songwriting, but this album also reintroduced group writing, as all three contributed to "Ballad of Big" and "Follow You Follow Me." The latter would become Genesis' first Top 40 single in the United States.
Duke in 1979 pushed Genesis over the edge into a bona fide U.S. hitmaker. Radio went gaga over "Misunderstanding" -- the first song credited to Phil alone -- and the 13/4 danceability of "Turn It On Again." Songs got much shorter by this point, with only the closing tracks "Duke's Travels/Duke's End" resembling the epic works of the past.
Collins had cut his hair by now and would record his first solo album around this time, cementing his migration towards pop-star territory and away from his Brand X fusion side.
Abacab: 1981. A massive hit for FM radio, at least in the area where I lived. This is the point where I first started listening seriously to them.
Songwriting was mostly credited to the trio. Banks and Rutherford got two solo songs apiece, including what I consider Banks' last great (semi-) epic, "Me and Sarah Jane." "No Reply at All" was apparently top 10 in the U.S., but the songs with staying power (and MTV attention) were "Abacab" and "Man on the Corner."
By now, the live show was rounded out with Chester Thompson
on drums and Daryl Stuermer
on bass. (Thompson had actually joined around 1977 when Bill Bruford left.) Both had a jazz/fusion background that would add to the band's pop sound to come, bringing them closer to Billy Joel
. The quintet is featured on Three Sides Live
(1982), the U.S. version of which features five unreleased studio tracks. Of those, "Paperlate" got moderate airplay.
Genesis: 1983. Features the 11-minute "Home by the Sea/Second Home by the Sea" to satisfy progsters, and the awfully bland "That's All," with awful moon-June-spoon lyrics but some nice snare-drum touches from Collins. Songwriting is back to the "all by all" format completely. "That's All" and "Taking It All Too Hard" became soft-rock smashes. "Illegal Alien" and "Just a Job To Do" got airplay but are forgotten by now.
Invisible Touch: 1986. Cursory "long" song: "The Last Domino" ... otherwise, very radio-friendly pop. Hits included the repetitious repetitious repetitous "Tonight Tonight Tonight," later used in a beer ad. This would be followed by a long hiatus, with Phil now a bona fide superstar and Rutherford hitting top-10 glory with Mike and the Mechanics.
We Can't Dance: 1991. "Driving the Last Spike" was the cursory "long" song -- written by Collins, surprisingly. Right after this release, Collins started mumbling about leaving the band, and eventually did.
A two-CD set called The Way We Walk documents the band's last tour. Cleverly recognizing the dichotomy among Genesis fans, Atlantic divided the CDs into "The Shorts" (modern hits) and "The Longs" (more of the older, complex stuff ... and some modern hits that happen to be a little long).
Rutherford - Banks
With Collins gone, Banks and Rutherford made one shot as a duo, recruiting 27-year-old Ray Wilson to take over vocals. He strikes me a less bitter, less violent, less dripping-with-alcohol version of Fish and seemed like a good fit -- too bad the resulting album had such bland songwriting:
Calling All Stations: 1997. The band got a raw deal with this release, because it came on the heels of a Phil Collins record. When Phil's record flopped, Atlantic feared that Genesis' day was done, and the label pulled all U.S. promo for Stations, canceling a proposed tour and not even releasing a video. Genesis did tour Europe, and I presume the video was shown there as well.
But the wind was out of the sails at this point, and Banks and Rutherford officially dissolved Genesis in 1998.
The five "original" members (minus Phillips) played on stage in 1982; it had been a Genesis + Gabriel show, but Hackett joined for the encore pieces, "I Know What I Like" and "The Knife." Another reunion show was held in 1988, and the full band -- including Phillips and Silver -- got together in 1998 for a dinner and photo shoot, publicity for the Genesis Archive: 1967-1975
box set. Rumors of a reunion continue to crop up from time to time, the latest being that Gabriel will tour with Rutherford and Banks.
The band is officially dissolved right now (August 2001), but that just sets them up for a madly hyped reunion a la Steely Dan, right? A fan can always dream.
Source: Lots of personal memory, most of it drawn from The Book of Genesis, an excellent bio with tons of pictures. It's a must for any fan, if you can find a copy. Once I find my misplaced copy, I'll add publishing info here.
You can find a helpful Genesis timeline at http://home.att.net/~los.endos/genesis/calendar.htm
And you can learn some of those awesome Banks keyboard parts at "Watcher of the Scores:" http://plaza20.mbn.or.jp/~hisao_chida/scores/scores.html