When last we left our heroes, they were down one member (Slipperman reference intended). Would they pack it in or soldier on?
Turns out they had no intention of breaking up. In October of 1975, Genesis reconvened at Trident Studios in London and hammered out a couple new songs right away. They started the audition process for new singers, seeing almost 400 people. They’d play the new material, and Phil would sing the guide vocal for the new guy to follow.
It became evident after a laborious process that no one they’d seen was up to the task, so Collins asked if he could have a go. As would seem obvious to any outside observer, he was perfect for the job. He agreed to front the band as long as he could still play drums. Done and done.
A Trick of the Tail (1976)
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The results of the Trident sessions and Collins’ first stab at “lead voice” was this masterpiece. Pre-release press had the band all but dead, but after Trick‘s release, the headlines read “Peter who?” It sold better than all of their other releases combined. 1976 was a banner year for progressive music and Trick is one of the pinnacles of the progressive era.
The band is supertight right from the start (“Dance On A Volcano” [download]) and Tony Banks especially is in top form as a player and composer, from the tricky 6/8 bridge in “Robbery, Assault, & Battery” to the vast expanse of “Mad Man Moon” (download). Collins fills Gabriel’s shoes ably, while pairing with Rutherford to power the rhythm section.
Hackett makes some of his strongest contributions, providing both solos and texture. He had a keen sense of how and when to use effects to fill out the sound, and rarely missed here.
Some of the material, like the title track, retains the twee Englishness that characterizes prog, but the playing is unimpeachable. Closer “Los Endos” even includes a fond sendoff to Gabriel, on whose solo records most of Genesis would appear over the years.
Wind and Wuthering (1977)
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Right off the tour, Genesis re-entered the studio for this follow-up. It’s much more wistful than Trick. Even the album covers Á¢€” Trick‘s warm yellow vs. Wind‘s cold gray Á¢€” point to the contrast. The songs have a hard, wintery feel.
Though the sound hadn’t changed much from Trick, the presence of three instrumentals points to the rushed nature of the recording process. Even with the rush, Banks was really feeling his oats, writing two songs by himself Á¢€” live favorites “One For The Vine” (download) and “Afterglow” Á¢€” and co-writing most of the others. Hackett, on the other hand, was feeling left out as Banks and Rutherford continued to get the best spots on the record despite Steve having released the only solo album (Voyage of the Acolyte). Still, the opening to his co-written “Blood On The Rooftops” (download), a mournful anti-TV number, is so good, he plays it to this day.
Wind is by no means a bad record, paling only in comparison to its predecessor. The four-piece really understood how to play together, but the band’s subject matter had by this point become esoteric. Songs delved into a failed Scottish uprising (“Eleventh Earl of Mar”) and a cat’s pursuit of a mouse (“All In A Mouse’s Night”). It also featured their second semi-hit single “Your Own Special Way,” which they performed on the Mike Douglas TV show! Though they may not have realized it, this love song pointed the way toward the band’s future.
The ensuing tour saw them playing stadia at home and abroad, even taking in South America. With ex-Zappa drummer Chester Thompson on the kit, Collins matured into an engaging frontman, replacing Gabriel’s mysterious theatricality with a good-natured “Bob’s your uncle” fellowship that would serve him well.
Spot the Pigeon (1977)
A three-song EP of outtakes from the Wind sessions, this is Hackett’s swan song. His playing on “Inside & Out” (download) is lyrical and powerful. The whimsical “Pigeons” (download), on the other hand, shows the direction the band would soon take Á¢€” light pop with a bit of the storytelling remaining.
It’s available as one of those LP-style CDs the Japanese companies are so fond of issuing, but two of the three songs are available on the second ARCHIVE BOX SET, and the missing track, “Match of The Day,” is no great loss. The EP title & cover are puns on a popular British newspaper contest.
Seconds Out (1977)
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The Genesis that recorded this live album in Paris at the end of their ’77 tour were completely different from the one that recorded Live. They no longer had to struggle for an audience, and as a result, Seconds Out is smoother, less hungry. It relies instead on power and precision.
Sadly, there’s little of Collins’ personality on display Á¢€” just accurate renderings of songs from Wind back through Nursery Cryme. You can hear Phil’s love of drumming on the lone ’76 recording, “The Cinema Show” (download). The band stretches out a bit on “I Know What I Like” (download), even interpolating a riff from Trespass‘ “Stagnation” for the old fans. Mostly, though, this is a sop for fans who might’ve wondered how Phil sounded singing Peter’s songs. Pretty darn good, actually.
Steve Hackett’s absence at the mixing sessions for the album rendered Genesis a trio. The band were strong enough at this point that the question of shutting down was never even raised. To this day, Hackett seems the poor cousin of the band’s membership Á¢€” part of the “main five” but not hugely successful in his own right, and not for lack of talent or skill. Seconds Out is a fine exit for him.
And Then There Were Three: (1978)
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Most old-school Genesis fans point to this album as the beginning of the “decline,” by which they mean the beginning of wild success. With the band as a trio, each member could concentrate on his specialty, Rutherford taking on all stringed instruments. They were also ready to move past the 7-10 minute songs to try compressing ideas into a more pop-oriented length.
The album is a hodgepodge, with hit single “Follow You Follow Me” (download) and quick-moving “Deep In The Motherlode” (download) offset by the lugubrious “Say It’s Alright Joe” and pedestrian “The Lady Lies.” They’d obviously not gotten their feet under them quite yet, and it’s the worst album of their progressive period.
Blah blah effect of punk blah blah Á¢€” they headlined the Knebworth Festival (with Daryl Stuermer spelling Rutherford on guitars & bass) after this album came out, so Johnny, Sid, Joe & Mick couldn’tve done them too much harm.
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1979 was an off year for Genesis. As Phil Collins attempted in vain to save his marriage, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford released successful solo albums. Reconvening late in the year, they began work on their follow-up to And Then.
Both Banks and Rutherford had begun to focus their compositions to the four-minute mark, and Collins began to write songs unlike any the band had done before, full of heartbreak and betrayal. Even the underbaked production (“Man Of Our Times,” “Heathaze”) can’t diminish the strength of the songs. One of them, “Misunderstanding” (download), was a big hit.
The music the band wrote together, especially the first and last sections, is dynamic in a way missing since Wind. “Behind The Lines” (download) and the “Duke’s End/Duke’s Travels” finale are especially well-composed. They also began to play well as a trio, shaking off the kinks of AND THEN and feeding each other’s strengths. Collins and Rutherford were by this point an ace rhythm section. Rutherford was used to bass and rhythm, not lead, guitar, leaving Tony Banks more room for keyboards.
Duke recorded the last great throes of the Genesis beloved by fans of Selling England, but it was really the beginning of the third Genesis era.
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The seeds of the next big change for Genesis were planted in 1979, when Peter Gabriel asked Phil to work on Peter’s 3rd solo album. The producer was Steve Lillywhite, the engineer Hugh Padgham. Padgham and Collins, both annoyed by the dull drum sound on most records, invented a method to replicate the booming drums heard in a live setting. That method is the “gated drum.” One of the earliest examples is “Biko.” (The ne plus ultra is Frida’s “Something’s Going On,” produced by Collins in the mid-80s.) Collins was so impressed by Padgham that he asked Hugh to co-produce Phil’s first solo album, Face Value, which became a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic.
Collins’ increasing confidence in his songwriting skills coincided with the construction of the band’s own recording studio. With no clock ticking, the band started recording their new album with Padgham as co-producer by jamming a lot more than had been fiscally reasonable before.
Most of Abacab‘s songs are either riff-or-rhythm-based, rather than composed. While that leads to some clunkers like “Like It Or Not” and “Who Dunnit?,” the band locks in on the title track (download), stretching the musical theme out for 7 hard-rocking minutes. The Phoenix Horns from Earth Wind & Fire, guests on Face Value, add spice to the single “No Reply At All” (download).
Abacab is less sophisticated than Duke, more obviously the result of the looser recording process, and a transitional album, from the individual songwriting of Trick through Duke to the collaborative work to come. Collins’ increased participation in songwriting and the introduction of R&B into the mix alienated many older fans, who saw Genesis moving down a less progressive, more “pop” road, and they jumped ship. The band would have to comfort themselves with the love of millions of new fans.
Three Sides Live (1982)
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Cries of “Sellout” and “Rael Lives” T-shirts greeted the band on their biggest tour ever, from which they released this souvenir. “Abacab” is a little longer, “Misunderstanding” gets an extended breakdown, and “In The Cage” segues nicely into “Afterglow,” but there’s not much here worth having.
There are two interesting things about Three Sides:
1) The US & UK versions were different. The US edition featured an LP side of outtakes from the DUKE and Abacab sessions, including “Paperlate” (download). In the UK, the band had released most of those songs on the 3 X 3 EP, so the album had a fourth side of live material from the three tours preceding Abacab, including a ripping version of “The Fountain Of Salmacis” (download) from Knebworth ’78. Most of the songs on the US Side 4 wound up on the second Archive set, and the remastered CD edition of Three Sides features the UK live tracks but misindexes them horribly, cutting one in half and smooshing the other two into one track. Caveat emptor.
2) The band released a videotape from the tour. It features roughly the same songs as the album, with different performances. Thus began the trend of releasing a concert video with each tour, so you can see the spectacle increase in size as years go by.
Genesis toured briefly for Three Sides Live, playing old favorites and even hauling out “Supper’s Ready.” The most important concert of the tour took place October 2, 1982, when they reunited with Peter Gabriel at Milton Keynes. The show, which included material from the Gabriel era only (plus “Turn it On Again” with Gabriel on drums), picked up the financial slack of the first WOMAD Festival. Even Steve Hackett joined in by night’s end. The show was a fitting conclusion to the band’s prog rock legacy.
Genesis had graduated from second-tier progressives to hit single makers. Do you think that might affect their work in the years to come?