Genesis is unique in being one of the most influential prog rock bands in the
history of music, and at the same time enjoying house-hold-name mainstream
success in the pop market.
Genesis sold a stunning 100 and 150 million albums in total, with a string of
number-one albums and top-ten hit singles during the eighties and early
The history of Genesis can be divided in two distinct periods. Following the
departures of singer Peter Gabriel in 1975 guitarist Steve Hackett in August 1977, the remaining three members, singer and drummer Phil Collins, bassist and guitarist Michael Rutherford, and keyboardist Tony Banks, shifted musical direction.
While remaining loyal to the band’s prog rock roots, they started to write
shorter, catchier songs, with more straightforward structures. The result was
enormous commercial success on a scale that dwarfed what the band had
In this blog we focus on the ten years first years of Genesis, from its
foundation in 1967 to the departure of Steve Hackett in 1977, and we look at
exactly what made the band one of the most successful and influential
exponents of the prog rock genre. In a second blog we will examine what
could be called the prog pop era of Genesis, and how the band managed to
achieve household-name success.
The origins of Genesis are as un-rock ‘n roll as it gets. Famously, the band
was formed at Charterhouse, an independent boarding school for 13-to-18-
year-olds in Surrey, southern England. In this posh and prestigious
environment, Michael Rutherford, guitarist Antony Phillips, Peter Gabriel, Tony
Banks and drummer Chris Stewart formed the band The New Anon. It was
1967, and they were 16 and 17 years old.
The New Anon gave a cassette tape with some recordings to Jonathan King,
a Charterhouse alumni who had already achieved chart success. He was
particularly impressed with Peter Gabriel’s singing, and offered to produce an
album. He also named the quintet Genesis.
King arranged for a record deal with the Decca label. In August 1968, the
band recorded its debut album at Regent Studio 1, in London, on two 4-track
tape recorders, with a new drummer, John Silver. King produced the album,
and suggested the title, From Genesis To Revelation. It sold just 649 copies in
its first year. Unsurprisingly, King and the band stopped working together.
Undeterred by their early failure, the band members decided to become
professional musicians at the end of 1969. Silver left the band, and was
replaced by drummer John Mayhew. Genesis began performing in venues
UNIQUE PROG ROCK SOUND
Producer John Anthony saw them perform live in the beginning of 1970, and
introduced them to Tony Stratton-Smith, who had founded Charisma Records
the year before, which was to become one of the most important folk and prog
rock labels in the UK. Stratton-Smith acted as a manager and mentor to
Genesis went into Trident Studios in London in June 1970, with producer John
Anthony. The resulting album was called Trespass and released in October
1970, with a striking cover by Paul Whitehead. It contained the first
expressions of Genesis’s unique prog rock sound, that incorporated folk,
classical, pop, soul, rock and other influences.
Trespass features several trademark sounds of early Genesis, including the
use of a Mellotron, and multiple 12-string guitars for the more pastoral
sections. The longest and hardest-rocking track on the album, “The Knife,”
became a live favourite. Gabriel’s striking voice commands attention on the
Guitarist Antony Phillips left the band in July 1970, and Banks, Gabriel and
Rutherford also wanted to find a different drummer more suitable to their
music. Drummer Phil Collins joined the band in August 1970, and guitarist
Steve Hackett joined in January 1971. The classic line-up of Genesis was now
In July 1971, the band began writing and rehearsing material for a new album,
again with John Anthony engineering and producing. The resulting album,
Nursery Cryme, once more with a colourful cover by Paul Whitehead, was
released in November 1971.
Nursery Cryme is the first album by the classic Genesis line-up, and also the
first on which the band has managed to fully realise its prog-rock direction.
Genesis had by now become an impressive live act, and during a concert in
September 1972 in Dublin, Gabriel came on stage wearing a red dress and a
fox’s head. It resulted in a lot of press coverage, and the band was able to
double its concert fee.
Gabriel’s red dress and fox mask were an impersonation of the main figure on
the cover of the band’s next album, Foxtrot, which was released in October
1972. It was the band’s first album to enter the higher regions of the UK album
chart, reaching to number 12.
The two stand-out tracks on Foxtrot are “Watcher of the Skies,” and the 23-
minute “Supper’s Ready,” which is a suite of seven connected songs. Peter
Gabriel has over several decades declared that “Supper’s Ready” is one of his
favourite pieces of music by Genesis. It’s been named a “towering
achievement of prog rock.”
Genesis’s imposing live reputation was further enhanced by the release of
Genesis Live in July 1973, which had been recorded in Manchester and
Leicester in the UK in February of that year. Genesis Live was released as a
budget album, and reached to number 9 in the UK.
FROM PROG TO FUSION
After the success of Foxtrot, Genesis signed a new deal with Charisma, and
was given more time to record its next album, Selling England By The Pound,
which is widely regarded as the pinnacle of Genesis’s pure prog rock years,
and as one of the best prog rock albums of all time.
John Burns was co-producing with the band, as he had done on Genesis
Live. Steve Hackett later stated that he was influenced by John McLaughlin
and Mahavishnu Orchestra at the time, and some of the licks and riffs he supplied for the new album resulted in a sections that come close to fusion
This is particularly in evidence in the album’s opener, “Dancing With
The Moonlit Knight.” The song starts with arguably one of the most beautiful
and moving vocal melodies ever recorded, written by Gabriel.
Steve Hackett explained the structure of the song in an interview, saying that
it “went from Scottish plainsong to something Elgarian, to something futuristic,
touching on fusion and other forms that still haven’t been named. It’s also got
tapping and some octave jumps and sweep picking and techniques that have
become part of the glossary of terms for modern-day shredders.”
Another highlight of Selling England by the Pound is the track “Firth of Fifth,”
which was largely written by Banks. It has been called “one of the finest nine
and half minutes of music that Genesis ever put down.”
The single “I Know What I Like” was the first Genesis song to enter the UK
singles chart, reaching to number 21. Selling England by the Pound was
released in October 1973, and became the first genuine hit album for the
band, reaching to number 3 in the UK album chart.
Critical reaction was overwhelmingly positive, and to this day it regularly
makes top tens of Best Prog Rock Albums of all Time.
Genesis appeared to have the world at its feet when it began work on its next
album in June 1974, immediately after touring. However, trouble was brewing.
Some of the band members had become irritated by the fact that Gabriel was
seen as the leader of Genesis by members of the press, an impression that
was strengthened in live performance by Gabriel’s eye catching costumes and
Genesis decided that it wanted its next album to be a concept double album,
and eventually settled on a story devised by Gabriel, about Rael, a young
Puerto Rican living in New York City, who embarks on a journey that sees him
encountering all manner of surreal, dreamlike circumstances. Gabriel wanted
the underlying themes and imagery to be American, in contrast to the
Englishness of Selling England by the Pound.
When The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was released, on November 18,
1974, with a largely black and white cover that was very different than its
earlier albums, the band feared critical slaughter. However, critical reaction
was overwhelmingly positive. The album has since gone on to be highly
regarded, and like its predecessor is regularly included in the top 10s of best
Prog Rock Albums of all Time.
Genesis toured in support of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway in North
America from November 1974 to February 1975. In a precursor of modern
multi-media live shows, the stage design had three screens that showed
almost 1500 slides, and laser lights. Gabriel was wearing some of his most
outlandish costumes, and with the slide show often failing, and Gabriel having
problems getting the microphone close to his mouth in one costume, the show
had overtones of Spinal Tap.
The rift that had opened up between Gabriel and the rest of the band during
the writing and recording of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway led to the
singer’s departure at the end of the tour.
When the remaining four members reconvened in the summer OF 1975, top
quality new material quickly emerged, and Phil Collins took over as lead
singer and front man. Their next album, A Trick of the Tail, was released on
February 2 nd , 1976. The band surprised everyone by sounding better than
ever before. The album did well commercially, going to number three in the
UK album charts, and number one in France.
Genesis toured the album from March to July 1976. Collins was nervous
about being frontman and combining drumming and singing. He asked
drummer Bill Bruford to come on tour, having played with him already in the
band Brand X.
After the tour, the band spent a considerable amount of time writing new
material. Wind & Wuthering was released on December 17 th , 1976, and was
positively received by fans and most critics. It reached to number 6 in the UK
charts and number 26 in the US.
Genesis toured in support of the album from January to July 1977, with
Chester Thompson as additional drummer. The live double album Seconds
Out was recorded during the four nights of the Paris leg of the tour, in June
1977, and released in October of that year.
Hackett quit the band during the mixing of the live album.
However, Banks, Rutherford and Collins did not miss a beat. Within weeks of
Hackett’s departure, they were already back in the same studio in The
Netherlands where Wind & Wuthering had been recorded, laying down
material for the band’s ninth studio album…And Then There Were Three…
But that is the beginning of the story of our second Genesis blog.
With Hackett’s departure from the group the pure prog rock era of Genesis
had come to an end. For a number of years prog rock, and Genesis, were
regarded, in the UK at least, as decidedly uncool. However, over time the prog
rock incarnation of Genesis has become widely admired. It continues to have
a foundational influence on the entire genre, and the list of musicians who
have been influenced of the band, and are proud to say so, continues to grow.
Oddly enough, more than Genesis itself, it has been Steve Hackett who has
been most instrumental in keeping the legacy of early Genesis alive, with his
Genesis Revisited projects, which started with an album in 1996, and that he
has since 2013 regularly taken on tour, attracting larger and larger live
audiences. A series of increasingly popular live recordings of these concerts
have been released, most recently his live version of Seconds Out.
Many people clearly second what Hackett said in a recent interview about the
music of early Genesis: “It sounds better and better with the passing of time.”
© 2022 Paul Tingen.