From Genesis To Revelation
Formed in 1967 from two Charterhouse Public School bands (The Anon and Garden Wall), they recorded some rough demos and sent these to performer and producer Jonathan King, himself a former Charterhouse schoolboy.
King took the band under his wing and arranged for them to be signed to Decca. He gave them the Genesis name and recorded a couple of singles from the demos, which were released in 1968. Although both decent stabs at flower power pop, they sank without trace. With the lack of commercial success, Chris Stewart left the band to continue his education. (He later had success of his own with a number of best selling books about his life in Spain). His place behind the drum kit was taken by John Silver.
Despite the commercial failure of the singles, King booked some studio time during the bands summer holidays to record a full album. Released in 1969, " From Genesis To Revelation" is a keyboard heavy debut with lush orchestration. It was an ambitious attempt and very much influenced by the psychedelic pop so popular at this time. How much input the band had in its conception is, however, debatable. It is known that the band deliberately wrote songs in the style of one of Kings favourite bands, The Bee Gees, to ensure his continued support. The most obvious reference point is The Moody Blues with echoes of early Pink Floyd. What is clear however, is Gabriel’s voice. Bearing in mind they were schoolboys, his voice was instantly recognisable, strong and assured. As a debut, it stood up remarkably well with a number of potential “hits”. Had Decca not lost interest in the band, who knows?
After the commercial failure of the album (rumours have it that it sold just a few hundred copies), the band decamped to a cottage to write and rehearse. Now released from their contract with Decca, they were free to take their time to find their own sound. By now John Silver had left and John Mayhew became yet another of the band’s drummers. The result was a much more confident group who were quickly picked up by a new label, Charisma. The first album for the new label was "Trespass" (1970). Although a somewhat patchy affair, it contained some of the elements that would later become trademarks, particularly the standout last track "The Knife", which soon became a firm live favourite for many years. Having to tour the album did not suit Phillips who suffered from stage fright so he left, along with -surprise surprise - the drummer. Their replacements, Steve Hackett and Phil Collins joined to become what many people believe to be the classic Genesis line up.
The next album, released in 1971, "Nursery Cryme", was a big step forward and established the Genesis sound with tracks like "The Return Of The Giant Hogweed" and another long lasting live favourite, "Musical Box" However, once again the album failed to sell in large quantities. Their live shows were gaining much media attention, most notably for Gabriel’s many and varied costume changes and surreal song intros. They were building up an ever growing and loyal following. The big breakthrough came the following year with the release of "Foxtrot". Their first chart album, it reached the dizzy heights of number 12. Music and performance came together brilliantly. A virtuoso group performance, each track allowed members the opportunity to showcase their considerable musical ability. Once again Gabriel was the centre point for the live shows. The massive 24 minute long "Supper’s Ready" closed most of their performances and climaxed with him changing into a flying angel after a giant thunder flash. Now under the management of label boss Tony Stratton-Smith, they were ready to have a crack at the States and toured in late 1973. Always popular on the continent, sell out tours around Europe followed and a live album was released which made the UK Top 10 and just crept into the US Top 100. Despite the busy schedule, they found time to record the next album "Selling England By The Pound", which gave the band their highest chart placing in both the UK and US so far. Perhaps lyrically inferior to "Foxtrot", musically the band were on a spectacular high. The album is notable for producing Genesis first chart single, "I Know What I Like", and for having one track with vocals from Phil Collins - a sign of things to come! After years of hard work, their popularity was sealed and with the next album, super stardom was awaiting.
This album was the 1974 release, "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway". A double concept album it told the tale of Rael and his journey to find freedom and identity. A collection of shorter songs joined by lengthy instrumentals, it was the arch typical prog rock album and showcased the band at its musical peak. The shorter tracks resulted in a couple of well-received singles ("Counting Out Time" and "Carpet Crawlers") and a couple of tracks produced by Brian Eno. The stage shows for the world tour were spectacular with innovative lighting and many set and costume changes. After performing the show over 100 times and seemingly on a steady upward path to even greater success, the bombshell came in mid 1975. Gabriel was unhappy with the band and left for “personal reasons”. To most this marked the end of the group. After all, wasn’t Gabriel the vocal, visual and spiritual centre of the band? If the remaining members thought this, it must have been only briefly for pretty soon they were auditioning for a new vocalist (rumour has it that nearly 400 hopefuls were tried out). No one proved satisfactory and drummer Phil Collins took over as lead vocalist.
To ensure they maintained as much momentum as possible, two albums were quickly released in 1976. Remarkably, they proved to be their most successful yet. "Trick Of The Tail" went to number 3 and "Wind and Wuthering" number 7 in the UK, while both reached the US top 30. The decision to have Collins as lead singer proved to be inspired. They continued touring to sell-out crowds with Bill Bruford then Chester Thompson taking the drum seats while Collins carried out his vocal duties. After the recording of the live album with this line up, "Seconds Out" in 1977, guitarist Steve Hackett decided to leave to concentrate on his thriving solo career. Flushed with the success of the last time this happened, once again the band looked to within to fill the gap. Up stepped Mike Rutherford to play lead in addition to his role as bass guitarist. This prompted the title of the 1978 release "And Then There Were Three". Astonishingly, the smaller the band the bigger the success. The hits kept on coming. "And Then There Were Three" went top three while the next 4 albums, "Duke" in 1980, "Abacab" in 1981, "Genesis" in 1983 and "Invisible Touch" in 1986, all went to the top of the UK charts and top 10 in the States. Another live album, released in 1982, "Three Sides Live", reached no 2 in the UK. For a band that started out bathed in psychedelia they became the very definition of Prog Rock. Their success with singles is remarkable, with in excess of 15 top twenty hits in the UK, and many more in the US. They continued to tour the world using session musicians to bolster live performances and were established as one of the world’s top bands.
With all group members involved in non-Genesis work, it would be a whole five years before a new Genesis album was released. "We Can't Dance" continued the success; topping both the UK and US charts and featuring 5 hit singles.
In 1996 Phil Collins announced he too would be leaving the band. The most successful of the band as a solo performer, he would now be concentrating on his solo work and various film projects. It was also reported that he was suffering with hearing problems and would be reluctant to tour.
Surprisingly, Banks and Rutherford continued as Genesis. The old trick of doing it all themselves would not work this time and after a long search to recruit a new vocalist, they decided on Ray Wilson, the ex lead singer of Stiltskin. They recorded just one album with this line up, the 1997 release "Calling All Stations". Successful in Europe but not in the all-important American market, they were forced to cancel a planned tour of the States. Wilson was sacked shortly after and the whole band operation went on hold.
In 1999 the “classic” line up reunited to record a new version of "Carpet Crawler" for inclusion on the "Turn It On Again - Hits" compilation. This prompted much speculation over the band reforming and continued until 2007 when Banks, Rutherford and Collins surprisingly announced a new tour. This was hoped to have been a full reunion but neither Gabriel nor Hackett was able to commit to the dates and in June 2007 just the three, along with live show regulars Daryl Stuermer and Chester Thompson commenced the Turn It On Again world tour. This took in over 50 arena-sized dates and inevitably saw the release of yet another live album with DVD.
It is unlikely any new material will be recorded and that’s how it is left with Genesis. In every interview the three are always asked if a full reunion of the classic line up will ever happen. The answer is always, “Never say never”, and this is why you will always see old Genesis fans with their fingers crossed.
Genesis was a strange band. Despite a privileged start and a lot of early luck, they never seemed to be resented or hated by their peers, public or press unlike many other bands of their type. The legacy they leave behind is of a overtly British band conveying eccentricity and weirdness. Their early work remains a lasting example of all that was good about Prog Rock. The later period shows that even sitting at Rock’s top table, they were never afraid to take a chance or two and were comfortably at home as either an album or singles band.
If we have seen the last of Genesis, we should celebrate their success. They are one of the top 30 selling bands of all time. The works individuals have produced outside the band have also been outstanding. Peter Gabriel remains a highly respected artist after releasing a number of successful albums, singles and influential videos. While his stage shows are as ambitious as ever. He is the founder of the WOMAD world music festival. Mike Rutherford formed Mike And The Mechanics in 1985 to great success having hit albums and singles including the poignant "Living Years". Tony Banks has composed much music for films and TV and continues to release solo recordings. His value to Genesis has probably been underrated over the years. Steve Hackett has released dozens of solo albums, formed the prog rock super-group GTR and is cited as an influence to many guitarists such as Brian May and Eddie Van Halen. And Phil Collins, the most successful of them all, as singer, songwriter, actor, film theme song composer etc. etc. With many hit singles and albums all over the world, he is one of the biggest artists on the planet.
We should celebrate their uniqueness and remember them with affection.
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