Genesis have enjoyed four decades of sustained success and have achieved international recognition, belonging to an elite group of bands that include the likes of Pink Floyd, Queen and the Rolling Stones. Since their formation in 1967, they have sold over 140 million copies of their 24 albums, figures which are likely to increase as they celebrate their 40th anniversary with a return to touring.
From Genesis to Revelation
Between 1963 and 1965, four teenage boys entered Charterhouse School in Goldalming, Surrey. These four would go on to form one of the world's most influential and famous bands, Genesis.
However, they didn't start off working together. Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks began their musical careers with a band called 'the Garden Wall', along with early band drummer Chris Stewart. Mike Rutherford and Anthony Philips had got together to form 'Anon'. Both groups had played at various gigs, and on some occasions had played the same venues. It was during these gigs that the two groups decided that they would combine their skills.
In April, 1967 they produced their first demo tape, which was later heard by a fellow Charterhouse student, Jonathan King1. King expressed serious interest; he paid for the band to produce a second demo tape and by August, 1967 the band had signed with King's record label, Jonjo Music. They recorded a number of demos, including lost classics 'The Mystery of the Flannan Isle Lighthouse', 'Barnaby's Adventure' and 'Lost in a Drawer'.
In February, 1968 the band recorded their first single, composed by Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks, entitled 'The Silent Sun'. The single was released by Decca Records. It was received well, including an encouraging review in Melody Maker, and was also played on BBC Radio by Kenny Everett.
'The Silent Sun'
I'm still not sure what the enigmatic lyric is about, but I gather it refers to a girl! Anyway it's certainly a thought-provoking song that holds the attention throughout. Competently handled by Genesis, with a beautiful flowing arrangement of violins and cellos. A disc of many facets and great depth, but it might be a bit too complex for the average fan.
- NME, 3 February, 1968
The group continued to produce further demos and in May, 1968 they composed their second single, 'A Winter's Tale'. That summer, the band wrote and rehearsed a 12-track album, which was later recorded at Regent Sound A Studio. This recording was released in March, 1969 with the album title From Genesis to Revelation. On 1 November, 1969 Genesis played their first 'professional' gig at Brunel University in West London.
At the time this album was released the band comprised:
- Tony Banks - piano, backing vocals
- Peter Gabriel - vocals, flute
- Anthony Phillips - guitar, backing vocals
- Mike Rutherford - bass, guitars, backing vocals
- John Silver2 - drums, backing vocals
- David Thomas - backing vocals
Soon after the release of their first album, John Silver decided to leave. They advertised for a drummer in Melody Maker and John Mayhew joined the group.
With the growing popularity of progressive rock music, Genesis's success seemed certain. However, even for some of the alternative music fans, their music seemed a little too strange, sometimes resembling opera scores with strong religious undertones and extended instrumentals. People were finding it hard to accept Genesis.
On the other hand, their strength was in their live show. They created elaborate scores, and with Peter Gabriel's showmanship and ability to be just a little bit on the strange side (Gabriel would wear all manner of costumes or masks, which culminated in his 'famous' flower mask) Genesis stood out from even the alternative music scene.
Charisma Records and Trespass
After several successful gigs, including one supporting David Bowie and three nights at the famous Ronnie Scott's, Genesis signed with Charisma Records in April, 1970 and later that year recorded their second album, Trespass. Some time later, they lost two more members of the group, Anthony Philips and drummer John Mayhew, who was replaced by Phil Collins.
The release of Trespass landed Genesis their first television appearance on the BBC. Mick Bernard was used as a substitute for Anthony Philips, who was soon replaced in December, 1970 by Steve Hackett, as Philips had developed crippling stage fright.
Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot
Genesis's success on the live scene continued. Venues were getting larger and they soon gathered a small but loyal fan base. By the summer of 1971 and with the release of their third album, Nursery Cryme, Genesis had started to gain recognition. The record was their first to feature in the UK album charts. However, they were still not breaking through into the mainstream, due to their strange music and even stranger stage shows.
They continued to tour for the next year. Then, in August, 1972, they recorded their fourth album, Foxtrot, which made an even bigger dent in the charts. More importantly to fans of Genesis, it was the first time they got to hear 'Supper's Ready', the band's longest track to date, lasting almost 25 minutes, and a Genesis fan favourite. The song tells the story of life and finding the path to glory through God; amazingly, this single song rated quite highly in Channel 4's 'Top Ten Prog Rock Albums' — one can only assume that due to the length of the song, it was mistaken for an entire album.
Genesis Live and Selling England By The Pound
With their mark firmly stamped in the UK, Genesis moved on to Europe and the United States. Realising their strength as a live band, they also decided to release their first live album, imaginatively entitled Genesis Live. The album was well-received and reached number nine in the UK charts. It seemed that Genesis's success was inevitable and soon after they released their sixth (fifth studio) album, Selling England By The Pound.
The Lamb, A Trick of the Tail and Gabriel's Departure
In November, 1974, Genesis released their seventh album, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. The title and their continued success in the United States meant that Genesis had their first (real) impact on the US album charts, even though the album only reached number 41. It also spawned a number of singles, including the title song and 'Carpet Crawlers'. Due to their success in America, Genesis decided to stay there until August, 1975.
Unfortunately, this was the last album that Genesis produced with lead vocalist Peter Gabriel, who announced his departure from the group in August, 1975, just before the release of their eighth album, A Trick of the Tail. They continued their touring, but with Phil Collins taking up the lead role.
Wind and Wuthering, Seconds Out and Hackett's Departure
The loss of Peter Gabriel was an obvious shock and many fans were none too keen on Phil Collins taking on the front-man role. However, with the release of their ninth album, Wind and Wuthering, and the release of one of their more successful singles, 'Your Own Special Way'3, Genesis soon regained the faith of their older fans and started to attract new ones daily. The album was also the first inkling of a change in musical style.
Genesis continued touring in both the US and in Europe, making the odd trip back to the UK, including the Earls Court Arena in London4. Near the end of the tour, Steve Hackett decided to call it a day and followed Peter Gabriel into a solo career. Soon after that, Genesis released their second live album (tenth altogether), Seconds Out.
With Collins taking more of a vocal role, the band brought in jazz drummer Chester Thompson. The addition of a second drummer gave Genesis an opportunity to explore new musical experiences. They set up two drum kits on stage — the first group to do so — and integrated the 'duelling drums' into a song called 'Dance on a Volcano'. This continued until the early 1980s, when the 'duelling drums' became a lone instrumental.
And Then There Were Three
- Tony Banks - Keyboards, Synth Bass
- Phil Collins - Drums, Vocals, Percussion
- Mike Rutherford - Guitars, Bass
Genesis had further success with the singles chart when they released 'Follow You, Follow Me', which reached number seven in the UK. Then in April, 1978, they released their eleventh album, in which the title reflected their status at the time, 'And Then There Were Three'. Again, this latest album showed that Genesis had started to move away from their weird beginnings and were recording more mainstream music.
Duke and Finally Number One
With Genesis firmly rooted in the hall of rock fame, it was inevitable that sooner or later they would reach the number one spot. That was exactly what happened in the spring of 1980, with the release of their twelfth album, Duke. The album also showed that they had entirely moved away from their earlier musical style, which meant that they were starting to be noticed by a bigger audience. Their single releases had also become more successful. Songs like 'Turn It On Again' and 'Misunderstanding' did well in both the UK and US charts. As strange as it may sound, it was at this point that the band's members decided to start chasing after their own solo careers.
Abacab, Three Sides Live and Genesis (the Album)
The members of Genesis returned from solo life in 1981 to produce their thirteenth album, Abacab, which not only reached number one, but also resulted in even more successful singles, including 'Abacab', 'No Reply At All' and 'Keep It Dark'. They still continued with their solo careers, but after the success of their third (fourteenth altogether) live album, Three Sides Live, they returned in the summer of 1982 for another world tour. Then, in 1983, they had further chart success with their fifteenth album, the self-titled Genesis. The album gave them their first taste of the Grammys, receiving nominations for 'Best Rock Vocal Performance By Duo or Group' and 'Best Rock Instrumental Performance' for 'Second Home by the Sea'.
The success of Rutherford's and Collins's solo careers had started to distance them from Genesis, so they decided to take a break from the group to spend more time on their own careers. Collins and Rutherford both toured the United States and fans had to wait another three years before Genesis would release their sixteenth — and most successful — album.
With the Genesis style of music seemingly in a constant state of flux, by the time they got around to releasing Invisible Touch, many of their long-time fans were split between the early years of Genesis and this latest version. However, even with fans' patronage divided, the album became Genesis' most successful and reached number one in the charts. It was the success of the singles that made the album stand out.
Even though there was some success in the UK, it was the US fans that received the album and subsequent singles with open arms. The singles 'Invisible Touch', 'In Too Deep', 'Tonight, Tonight, Tonight' and 'Land Of Confusion' all went to the top five in the US, but didn't even make it into the top ten in the UK. This showed in Genesis's touring, as they preferred to stay in the US and the rest of Europe, with only a couple of dates in the UK.
Spitting Image Video - 'Land Of Confusion'
Genesis was one of the few rock bands to be immortalised by the creators of the television show Spitting Image. Phil Collins had seen an episode of the show in which a puppet incarnation of him had appeared. After speaking with Banks and Rutherford, they decided to commission creators Peter Fluck and Roger Law to help make the video of 'Land Of Confusion'. The video portrayed the constant worry about worldwide nuclear war and was nominated for the MTV Video of the Year award, but was just beaten at the post by, of all people, Peter Gabriel, with his video for 'Sledgehammer'.
We Can't Dance
Collins's and Rutherford's solo careers were doing well, with the release of Rutherford's most famous song 'The Living Years' and Collins' fourth album But Seriously. Even though they released Genesis's seventeenth album, We Can't Dance, another chart-topper, it became clear that Genesis were starting to wind down.
The Best Of...
It wasn't long before the inevitable 'Best of' album was released. So in 1992, Genesis released their eighteenth and nineteenth albums, The Way We Walk Vol 1 - The Shorts and The Way We Walk Vol 2 - The Longs. The albums were to prove a very contentious issue among the older and younger fans, with the older fans preferring The Longs and the younger preferring The Shorts. The argument was decided by their final chart positions, with The Shorts reaching number three and The Longs hitting the heights of the number one spot.
Phil's Departure and Calling All Stations
In the early 1990s, Genesis released remastered versions of all their albums, from Trespass to Three Sides Live. However, there was no talk of releasing a new album. Phil Collins was also starting to show an interest in producing big band music, a style that he had tried with his own solo career, and in February, 1996, Phil Collins left Genesis.
Rutherford and Banks had decided to keep going and, with new front man Ray Wilson, they released their twentieth and final studio album, Calling All Stations. However, the album was barely noticed by either the music industry or the fans; even after several live performances, Genesis was soon considered to be moribund.
Through the late 1990s and into the 21st Century, Genesis continued to live on in various guises: in DVDs, in 'Best of' albums, in the release of a platinum collection and in the hearts of their fans, who still had a strong base. Genesis even reunited in May, 1998 to promote the release of the 'Genesis Archive' box set.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Collins, Rutherford and Banks decided to chase their own solo careers, following in the footsteps of Gabriel, Hackett and Phillips, who were all doing well.
Gabriel had successes with 'Games Without Frontiers' and 'Biko'. Collins's reply was 'In The Air Tonight', which reached number two in the UK charts and is still considered to be one of his most popular songs. Rutherford had some success with Mike and the Mechanics. Both Philips and Hackett had managed to release their own albums. However, Tony Banks found solo life a little harder.
Both Collins's and Gabriel's successes continued right through to the 1990s and into the 21st Century, with numerous album and single releases, which all did well in the charts — and of course their major strength, which was still in performing live.
Mayhew, Silver and Stewart had all moved away from the musical life, Stewart eventually becoming a best-selling travel writer.
In November, 2006 Phil Collins held a press conference to announce that he, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, along with longtime back-up band members Daryl Stuermer and Chester Thompson, were reuniting for a European tour in the summer of 2007. They will be playing a mixture of old and new tracks. This could be a new era of appreciation for Genesis and a new set of fans may learn to love the sound of almost three decades of trailblazing progressive rock music.