Who They Are: An English group founded as a songwriters’ collective at the posh Charterhouse School in 1967, before going on to a long critically and commercially successful career with two distinct phases: the “classic era” featuring Peter Gabriel (vocals), Mike Rutherford (bass), Tony Banks (keys), Steve Hackett (guitar), and Phil Collins (drums), and the “pop era” built around a core studio trio of Banks-Rutherford-Collins, supplemented live by Daryl Stuermer (bass-guitar) and Chester Thompson (drums). I saw that latter line-up on their final tour in 2007, and it was utterly brilliant. Genesis are certainly “Prog Royalty,” primarily for their Gabriel-era albums, (they were a Final Four participant in March of the Mellotrons), but they also attained huge pop success in the late ’70s and ’80s, while Gabriel, Collins, Rutherford (with Mike and the Mechanics) and Hackett (with GTR) all achieved major chart success in their solo careers as well. Only founder and one-of-two constant members (along with Rutherford) Tony Banks hasn’t charted significantly as a solo artist, and I think on some plane that’s because he really is the heart and soul of Genesis itself, more so than any of the other members over their long run. The group’s evolution by attrition over the years clearly places Banks’ songwriting and keyboard work as the truly central element of their sound, though I suppose I’d also argue that Rutherford’s often strange bass work and counter-intuitive songwriting skills are a close second in terms of defining their canon, and framing many of my favorite Genesis songs.
When I First Heard Them: I think I was aware of them during their “classic era,” and I acquired Hackett’s debut solo album Voyage of the Acolyte (1975) before he left the group (having learned of its existence from the cool sleeve inserts included by Chrysalis Records in my then-favorite Jethro Tull albums), but my conscious and active introductions to Genesis’ collective work came after Gabriel’s controversial departure and Collins’ ascension to lead vocalist status. I would have certainly heard Gabriel’s first solo hit, “Solsbury Hill,” soon after its release in 1977, and I utterly adored the main band’s first big U.S. chart hit, “Follow You, Follow Me,” which came out in 1978. I think Duke (1980) was the first Genesis album I actually purchased, and then I acquired Peter Gabriel’s epic third solo record soon thereafter. I’ve written here before about how hearing Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” on WBRU (Providence, Rhode Island) for the first time in 1981 was one of the most mind-blowing and transformational radio experiences I’ve ever had, as much of an over-played cliche as that song has since become, alas. Those purchases and experiences led me to explore Genesis’ back catalog, which contains many gems, and also to stay abreast of their work going forward. I consider Abacab (also 1981) to be their last truly great album, though there are some nice things to be found here and there on the records they released after that. I also, for the record, think that Phil Collins has really gotten a raw deal in the decades since then when it comes to public perception of and reception to his work. As was the case with, say, The Bee Gees post-Saturday Night Fever, or INXS post-Kick, his truly amazing career to date was somehow erased and undone when the era that marked his greatest commercial success suddenly became uncool, and he was deemed the poster child for its perceived affronts. I can’t defend Phil’s complicated and tabloid-worthy personal life, but I’ll go to the mat to defend his music through the late ’80s, and to declare him as a really important player, writer and singer through progressive rock’s finest moments, with his own band, as a solo artist, and in a significant number of session and support roles, where his formidable skills as a drummer were deployed by likes of such critical darlings as Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, John Cale and even Peter Gabriel himself, with Phil crafting the genre-changing drum sounds of Peter’s extraordinary third album.
Why I Love Them: My answers to this question will likely offend the sensibilities of most “normal” Genesis fans at this point, as the things I love the most are largely outside of the core collection of “classic era” albums that, from a critical orthodoxy standpoint, define what’s generally considered to be their best work. Sure, “Supper’s Ready” from 1972’s Foxtrot is amazing, but these days I am rarely willing to put in the 23 minutes required to hear the whole thing. (If they’d released the “Apocalypse in 9/8 [Co-Starring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchet]/”As Sure as Eggs Is Eggs [Aching Men’s Feet]” segments as a shorter standalone edit single, that bit could have topped my personal chart). When I look at the Genesis songs that I have played most often since 2008, when I acquired my first iPod and was able to track music that way, the cuts that score highest are from their first two Anthony Phillips-era albums (before Collins and Hackett joined), from Gabriel’s final album with the group (1974’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway), and from the second to fifth albums of the Philisis era (1976’s Wind and Wuthering through Abacab in 1981). I suspect that if you search online for other music lovers and writers who have completed “Best Genesis Songs” lists over the decades, you will not find a lot of overlap with the list I cite below. So when I think about what it is that I most adore about Genesis’ work, it does tend to come down to the best elements that the pop-era trio offered: sweeping, evocative keyboard washes and leads from Banks, odd blompy bass work from Rutherford, and interesting rhythmic fare and emotional voice work from Collins, both as a lead singer, and as a crucial backing vocalist during the Gabriel era. Sure, Hackett and Gabriel added their own distinctively amazing touches during their time with the group, but those are gravy to me, not the heart of the musical meal itself. And with that as preamble, here’s the Genesis banquet I’d prepare for my own gustatory pleasures, conventional taste expectations be damned.
#10. “Looking for Someone” from Trespass (1970)
#9. “Follow You Follow Me” from . . . And Then There Were Three . . . (1977)
#8. “Dodo/Lurker” from Abacab (1981)
#7. “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)
#6. “Keep It Dark” from Abacab (1981)
#5. “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” from Selling England by the Pound (1973)
#4. “Back in N.Y.C.” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)
#3. “Behind the Lines” from Duke (1980)
#2. “The Carpet Crawlers” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)
#1. “Afterglow” from Wind and Wuthering (1976)