From Genesis To Revelation – Part One

[Parts Two and Three follow immediately.]

When Genesis released Calling All Stations in 1997 it was almost thirty years since the release of their first single, “The Silent Sun” b/w “That’s Me,” on British Decca (F 12735).   Like the single, their latest album is basically pop music. But for a time – most of the Seventies – Genesis was on a very progressive trip, and setting new standards in stage presentations. There are now scores of bands scattered over the world who aspire to play Genesis-like music, and at least one – Marillion – which became successful by copying Genesis.

Genesis started out as two separate bands formed in the middle sixties at Charterhouse Public School (in fact, a British private school) – The Anon and The Garden Wall.   The Anon played Beatles and Rolling Stones covers, and had among its members Anthony Phillips (lead guitar) and Michael Rutherford (rhythm guitar). (Another member was vocalist Richard MacPhail, who headed up Genesis’ road crew later.)   The Garden Wall was more into flower-power music and was a trio made up of Tony Banks (piano), Peter Gabriel (vocals) and Chris Stewart (drums). 

In July 1966 The Anon were decimated by the graduation of MacPhail and their bassist. They continued for a while as a trio, but Phillips and Rutherford also played with The Garden Wall as “The (New) Anon.” This was the core of the first Genesis.

All five of them wanted to be songwriters, and they each viewed their band as simply the vehicle for the performance and exposure of their songs – a “demo” band in effect. They were a "song writing collective" -- not a determined band of eclectic or experimental pioneers. Their goal was never to push the edge of music -- unlike, say, Pink Floyd or King Crimson. That they did do this later (with extended-form works, stage theatrics, etc.) was largely accidental and in service of that original song-writing collective.

As Tony Banks put it, “In Genesis we have always seen ourselves first and foremost as songwriters. We originally started playing only because we could not find anyone else to record our music.”

The (New) Anon made a six track demo of mostly Phillips/Rutherford songs. They sent the tape to a former Charterhouse graduate, Jonathan King, who had already achieved a minor pop stardom and was working at British Decca. King liked what he heard and decided to take the band under his wing. It was he who renamed the group, giving it the name Genesis, in January, 1967.

King took the band into a studio to record a couple more demos, and offered them a five-year recording contract with Decca. But the band’s members were still teenagers, still in school, and their parents objected.   The end result of negotiations was a one-year contract with an additional year’s option. In early 1968 their first two singles were released – the already mentioned “The Silent Sun” and “A Winter’s Tale” b/w “One-Eyed Hound” (Decca F 12775).   While attracting some media attention, neither record sold well. Both are now “extremely rare” and collectible. It was at this point that drummer Chris Stewart left the band to be replaced by John Silver.

Undaunted by the commercial failure of those first two singles, King took the band into Regent Sound Studios during the 1968 summer school vacation to record an album.   Decca had discovered that there was also an American band called Genesis, and tried to get King to change the British band’s name. King refused to do that, but what he did do was to take their name off the album, calling it simply From Genesis To Revelation. The album was released by Decca in 1969 (LK/SLK 4990) in both mono and stereo versions, as was still the practice then. The album was disappointing to the band because King had “sweetened” it with added orchestral accompaniments which he dubbed in later. He apparently wanted to achieve something of the sound the Moody Blues had gotten (with the London Symphony Orchestra) with their Days of Future Past album. He failed to do that, and the album (which has been reissued in many versions on both LP and CD after Genesis achieved their success – some with the early singles as bonus tracks) was a commercial failure as well.

King made one more try, releasing the single, “Where The Sour Turns To Sweet” b/w “In Hiding,” from the album in 1969 (F 12949). It failed to sell and is as a result now quite rare and collectible. Decca allowed their contract to lapse without renewal.

At this point the band was on the point of disbanding. But, all of them now out of school, they decided to go professional – all but Silver, who dropped out.   They found a new drummer in John Mayhew, who answered their ad in Melody Maker.   But they had yet to record the first piece of music which would sound like the Genesis of later fame.

Part Two

Genesis began its existence as a band while its members were still British schoolboys, and recorded its first album during summer vacation from school, in 1968.   The result, From Genesis To Revelation, released by British Decca in 1969, was not a good indication of where the band would go during the Seventies, and was a general disappointment to all concerned.

But upon graduation from Charterhouse Public School, the band decided to go professional.   After gigging in youth and social clubs and colleges, the band went into a retreat in a cottage near Dorking for five months. They spent the time writing songs for their second album and rehearsing their stage act.

In 1998 Genesis released a boxed set, Genesis Archive 1967-75 (4 CD set; Atlantic 82858-2), which on its fourth CD supplies some "missing links" between their jejune first album and their second. The CD starts with the most recent of this material and works its way backwards to some 1967 demos in a total of 20 tracks, the most recent of which are from 1970 (but deservedly missed the cut for their second album).

There are no unreleased gems. Genesis used the best of what they had at the time, and this is the stuff they rightly culled out or later cannibalized bits from when needed. For the most part these are songs with simple piano accompaniments. There are no notable instrumental flourishes, and no Mellotrons. (Genesis bought its first Mellotron from King Crimson -- and apparently Crimson was glad to be rid of it, Mellotrons being notoriously frustrating to play on stage, and that one in particular being difficult to keep in tune.)

Genesis’s stage act was as important as their music at that point in winning over their new audiences. Peter Gabriel, the band’s lead singer, began dressing up in costumes and acting out the parts he sang. Since Genesis’s songs tended to be stories that were often told by odd and engaging characters, Peter’s stage theatrics went over well. Soon he was donning both elaborate costumes and fanciful makeup, and cavorting across stages in the full persona of the songs’ characters. The others in the band stayed in the background, playing their instruments.

They impressed the right person: Tony Stratton-Smith. He owned the small new Charisma label – which featured a record label depiction of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland and called itself “The Famous Charisma Label.”   Charisma had also signed Audience and Van Der Graaf Generator, and was in the process of building up its own reputation as a label.   (Charisma is now owned by Virgin, itself a part of the EMI conglomerate.)

Charisma signed Genesis in March, 1970 and released their second album, Trespass (CAS 1020), later that year. Unlike their first album, this album was released in the United States – by ABC Records on its Impulse subsidiary (AS-9205). Trespass is the first recognizable Genesis album, both in terms of its packaging (a Paul Whitehead cover, the first of three) and its music. Although the music is not as well defined as it would become, it was no longer oriented toward short, simple pop songs.   Nonetheless, sales of the album were not impressive. There were two singles issued from the album.   The first was “Looking For Someone” b/w “Visions of Angels” (GS 1), issued in 1970. The second was a two-part single, “The Knife,” (CB 152) in 1971.   A few copies of the latter were issued in picture sleeves and are now extremely rare and collectible. But neither sold well; Genesis had yet to establish itself with its audience.

After Trespass was recorded guitarist Anthony Phillips and the latest drummer, John Mayhew (their third at that point), both left. Phillips, who did not care for touring, has gone on to release a number of solo albums, but Mayhew virtually disappeared from the scene. Their replacements were Steve Hackett on guitar, and former child stage actor Phil Collins on drums. Steve Hackett had come from the group Quiet World, and keyboard player Tony Banks once told me that most of the material on Hackett's first solo album – recorded after he left Genesis in 1976 – was drawn from material he used to audition for Genesis; Banks was rather dismissive of it, feeling that it wasn't good enough for Genesis to use at the time, but the album was a strong one.   Collins was not only exactly the kind of powerful drummer Genesis needed, but a good singer as well, singing backup behind Gabriel and getting to sing lead once in a while.

Their third album, Nursery Cryme (CAS 1052), was released in 1971 and it revealed a far more confident and mature band, now establishing the style which would become their trademark, and more musically adventurous as well. At this point Charisma began releasing the albums in the United States through the Buddah Records group -- a rather small company itself -- and they were not initially well distributed. Nursery Cryme appeared in the U.S. on an American Charisma label, and used the same catalogue number as the British Charisma release. In 1972 Charisma released another single, “Happy The Man” b/w “Seven Stones” (CB 181); the latter piece was taken from Nursery Cryme, but the A-side was new and destined never to appear on an LP. (It is in the Archive boxed set, however. And this song’s title was used for their name by the late-Seventies American group, Happy The Man, who had two albums on Arista. [This group reformed in the year 2000.]) Again, some copies were released in picture sleeves and are particularly rare and collectible.

The group’s big breakthrough occurred with their fourth album, Foxtrot (CAS 1058), released in 1972. It climbed to #12 in the U.K. album charts. This is the album which presented both the anthemic “Watcher of the Skies,” and the side 2 suite, the 24-minute “Supper’s Ready,” a post-apocalyptic tour-de-force.   “Watcher” makes a heavy use of the Mellotron to create vast foreboding chords.   “Supper’s Ready” is in actuality a suite made up of a number of separate and distinct songs, segued together very effectively. It became a show-stopper when the band performed it live, with Peter Gabriel ascending into the stage’s heavens (on invisible wires) at its stunning conclusion.

Now they had an album to tour with, and they played their first U.S. gig at Brandeis University in Boston and a charity show in New York a couple of days later. After returning to Britain for a headlining tour, with Charisma owner Tony Stratton-Smith taking over as their manager, they returned to the United States for a second and much more extensive tour in November and December of 1973. Back in the U.K. they filled the Drury Lane Theatre for five nights in January, 1974, went on sold-out European tour, and returned to the U.S. for a third tour that spring. All their touring paid off. Word of mouth quickly spread: This was a band to be seen live! Their stage act had to be seen to be believed.

And a live album was the result. Genesis Live (CLASS 1) was recorded during their U.K. tour in Leicester and Manchester, and upon its release in 1973 shot into the U.K. Top Ten.   Their American touring got it a lower place in the U.S. charts – 105. Genesis Live was the final Genesis album to be released in the U.S. through Buddah.

Part Three

After a slow start – neither their second album in 1970, nor their third in 1971 sold very well – Genesis finally clicked with their fourth album, Foxtrot (Charisma CAS 1058), which climbed the U.K. album charts to #12 in 1972. The band also began to tour extensively in Europe and the United States, building up word-of-mouth excitement over their elaborate stage show – in which every song inspired lead singer Peter Gabriel to don a fresh costume and makeup to act it out before the audience. In 1973 Genesis Live (CLASS 1) was released and shot into the British Top Ten.

At this point Charisma’s American alliance with the Buddah Records group – which had been releasing Genesis on the American Charisma label (with the same catalog numbers) – was no longer helpful. Buddah’s distribution was not adequate to meet the new demand for the band’s albums, and was actually hindering their sales in the United States. Charisma owner Tony Stratton-Smith took the label to Atlantic Records. Atlantic was now part of the Warner-Elektra-Atlantic (WEA) corporation, but had maintained its own identity as a label. Atlantic had King Crimson and Yes. Now it got Genesis – by taking over the American Charisma label, at first, and then by directly signing the group to its Atco subsidiary.

When Selling England By The Pound was released later in 1973, it went straight to #3 album in Britain (CAS 1074), and to #70 in the U.S. (FC 6060), an impressive showing in both countries for a band like Genesis. Interestingly, this album was not packaged as a gatefold LP as the previous three had been – except in Italy, where it was released under license by Phonogram (6369 944 A). Like the American and British editions it came with an insert or inner sleeve on which the (English) lyrics are printed in white against a brown background, but the back cover of the Italian edition has a color photo of the group playing live – a curiously indistinct picture which shows no costumes or elaborate staging – and the interior of the gatefold jacket contains Italian translations by Armando Gallo of the lyrics, complete with footnoted explanations of their English puns.

What bothered those who bought the album at the time was that it was a very long (for LP) album, running almost 54 minutes – or nearly 27 minutes on each side. Most LPs ran only 18 to 20 minutes a side. To get this much music on an LP, several compromises were made: it was recorded at a lower overall volume (decreasing the signal-to-noise ratio, making it a noisier record), the inner grooves ran almost to the label, and it was heavily compressed to limit its dynamic range. An attempt was made to use quieter material on the last track of each side, and side one ends with “More Fool Me,” a solo singing spot for Phil Collins, accompanied only by acoustic guitars. But many who bought the album complained that their players skipped on those last inner grooves and it was hard to find a copy which played well.  

Mastering their music on LPs had always been a problem for Genesis, whose prior albums sounded surprisingly low-fidelity. It was not until they were released on CD that one could clearly hear background vocals and details in the music – even though the first generation of Genesis CDs were mastered directly from LP-EQed tapes and were no less dynamically compressed. (“Definitive Edition Remaster”s were released on CD later.)

An edited edition of one of the pieces from Selling England By The Pound, “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” (CB 224) was released as a single in 1974, and gave the group their first British hit single, which peaked at #21.   But collectors prize the single for its B-side, never issued on an album (until the recent 4-CD boxed set, Archive), “Twilight Alehouse.” This piece was first released on a very rare unnumbered one-sided Charisma flexidisc which came free with Zig Zag magazine and was later distributed through the Genesis fan club.

By now Peter Gabriel was growing restive in the group. He fronted it as its lead singer, and it was he who wore the outrageous costumes and makeup onstage, and many punters were crediting him with the band’s music and success, to the dismay of the others in the band. But Gabriel was tired of Genesis and wanted to embark on a separate career of his own. He told the band he wanted to leave and that he wanted to go out on a triumphant note: their best and most ambitious album yet.

That album was to be The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (Charisma CDS 101 in the U.K., Atco SD2-401 in the U.S.), Gabriel’s swan song with Genesis and a double-LP extravaganza. The concept album told the story of a New York City street punk named Rael who is drawn into a netherworld in search of his brother. The band brought in Brian Eno for “Enossification,” or production tweaking and effects. Gabriel came in and overdubbed his vocals on the band’s backing tracks, demanding virtual privacy in the studio, and, according to keyboardist Tony Banks, singing over a number of sections which had been intended to be solely instrumental.  

While the concept was Gabriel’s, all of the band shared in the composition of the music.   Banks has said, “The songs up to and including The Lamb were written by pooling all existing musical ideas, developing these and creating new bits by the group as a whole. This way of writing many people find difficult to understand and will always look for one or two main contributors. However within Genesis this was not the case, the songwriting was credited to Genesis because that's how it was.” 

The Lamb established Genesis as a major rock band. Immediately after the album’s release in November, 1974 they set out on a world tour during which they performed the entire album live 102 times. (One such performance is to be found on the Archive boxed set.) The album charted #10 in Britain and #41 in the United States. But, oddly, the single drawn from the album, “The Carpet Crawlers” b/w “Evil Jam (The Waiting Room live)” did not chart at all.   (Collectors have discovered that the glue used to hold together the Charisma version of the album dissolved with time, and the British editions of the album are now falling apart.)

In May, 1975, at the end of the Lamb tour, Peter Gabriel stunned the rock world by announcing his departure from the group. Many pundits thought the band would collapse without him, and Genesis began looking for a new lead singer. They didn’t need to look far – although they placed advertisements and conducted auditions – because they ultimately settled on Phil Collins, pulling him out from behind the drums to become the new lead vocalist.

With Collins handling both drums and lead vocals the band made A Trick Of The Tail (Charisma CDS 4001 and Atco SD 36-129) which came out in the spring of 1976.   Perhaps galvanized to prove they could succeed without Peter Gabriel, the band created a powerful and successful album, which was extremely well received.   For their live tour they hired former Yes and King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford in March – and although Collins strode the front of the stage as a vocalist, he also had his own drum set near Bruford’s, and they occasionally played drums together. What Collins did not do was to don costumes or makeup. Genesis was playing large theaters and civic center auditoriums now and their early stage theatrics had become less important. Banks of lights replaced the costumes. Bruford left Genesis’s live shows in November, 1976 to meet other commitments, and was replaced by the American drummer, Chester Thompson, who had previously played with Weather Report, Frank Zappa and the Pointer Sisters, among others. Thompson joined Genesis on their subsequent tours.

But A Trick Of The Tail was to be the band’s last high point. They recorded Wind And Wuthering (Charisma CDS 4005 and Atco SD 36-144) in Holland that November, and it seemed to be lacking something. Fans pointed out that Peter Gabriel had taken one dimension of the band with him, leaving it diminished and somehow less eccentric and individual.   The album was released during the Christmas season, and sold over 100,000 copies in its first week of release in England, making it the #1 album – in a time when British record stores traditionally didn’t report sales to the chart-makers, leaving only the band aware of their sales success.

In 1977 the band released only a 13-minute EP, the three-song Spot The Pigeon (Charisma CDS 40 as a 7-inch 45 and Atlantic EP 1800 as a 12-inch 45). It had a rawer sound, perhaps presaging the changes to come.

In September, 1977 Steve Hackett left the group to begin a solo career of his own. Perhaps surprisingly, the band appeared to celebrate his departure by naming their next album …And Then There Were Three… (CDS 4010). Instead of replacing Hackett’s lead guitar, they dispensed with it, functioning as a trio, with Tony Banks playing keyboards, Michael Rutherford playing both bass and guitar, and Phil Collins on drums and vocals. The album had 11 short tracks. It was a full circle: the group had returned to the short pop songs of the sort they’d started with, and abandoned both ambitious music and their position as a leader in the field of progressive rock. (Onstage, Daryl Stuermer joined them on guitar, making them a five-piece group once more.)

Progressive rock experienced a sudden die-back in the late Seventies as punk and New Wave rock achieved dominance and record labels began dropping their progressive groups.   Perhaps Genesis’s move back into mainstream pop was driven by necessity.

Since then Genesis has been a pop act with occasional successes but without distinction. Phil Collins, who had created a parallel solo career for himself in the Eighties, finally left the band in the mid-Nineties.   Mike Rutherford had also achieved minor success with his side-project, Mike & The Mechanics, but he and Banks brought in Ray Wilson on vocals to make 1997’s Calling All Stations, an album which appeared to write finis to Genesis’s career as a band.   Collectors and fans will remember them far better for their Seventies albums, up through A Trick Of The Tail. (29638 bytes)