Seven Stones

1. I’ve written here before about how I often like things, musically, that conventional wisdom says I’m not really supposed to like. (See bullet number two here for a recent example). Tonight, I’m here to express my enthusiasm for three other musical things that I shouldn’t, all related to the band Genesis, who I believe I have listened to more than any other band over the course of my life, excepting Jethro Tull. First statement of musical heresy: I think Mike Rutherford is a really fantastic and distinctive bass guitarist, despite that fact that he may be the least funky human being on Planet Earth. He’s not in the least bit flashy most of the time, but so many of my favorite Genesis songs are anchored and uplifted by Rutherford’s distinctive pulsing, driving bass parts. Think “Back in N.Y.C.” or “Apocalypse in 9/8” or “Squonk” or “Turn It On Again” or dozens of others to which I could link. He often appears onstage with a mutant multi-neck guitar, one neck strung as a four-string bass, one neck strung a twelve-string acoustic. It’s so wrong, it’s right. Just like a lot of his playing and songwriting.

2. Another thing that serious music geeks aren’t supposed to admit in public is liking Phil Collins-era Genesis more than Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. But I’m here today to say out loud and proud that (some) Phil-era albums get much more ear and heart time in my house than (some) Pete-era albums do. Most of my Genesis listening these days comes from the run of Phil-fronted studio albums starting with A Trick of the Tail (1976) and ending with Abacab (1981), supplemented with a healthy dose of songs from Trespass (1970), which predates the “classic Genesis” lineup of Gabriel, Collins, Rutherford, Tony Banks and Steve Hackett. I certainly like all of those classic era albums, mind you, but I just don’t listen to them very often anymore. I should note as I state this heresy out loud that my love for Phil-era Genesis ends with Abacab, as things go horribly and irrevocably wrong with the first song of the next (self-titled, 1983) album: “Mama.” Ugh, do I not like that song, and ugh, do I not like the overly-slick post-MIDI sound that mars that and all later Genesis albums. But when they were great, they were really great. Duke (1980), in particular, has really risen in my estimation over the years, and it’s clearly the Genesis album that I listen to the most these days. So sue me.

3. Fan surveys routinely and consistently cite the same title when asked to identify the worst Genesis song of all time: “Whodunnit?” from Abacab. But I actually quite like this song, and think it was a far more successful attempt at harnessing post-punk and New Wave edginess than “Mama” was a few years later. Plus, the live version of the song actually featured Mike Rutherford playing drums while Phil Collins sang. It has to be seen to be believed.

4. Okay, while I’m on a roll, here’s another musical heresy, unrelated to Genesis: I adored Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians once upon a time, and I consider their 1986 album Element of Light to easily be one of my all-time favorite records. Robyn made another four albums with the Egyptians (bassist-keyboardist Andy Metcalfe and drummer-vocalist Morris Windsor, who had also played with Hitchcock earlier in cult darling band The Soft Boys) after that one before jettisoning the rhythm section and striking out on a solo career, working with a variety of other musicians in a variety of other configurations over the intervening years. Right around the time he made this switch, I interviewed Hitchcock for a newspaper piece, and asked him why he broke the band up. He chalked it up to growing up and getting older and not needing to have a band of mates who did everything together, sort of writing off the whole idea of being in a fixed/stable band as a musical whimsy of youth. But here’s the rub: I’ve never really liked any of the albums that Hitchcock’s done since then, since I think that the Egyptians rhythm section was as important to the albums I love as Robyn himself was. No one has ever made Hitchcock’s songs sound so good, before or since, so there was a chemistry there that was more than just a bunch of mates hanging out. Happily (for me), in 2012, Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor are working together again in  a new band called Three Minute Tease with singer-guitarist Anton Barbeau and guest performances by members of Stornoway and The Bevis Frond. Here’s the lead single of their eponymous debut album: “Love is Onion.” I highly recommend the record, and consider it superior to anything that the better-known Hitchcock has issued since parting ways with his incredibly talented former musical mates.

5. Is that enough musical heresy? It probably is. Let’s talk books for a second. I don’t read a lot of fiction, and I once categorized my reading habits in an earlier post on another blog thusly:

10% Fiction: Usually I will read new books by the the dozen or so authors I know I already really like. Breaking in new authors is so risky and hard. Why bother, neh?

40% Natural History: Ideally books about bugs, trilobites, fish, or birds, or parasites that live(d) on bugs, trilobites, fish and birds, or things that eat/ate bugs, trilobites, fish or birds, or interesting theories about the ways that bugs, trilobites, fish and birds interact with or influence people. I’m a bugs, trilobites, fish and birds kinda guy, y’know?

40% Music Biography: I have read at least half a dozen full-length books about Genesis, to cite but one example of my vast contemporary rock biography collection. And if someone comes out with a credible new book about Genesis next year, I will read that one too. Because someone has to, right? And it might as well be me.

10% Tales of Human Suffering: People falling off of Mount Everest, going insane in the Arctic because of the toxins in their tinned food, or trying to walk across the Sahara Desert alone will always be welcome in my book collection.

That being said, I did read a work of fiction recently that really moved me: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. He’s one of the few contemporary novelists whose work gets under my skin, and I think this is one of his best books. Go get it and read it, and then lets talk about the ending (with lots of “SPOILER WARNING” alerts for those who haven’t done so yet), okay?

6. Back to music: Public Image Ltd.’s new album, This Is PiL, is absolutely fantastic. John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) is in the best voice I’ve ever heard him, and the band (guitarist Lu Edmonds, bassist Scott Firth and drummer Bruce Smith) just nails a collection of fabulous dubby grooves, carrying the promise of the group’s hugely influential Metal Box (1978) into the 21st Century and beyond. Highly recommended, and a likely fixture on any year-end “Best of 2012” list posted here.

7. There isn’t really a seventh item here. But “Seven Stones” by Genesis is a great song, anyway.

8 thoughts on “Seven Stones

  1. >Fan surveys routinely and consistently cite the same title when asked to identify the worst Genesis song of all time: “Whodunnit?” from Abacab.<

    Worse than "I Can't Dance"? "Hold on My Heart?" "No Son of Mine"? Heresy. (I've also always adored it, from the very first time I heard Abacab 31 years ago…)

  2. Eric, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” is still my favorite Genesis album… but “A trick of the Tail” is a close number two. And”Follow You, Follow Me” is still one of my favorite songs ever. For whatever that’s worth.

    As far as other “un-hip” artists, I’ve recently rediscovered Daryl Hall’s “Sacred Songs.” For those who don’t know the story of that album, it’s worth looking up the Wikipedia entry. I find I like it as much as I did in 1980 when I first heard it.

      • “The Carpet Crawlers” was a mixtape favorite for years, but I’ve recently gone back to “The Colony of Slippermen” for mixtape inclusion. No reason I’ve been able to pin down yet…

        • I also adore “Back in N.Y.C.” (per Rutherford comment above), and “Grand Parade” and “Hairless Heart” are pretty great, too, though they “unweirded” them a bit in the most recent remixes, I think taking off some of the effects that Eno put on. I always forget about “It,” but that’s a great melody with a great Hackett guitar part . . . though being at the end of the album after some of the fluff that follows “Slippermen,” I rarely get all the way to it . . .

  3. Pingback: Nippertown!

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