As a relatively recent convert to the works of classic British rock outfit Genesis I’ve tasked myself with giving an overview of the albums that have impacted me most. As I mentioned in Part One, the period where Steve Hackett was on lead guitar is my favourite stage in the band’s diverse history.
I’ve picked one pre and one post Hackett album, alongside the six albums he appeared on, to help give a snapshot of the band’s most essential work. Apart from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway they are all on Spotify, if that’s your streaming preference. I’ve tried to pick out my three standout tracks and one to potentially skip from each album too, for anyone pressed for time or with only a casual interest. So, without further ado here are the eight Genesis albums I’d point you towards.
Genesis’ second album features Gabriel, Banks, Rutherford, original guitarist Anthony Phillips and the band’s third drummer John Mayhew. Phillips is an excellent guitarist (check out his solo work too) and on their sophomore outing the band starts to show signs of what an exciting, innovative and spellbinding band they are becoming. Looking for someone is a great opener, with a delicate intro and an excellent demonstration of Gabriel’s fragile vocal style. White Mountain showcases their storytelling skills and sense of a journey within their songs, both musically and narratively. Visions of Angels follows a similar process with added choral elements harkening back to their debut record. Album closer The Knife is often cited as the best example of what comes next for the band, but in many ways it’s Stagnation that sums up the seventies era Genesis vibe best. Stagnation changes mood and pace, has a long keyboard section that builds up to a soundscape and some poetic Gabriel lyrics. The Knife is rightly popular though and a big hit live, with its marching rhythm and bigger electric guitar sound. Trespass is the opposite of the usual second album syndrome and a big step forward, but it’s just the tip of the musical iceberg.
Three killer tracks – Looking for someone. Stagnation. The Knife.
Skip one track – Visions of Angels (only if you really must)
Most likely to make you want to – spend the day frolicking in a meadow.
The Hackett years
The addition of Steve Hackett gave the band a different sound than the equally talented Phillips, but it was Phil Collins taking over on drums that really helped the band find their feet, creating a formidable rhythm section with Mike Rutherford. For me, this was the first of their masterpieces, even if founder member Tony Banks has referred to it as their weakest.
The Musical Box is the perfect album opener, helping to establish the specific sound synonymous with this line-up. Return of the Giant Hogweed, much like The Knife, shows how much rockier they can go. It also shows how a story song doesn’t have to be twee or quaint, as this builds from psychedelia to a majestically orchestral feel. Seven Stones is gentle and disarming and quite delightful as a result. And another story song Harold the Barrel shows the band’s humorous side, but without sacrificing the quality of the music and arrangement. The album ends just as strongly as it began, as The Fountain of Salmacis is a breathtaking collection of sounds.
I think this album is pretty perfect, the sequencing is excellent, every band member is doing something wonderfully beguiling. Its one of a small handful of albums I like that feels like it was grown rather than produced. The vocals are as phenomenal and as multi layered as the music, helping make this one of my favourite albums of all time. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up from start to finish on this album and as the run time is under forty minutes there’s no real excuse to skip anything.
Three killer tracks – The Musical Box, Return of the Giant Hogweed, The Fountain of Salmacis.
Skip one track – For Absent Friends (only if you really must)
Most likely to make you want to – start your own prog band.
From the moment Watcher of the Skies begins, you know you are in for another treat and the addition of King Crimson’s old mellotron to the band’s musical arsenal adds a new dimension to their sound. Once again this is a band at the height of its powers, showing what it is capable of.They have a real knack of picking the right song to open with and this really sets the tone. I wasn’t sure about the vocals at first and how they never quite sit within the melody but that’s part of what creates the unsettling mood this tracks seems to be aiming for.
Time Table is charming, gentle and thoughtful with one of Peter’s best vocal performances. Lyrically it feels as poignant now as ever too. Get ’em out by Friday is a quintessentially English character based story. It’s easy to dismiss that kind of song, but this one ebbs and flows wonderfully and the music is as vital as Gabriel’s impassioned vocal. Far more subtle and intricate than the first few listens might suggest, a piece of pure theatre. Can-utility and the Coastliners is playful and quintessentially prog, with keyboard and guitar moments underpinned by a super tight bass and drum combo. Supper’s Ready is rightly hailed as a multi faceted eccentric classic of this or any genre, essentially a suite of multiple songs but it’s very much worth exploring. In one song it epitomises seventies Genesis and all the elements that make this period of their recording career so vital and inspiring. Overall not quite as immediate as its predecessor for me, quieter and more contemplative, but still superb.
Three killer tracks – Supper’s Ready. Ok, so this is one song, but it’s a masterpiece with seven parts that takes up the whole of side two so you’ll need to put 23 minutes aside for it.
Skip one track – Horizons (once again, only if you really must)
Most likely to make you want to – listen to more Genesis.
Here is the proof that Genesis were capable of releasing three absolute classic albums in a row, something many highly rated bands never managed to achieve. This album has some of Genesis’s best songs on it in my opinion and I can’t think of many better album openings than Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, as often was the case with Genesis at this time. In fact this is among the strongest opening three songs on any album I can think of, all very different, but working together to create a very complete sound, a masterclass in sequencing. And the intro to Firth of Fifth makes me glad to be alive to have heard it, that song is another masterpiece, among my favourite songs by any artist ever. Each listen I get drawn into another aspect, notice something new and that’s after many, many listens. It’s my kind of song, long instrumental passages, a range of emotions, lots of different sounds working together and plenty of light and shade. It’s muscular and unstoppable at times and fragile and almost about to break at others. The rest of the album maintains that height bar, from the slow introspection of Phil sung More fool me, the theatrical storytelling of Battle of Epping Forest, the exquisitely delicate instrumental After the Ordeal and then it’s hairs on the back of the neck time again. The Cinema Show is another song that sits near the top of the Genesis tree, beautifully crafted, intelligent and thoughtful. The keyboard solo on this track is superb. Aisle of Plenty is the second part of the same suite and it’s the perfect way to bring the album to a close, pulling together the musical and lyrics themes that run through the album.
I love the use of every single instrument on this album and the sounds used, in stark contrast to some of the later albums when the technology push of the 80s removes a layer of authenticity. Overall this one pushes Nursery Cryme close as my favourite of their albums. But these three albums in a row ready do take some beating.
Three killer tracks – Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, Firth of Fifth, The Cinema Show.
Skip one track – More fool me (a fine little song, suffers purely by comparison with the other songs on the album, its far better than similar songs that come later)
Most likely to make you want to – register to vote.
A double concept album, creatively lead lyrically by Peter Gabriel and his swan-song from the band. A recent purchase, this is the album from my favourite period that I’ve listened to the least. Compared to what went before there are more vocals at times and not as much room for the music to breathe. The music feels like it served the lyrics rather than the other way round on this album, that feels like a first.
It’s more aggressive and rockier at times than previous albums. If Gabriel was disappointed with mankind before, now he’s angry and upset. The mirror he had been holding up to England now shifted to America, but with less fantastical allegories and more emotional weight. From the rock swagger of Counting out Time and Back in NYC to the Pink Floyd style experimental soundscapes of The Waiting Room and The Colony of Slippermen. Carpet Crawlers is one of my favourite Genesis songs and is a massive ear-worm too. The Chamber of 32 doors is Gabriel at his most vulnerable, a moving end to the first side or first act and songs like Anyway and Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats are heartbreaking.
In some ways their most complete work, not a note feels wasted, it’s arguably the most taut of the Seventies albums even as a double album, although side two is slightly overstretched. I’d say it is simultaneously the most experimental and most accessible seventies album in equal measure. For me, it’s by far the most emotional tonally and in no small part because it’s Gabriel’s farewell too.
Three killer tracks – Back in NYC, Carpet Crawlers, The Lamia.
Skip one track – Here comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist (but try not to, its a concept album!)
Most likely to make you want to – read the sleeve notes.
I can’t imagine what it was like being a Genesis fan and putting this album on for the first time in 1976, mixed with excitement and trepidation for the first post Gabriel album.
The first few bars of Dance on a volcano very quickly makes you realise this is a return to the pre-Lamb sound. It does however take some time to get used to Phil singing all the songs, not just some of them. His voice doesn’t always quite work on the faster tracks, but this song in particular still packs the same punch as similar tracks on earlier albums. The spooky deep voice spoken line ‘let the dance begin’ reminds you that the quirky otherworldly qualities within the band’s sound didn’t all come from Gabriel.
Collins’ voice perfectly suits Ripples, a mesmerising, gently haunting song and another one of my favourites. A trick of the tail is a really endearing track too, it pulls you in really effectively and balances the change of direction while maintaining the band’s established vibe. Los Endos is a bold way to close, a big percussive instrumental piece that brings the whole album together in symphonic style, revisiting refrains from other tracks. I saw it played live at the Steve Hackett show recently and it blew me away. Overall, this album stands shoulder to shoulder with what went before.
Three killer tracks – Dance on a volcano, Ripples, Los Endos.
Skip one track – Entangled.
Most likely to make you want to – imagine Peter Gabriel singing all these songs, apart from Ripples.
This was the Hackett era album that it took me longest to get into and as Hackett himself felt many of his contributions were overlooked in favour of Tony Banks’s compositions that could explain why. Or it could be that I read that first, so came to the album with some of my own expectations. I came to this album with too many preconceptions and wrote it off as fey. I was very wrong and seeing Steve Hackett and his band perform most of it live made me realise how much.
Big, impactful opening song, check. Eleven Earl of Mar means Genesis does it again. This is one of the best Collins vocals era songs, full stop. Plenty of contrasting moods in the music and a really driving Rutherford bassline. One for Vine is another example of Phil’s voice working perfectly with the feel of the track, delicate and haunting, with powerful lyrics, this is a beautiful song and another reminder of what this group of musicians was capable of writing and performing forty years ago! Your own special way starts well, but the chorus is one of my least favourite pre 80s moments and I often wonder where the song could have gone if they’d changed it up at 1’23” rather than descending into cheesy bland ballad territory. The non chorus parts are ok, if a little empty, but it’s still better than some of the 80s/90s songs with a similar tempo. Wot Gorilla? is good fun, a madcap instrumental teeming with personality. In a mouse’s night which starts well then meanders, but Blood on the Rooftops lifts things again, another clever song with interesting lyrics and its own distinct feel. A sumptuous slow gentle build up and then it hits hard before returning to its starting point. Putting two instrumentals in a row is a bold move, before Afterglow ties it all up with a bow.
Wistful and thought provoking, it has a lighter touch than the albums that preceded it and aside from a couple of tracks, it maintains the high standard from before. Like much of Genesis’ work, it’s very good in the studio, but goes stratospheric when played live.
Three killer tracks – Eleventh Earl of Mar, One for the vine, Blood on the rooftops.
Skip one track – Your own special way (ew, that chorus…)
Most likely to make you want to – watch recent Steve Hackett live shows on YouTube.
If you’ve read the first half of this article, then this choice may be a surprising one. but it’s driven largely by nostalgia. Most people tend to choose Duke as the highpoint of the three-man version of Genesis, but I gravitate to this album because it’s the one I’ve known the longest. Mama was the first ever Genesis song I heard and I really liked it, it was confident, aggressive and very different to anything else I was hearing on the radio. I was nine at the time and that lead me to borrow the album on cassette from my brother. Before Invisible Touch made me get Collins solo songs and Genesis confused and before We Can’t Dance made me consider them to be extremely uncool, I loved this album. My only real issue with it now, aside from it lacking some of the ingenuity of the earlier prog driven albums, is the use of squelchy synthesiser sounds and electronic pigeon street style drums. This album, and those that follow, have far too much of both for my current tastes. That’s All is a perfect slice of pop, the strongest of that kind of song from them and Beyond the Silver Rainbow is the best song I’ve ever heard that I think is about multiple orgasms. It’s a pale imitation of the prog classics, but still has lots to offer.
Essential tracks – Mama, That’s all, Beyond the silver rainbow.
Skip one track – Taking it all too hard.
Most likely to make you want to – call me a hypocrite! (and know which era of Genesis is for you).
I implore you to give all this albums a listen and Steve Hackett’s first solo album Voyage of the Acolyte too, I think you’ll be pleased you did. I’d love to hear what you think if you do give Genesis a go.
In the spirit of completeness, here is the full studio album chronology.
In the spirit of completeness, here is the full studio album chronology.
From Genesis to Revelation (1969) Jonathan King managed choral Bee Gees vibe, little hints of what follows.
Nursery Cryme (1971)
Selling England by the Pound (1973)
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)
A Trick of the Tail (1976)
Wind & Wuthering (1976)
…And Then There Were Three… (1978) – definitely not a case of no Hackett required, a little repetitive and crying out for more guitar flourish.
Duke (1980) – Step one towards all out pop, would love to hear it with more guitar and less ballads as there are some very good songs on this one.
Abacab (1981) – Some engaging art rock moments, but too big a shift in style overall towards Collins solo output.
Invisible Touch (1986) – Feels like a bland Phil Collins solo album in the most part, not for me.
We Can’t Dance (1991) – two of the singles are passable, the rest is mainly MOR, Collins solo feel stuff. Very forgettable as a result.
Calling All Stations (1997) – The change of singer (Ray Wilson from Stiltskin) adds a new dimension, particularly on slower songs but hotel cabaret keyboard sounds and soft rock tendencies hold it back.