Needs tidying and links updating to Spotify. March 2019
Genesis are one of the best selling music artists of all time having sold approximately 130 million albums worldwide. In the Seventies. when Peter Gabriel was their singer they were a progressive rock band. After Gabriel left, Phil Collins took over as lead vocalist, and in the Eighties the band became a synthpop band, gradually becoming more pop-oriented. It is during this period they achieved their greatest commercial success, though it is the Peter Gabriel records that are most critically admired and discussed.
For me, Genesis was Peter Gabriel - he was the focus of attention for the music papers I read, and the point of discussion with my friends - regardless of if they liked Genesis or not. He courted attention with his make up, costumes, and stage theatrics, which grew increasingly weird (or theatrical, depending on your point of view). I found him curious, but could never really decide how much I liked him or Genesis. My favourite music paper, the NME, tended to gently mock him - and he was an easy target with his fey manner, fantasy lyrics, and strange make up and hair cut. But there was something about him - he was gentle, interesting, and intelligent. It was just that, as with a number of prog rock bands, he wasn't rock, and he wasn't cool. It was all a little too like Paul McCartney, and not enough like John Lennon. But I can't remember when Genesis were first called prog-rock. One of my first encounters with Genesis was via the sampler album Wowie Zowie! World of Progessive Music, which was released in 1969 and would suggest that they were considered prog-rock in 1969; but my recollection is that at that time the term "progressive music" was a catch-all term for any music that was "progressing" the basic blues format. So The Rolling Stones wouldn't be progressive, but Led Zeppelin would be. Genesis were sometimes thought of and termed art-rock due to the band's arty approach - painted album sleeves, a pastoral sound, song suites, and in particular their increasingly theatrical live shows. They are today, though, regarded as one of the main originators of prog-rock; in particular, a form called symphonic rock or symphonic-prog, in which the song or composition is divided into sections or "movements" which combine or harmonise together. The other band considered a main originator is Yes, and their music does have similarities at times.
The band were formed in 1967 by five pupils at Charterhouse School: singer Peter Gabriel, keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford, lead guitarist Anthony Phillips and short-lived drummer Chris Stewart. After using a different drummer for each of their first two albums, drummer/singer Phil Collins joined in 1970, along with new lead guitarist Steve Hackett. Genesis were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. The band has had numerous line-ups throughout its history, utilising eleven different musicians as full time members. The most recent formation is Collins, Banks and Rutherford.
Genesis' debut album, From Genesis to Revelation (1969) is whimsical baroque pop, popular at that time particularly with bands like the Moody Blues and the Bee Gees. They evolved into a progressive rock band with Trespass (1970) and Nursery Cryme (1971), which had longer tracks and more involved song structures than their debut. They developed further with Foxtrot (1972) - which contained the song suite "Supper's Ready" - and Selling England by the Pound (1973) - which contained their first successful single "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)". Genesis concerts during this time increasingly became more theatrical. In 1975, after touring in support of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974), Gabriel left the band. Collins took over lead vocals. The single "Follow You Follow Me" from the pop-oriented and commercially accessible ...And Then There Were Three... (1978) was an international success.
Genesis reached number one on the UK album chart in 1980 with Duke, followed by the same success with Abacab (1981) and Genesis (1983), which coincided with Collins' popularity as a solo artist. In 1982 Gabriel and Hacket joined the band for a one-off concert, Six Of The Best, to financially assist Gabriel and his fledgling WOMAD project. In 1986 the band released Invisible Touch, their best-selling album, from which all five singles released entered the top five on the US chart, with "Invisible Touch" reaching number one. After a five-year break, Genesis resumed their mainstream success in 1991 with We Can't Dance, which contained the worldwide hit single "I Can't Dance". In 1996, Collins departed the band - Ray Wilson taking his place on vocals. Wilson, Banks and Rutherford released Calling All Stations (1997), which sold well in Europe, though only reached number 53 in the US, their lowest charting album since 1974. Following a European tour in 1998, the band went on hiatus.
In 2006, Banks, Rutherford and Collins reunited for the 2007 Turn It On Again Tour, which included a free concert in Rome that was attended by 500,000 people. The future of the band remains uncertain; Collins stated that he was retiring from the music industry in 2011 but has since indicated he is considering a return, whilst Banks indicated that Genesis had come to an end during an interview in 2012. In 2014, Gabriel, Banks, Rutherford, Collins, and Steve Hackett reunited for a BBC documentary, Genesis: Together and Apart.
|From Genesis to Revelation (1969)|
Compared with some of those albums the Genesis debut may appear a little light and whimsical, though it has a naive charm which carries it along and makes it listenable enough. It's not a great album, it's not an interesting album, and it doesn't sound like the debut of a group who would go on to become one of the world's most popular, but I quite like it. Most other commentators are fairly dismissive.
Wikipedia; UltimateClassicRock; AllMusic; Genesis-News; RateYourMusic; ProgArchives: Sputnik.
Best song: In The Beginning; not too bad: In The Wilderness, The Conqueror
Most regard this as the first "proper" Genesis record, fitting more obviously the style of progressive rock for which they became known, though many also feel it is more of a transitional album, than anything polished and complete.The previous album had 6 or 7 tracks per side, this has six tracks in all. The music is slow and dreamy for the first five tracks, and the lyrics are vague stories which don't relate to me or my life, and are not interesting or well constructed. They're all fairly dreary and boring, but the last track, "The Knife", has energy and variety, with Phillips' sharp guitar work over Rutherford's church organ It's also probably the most "prog" of all the tracks. The band continued to use the song in their live shows, and it appears on their 1973 live album, with the classic line up; and it appears in a filmed recording of a live concert that same year in Paris, and in a filmed recording of a concert in London in 1980 with Collins doing the vocal.
The album matches the mood and sound of recent work from other contemporary prog (or related) artists - Yes (1969), In the Court of the Crimson King (1969), Moondog (1969), Caravan (1969), The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other (Feb 1970) - the period 1969/1970 was key in the emergence of progressive rock
Wikipedia; AllMusic; ProgArchives; Genesis-News; RateYourMusic; Sputnik; Band interviews;
Best song: The Knife
|Nursery Cryme (1971)|
Wikipedia AllMusic. BBC. Head Heritage. Rolling Stone (1972). ProgArchives. RateYourMusic. Genesis-News. Band interviews;
Best song: The Musical Box
As I'm reflecting more on Genesis' career, and I come back to these early albums, I'm starting to feel that, for me, it's Tony Banks and his organ sound that stops me from liking the band. I suspect he feels that he is creating musical textures, though for me his keyboard playing is often cheerless and cold, with expansive swaths of sound rather than riffs, melodies and harmonies - essentially, he sometimes doesn't play regular patterns (which for me is essential to music), he makes noise. Other bands at the time who were being experimental with music and sound, which I list below in the Importance section, did make good use of regular and repeating patterns, even when they were deliberately utilising the unexpected and the discordant in search of texture. Once you get so far from pattern in music it starts to cease to be music. The opening to "Watcher Of The Skies" is an example of what the band and their fans at the time felt was good Genesis: long solemn church organ sounds. The opening notes are just organ sounds unrelated to each other. The organ keys pressed and held, and then a brief sequence, abandoned, and then gradually patterns emerge with some repeated sounds, and a sequence of notes going higher. But this is unremarkable stuff, and it's very dreary. It's on the edge of music, but it's not challenging our concept of music as, say Faust or Tangerine Dream, were doing, it's just, for me, vaguely unpleasant without any thrill or excitement. Opinions vary, and I understand that others find it ethereal and beautiful, but for me it's dull noise.
Wikipedia; Band interviews; AllMusic; BBC; Sounds (1972);
Best song: Supper's Ready
Score: 3 / 4
|Genesis Live (1973)|
Wikipedia; 1974 Rolling Stone review; AllMusic;
|Selling England By The Pound (1973)|
Wikipedia; Band interviews; BBC; ClassicRock; Sputnik; Genesis-News; AllMusic;
Best Song: "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)"
Score: 2 / 3
|The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)|
Coming back to this and listening again and again, I can see the ambition and the intent. There are passages similar to David Bowie, Yes and Pink Floyd, so it seems that the band wanted to emulate what they were doing. There are elements of Ziggy Stardust, Tales from Topographic Oceans, and Dark Side of the Moon, There is a growing sense that Genesis are musical followers, particularly of Pink Floyd and Yes, and that their output is inferior to the bands they follow.
Wikipedia; BBC; UltimateClassicRock; TheQuietus; AllMusic; New Yorker; Annotated guide; Trianglos; Genesis-News; Live recording with some photos and film; Sylvain Despretz; ClassicRockReview; SuperSeventies; Band interviews; Sounds (1974); NME (1974); Rolling Stone (1975); NME (1975); Melody Maker (1975);
Best song: "The Carpet Crawlers" - the lyrics are like Nights in White Satin: nonsense, but they sound nice, and create their own significance when part of the dreamy music.
Score: Try as I might I can't get into this: 2
Peter Gabriel and the accompanying very pleasant chart hit "Solsbury Hill". Other chart singles are "Games Without Frontiers" (1980), and "Sledgehammer" (1986) from the big selling album So. What I find interesting is that Gabriel's records sound remarkably similar to Genesis's records once Steve Hacket had left. That Gabriel and Collins have similar voices is part of it, but also that both move into pop territory, with the music being informed by their art-music background. Neither of them seem to wish to further explore "prog-rock" with it's keyboard driven symphonic sound, nor grandiose fantasy lyrics - preferring more human scaled or even personal and intimate lyrics - such as "Solsbury Hill" and "Invisible Touch".
Voyage of the Acolyte (1975), assisted by Collins and Rutherford (but not Banks). He stayed with Genesis for their next two albums, but left in 1977 releasing Please Don't Touch! in 1978 without any Genesis members. He continues to record.prog-rock type albums - his must recent being Wolflight in 2014.
|A Trick of the Tail (1976)|
Wikipedia; AllMusic; ProgArchives; Rhino; Lyrics; RateYourMusic; Band interviews;
Best Song: Ripples
Brand X, who released Unorthodox Behaviour in 1975. In 1981 Collins released the first of his solo albums, Face Value, which contained the big hit "In The Air Tonight". He had ongoing commercial success, including the cover single "You Can't Hurry Love", and the mega album hit No Jacket Required. The success of his solo career assisted the band's career, and at times it's difficult to tell the two apart.
|Wind & Wuthering (1976)|
Wikipedia; AllMusic; Genesis-News; Donaghue; ProgArchives; Lyrics; Band interviews;
|...And Then There Were Three... (1978)|
Wikipedia; AllMusic; UltimateClassicRock; Genesis-News; Lyrics; ProgArchives; Rolling Stone (1978); Band interviews;
Best song: "Follow You Follow Me"
A Curious Feeling, which contained the theme from the soundtrack to The Shout that he wrote with Rutherford. After three unsuccessful solo albums, he moved into writing classical music, such as Six Pieces for Orchestra (2014).
Mike Rutherford played bass and additional guitars, usually 12 string, throughout Genesis' prog career. With the departure of Hacket, Rutherford played lead and bass guitar parts. And it is those two instruments that Rutherford plays on his two solo albums, Smallcreep's Day (1980) and Acting Very Strange (1982), adding vocals and keyboards to the second album. Neither album was critically or commercially successful, and Rutherford preferred being part of a band, so for his next solo project he worked with songwriter B. A. Robertson, and created the band Mike + The Mechanics which was an immediate and continuing success following the debut album Mike + The Mechanics in 1985. The band's biggest singles have been "The Living Years" (1989), "Silent Running" (1985), "Word of Mouth" (1991), and "Over My Shoulder" (1995). It's interesting that during the 80s and 90s the band Genesis along with three of its members, Gabriel, Collins and Rutherford, were all having hit albums and singles. That is perhaps suggestive of the talent within the band.
Not an album for me. Rather bitty and superficial, with a tinny electric sound.
Wikipedia; Lyrics; RateYourMusic; ProgArchives; Sputnik; Genesis-News; AllMusic; Blog;
Best song: "Turn It On Again"
Wikipedia; AllMusic; Lyrics; ProgArchives; AV Club; Genesis-News; Band interviews; RateYourMusic;
Best song: "Abacab"
Score: 2 / 3
|Three Sides Live (1982)|
"That's All" is a pleasant chugalong song. It's undemanding and works well.Seems an overall reasonably attractive album.
Wikipedia; Band interviews;
Best track: " Mama"
|Invisible Touch (1986)|
Wikipedia; Band interviews;
Best track: "Land of Confusion"
Score: 2 / 3
|We Can't Dance (1991)|
Wikipedia; Band interviews;
Best track: "I Can't Dance"
|Calling All Stations (1997)|
Wikipedia; Band interviews;
VoiceThough they come from different backgrounds, Gabriel and Collins have similar voices. They both have a reedy British sound and use a restrained scream for impact and emphasis and seek a higher range for singing delicate parts. I don't find either voice that attractive, but neither do I find it offensive. The voices are OK.
ImageMost prog rock bands don't have a good image. They most they can hope for is that they project intelligence and musicianship and don't appear too nerdy. Genesis do appear to be nerdy - and being associated with a public school doesn't help. As with many prog rock bands, the members don't project themselves on stage or in interview very well, though Gabriel and Collins are better than most: Gabriel comes over as intellectual and interesting, while Collins has a very approachable cheeky chappy demeanour that has proved very popular.
LyricsMostly daft, though who listens to them anyway. There's no indication the words have been crafted. It looks as through either Gabriel or Collins has written on a theme or idea, and just put down some words. But they are on a theme, and are vague enough for nerdy people to look into them for stories and ideas. But they are not saying anything.
MusicThe music is crafted, and is written by folks who understand and like music. But early on they thought too much about the ideas, and not enough about the appeal of music, of what music is and how it impacts on people. From looking at film of the band live in the days of Gabriel, the music makes more sense in a live theatre context with Gabriel in costume. The music then becomes part of the theatre experience. Listening to the record at home without that live atmosphere, and without the theatrics and Gabriel's presence, a lot is lost. The music became more focused and directed from Abacab onwards. There are good bits from all periods of the band's career, though taken as a whole, the music doesn't quite work for me.
Impact/InfluenceGenesis are considered one of the main prog-rock groups, particularly of symphonic-prog. Their development was roughly in line with similar groups and with musical fashion. As musical tastes changed, so did the band. I'm unsure how much Genesis have led musical taste and influenced similar bands so much as they followed what was already there, but I should imagine there would have been some cross-over between Genesis and Yes, and that modern progressive groups would take something from Genesis. They don't seem to have had a particularly strong impact as a prog-rock group on events outside their fan-group, but their later commercial success would have drawn attention to the field of progressive music for a whole new audience.
ImportanceSome fans feel that Genesis were cutting edge, though they seem to be lacking and somewhat trivial when compared to some of their livelier and more interesting contemporaries such as Tangerine Dream (Alpha Centauri 1971 - Phaedra 1974), Can (Tago Mago 1971, Spoon 1972), Brian Eno (Here Come The Warm Jets 1974), Kraftwerk (Kraftwerk 1970, Autobahn 1974), Faust (The Faust Tapes 1973), Pink Floyd (Dark Side Of The Moon 1973), Todd Rundgren (A Wizard, A True Star 1973), etc. The early Seventies was a fertile period, so there was a lot of playing around with music structure, time sequences, etc. Genesis' experiments were very tame compared to many others, and rarely were they very effective. I'm not seeing that they did anything new or unusual or particularly attention grabbing. As a significant part of the prog-rock movement they deserve some credit, and while the jury is still out on prog-rock, it is getting more serious attention these days.
PopularityThey have a loyal prog-rock fan base, and their later work has been hugely popular.
Star qualityThe only two stars are Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. Phil Collins is like your mate down the pub. He's like a member of Status Quo. Famous, yes, but not a star. Peter Gabriel is a little more interesting. He has a mystique about him. But he's not really star quality either. The rest of the band, albeit that Rutherford has had success with Mike + The Mechanics, are largely just the "rest of the band".
Emotional appealThe music is either prog or synth. Neither music tends to be emotional.
LegacyThe band mostly followed the prevalent music trend; however, they are considered one of the pioneering prog-rock bands, especially of symphonic-prog. They are interesting for the use of media and theatrics in their live shows, so - along with Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, and David Bowie, they were a significant part of the process of enlivening live shows.
ConclusionI've enjoyed doing this Kitchen Table Review. Genesis have been a group that's been there in the background from fairly early on in my serious interest in music. They are a group I've been aware of and curious about, but never really got close to. I've had some of the albums in my collection at various times, but not really been grabbed by them, but also not revolted by them. When they were art-rock or prog-rock, they were never quite taken seriously by the music critics and friends that I admired most, and even though these days progressive music is taken more seriously, it still has the air of the nerd about it, and still seems to be more about the idea of music than music itself. It often seems to miss the point. For example, some Genesis fans enthuse that music motifs are repeated in "Supper's Ready". Repeating music motifs is very common in musical composition - it happens all the time during spontaneous jams. It is an essential element of music. Yet the fans think this is impressive because some critics have found a similarity to the use of such repeats in classical music. It's not the use of motifs in itself that should be impressive, it is how effective such use is - how the use creates a mood, or tells us something about the ideas being explored. In "Supper's Ready", I'm not seeing a meaningful use of the motifs.
Anyway. When Genesis were prog-rock they were disparaged, and then when they were commercially successful they were again disparaged, this time for being commercial. There never seemed to be a time when Genesis were truly respected. Getting at the real Genesis was difficult through the fog of attitudes surrounding them, so doing this study has been illuminating. I hadn't previously noted just how technically competent the band are - their instrument skills are admirable; and while their ability to construct interesting musical compositions is dubious, they at least had some musical ambition. Their lyrics, especially in the early days, are dodgy. A little too much fantasy, and not enough grounding in real life. But the music is generally acceptable, and at times interesting. Early on it was a little too loose and indulgent, but from Abacab onwards, it became more disciplined, clearer, more polished, and hence more interesting and appealing. Coming to the end of this review I don't think I'm liking Genesis any more than I previously did, but I am respecting and perhaps understanding them a bit more.
Genesis have two periods: the first is as a prog-rock group in the early Seventies when that style of music was being developed. They are regarded as a pioneer prog-rock group, and two of their albums from that period are regarded as significant examples of the genre: Selling England and Lamb. However, while those albums are seen as worth noting, the general consensus is that they are not fully achieved; so, outside of being an example of prog-rock and what was happening in the UK during the early Seventies, the albums and the band as a whole are not critically acclaimed. The second period is as a globally successful synthpop group during the Eighties when that style of music was highly popular. They were assisted in their success by the unlikely solo success of singer Phil Collins. Though their music was keyboard led synthpop with drum machines, the music was initially informed by their experiences as a prog-rock band, though by the time of Invisible Touch, there was little evidence of this. During their prog-rock period they are mostly associated with singer Peter Gabriel, though they did make two prog-rock albums after Gabrield left and Collins was the singer, and one of those, Trick of the Tail, might be their most musically accomplished album. Overall, the band are fairly derivative, and tend to follow the musical trend rather than initiate anything. During their prog period they appear to be wannabe Yes/Pink Floyd copyists. During their synthpop period they are possibly at their most innovative, focused, bright and accomplished, though for most Genesis fans this period is dismissed as too commercial.
Genesis sampler (Top Five in brackets)
*In The Beginning
* The Knife
* The Musical Box
* I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) (1)
* The Carpet Crawlers
*Follow You Follow Me
*Turn It On Again (5)
* Mama (2)
*Land of Confusion
*I Can't Dance (3)
* Genesis Live (1973)
*A Trick of the Tail (1976)
* Foxtrot (1972)
*Nursery Cryme (1971)
* From Genesis to Revelation (1969)
* Genesis (1983)
*World Of Genesis (fansite)
**WOG album ratings
*GenesisMuseum (for collectors)
*Why We Need Genesis More Than Ever
*Album UK chart positions
*Inside Genesis 1970 - 1975
*The Genesis Archive Documentary
*The Archive 2 Documentary
*Filmed in Shepperton Studio 1973
Gabriel v Collins debates
Best Genesis songs/albums
*TopTens - Top songs
*The Guardian - Top songs
*What Culture - Top 35 songs
A Kitchen Table Review is my research into a music topic I am curious about. I am not an expert, and the research isn't particularly academic or rigorous. The blog is mainly for me to record my findings and my opinions. I put them into blog form as that is the most convenient, and provides quick link access to on-line resources such as Wikipedia, AllMusic and YouTube. I also like blogging as it makes my findings and views available to others who are invited to comment - correcting my mistakes, making suggestions or observations, or directing me to other resources. While I am writing for myself, I do have an "imaginary reader" who I am talking to, and that is likely to be someone like you, so please do leave me a message at the end
Best Of The Best