The Genesis Essentials: 15 Songs That Highlight The Band's Influential Genre-Bending Style

Genesis in 1972. (L-R) Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, Peter Gabriel & Steve Hackett

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


The Genesis Essentials: 15 Songs That Highlight The Band's Influential Genre-Bending Style

On the 25th anniversary of Genesis' final album 'Calling All Stations,' celebrates 15 of the most majestic and ambitious tracks in the group's catalog.

GRAMMYs/Sep 2, 2022 - 01:37 pm

This month, Calling All Stations — the 15th and last studio album by British group Genesis — turns 25. It offers an intriguing (yet somewhat underwhelming) conclusion to the discography of a band that infused popular music with poetry and theatricality. Genesis enjoyed two careers in one; first as prog-rock pioneers in the '70s, then mainstream hitmakers throughout the '80s and early '90s. Both chapters share a common element: songwriting that surprises at every corner and defies expectations.

After producer Jonathan King discovered the group in the late '60s, he suggested the name Genesis, implying the promise of something new. It was a time of turmoil and growth for the English music scene, as the explosion of psychedelia, acid-folk and art-pop eventually coalesced into the heyday of progressive rock. 

Genesis began as a teenage pop group, and after changing a couple of members, emerged in 1971 with its definitive lineup: singer Peter Gabriel, keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist Mike Rutherford, guitarist Steve Hackett and drummer Phil Collins. Lauded for representing the limitless imagination of prog, the GRAMMY-winning band quickly ventured beyond the confines of the genre.

Gabriel left in 1975, Hackett in '77, and Collins in '96. With Banks and Rutherford as core members, the group found resilience in change, eventually selling over 100 million records worldwide across their nearly three-decade run. Their final reunion tour, with Collins back on board, ended in March of this year. 

Omitting the obvious hits, this list of 15 essential tracks highlights the Genesis songbook at its most majestic and ambitious.

"The Musical Box" (1971)

The opening track of Genesis' third album Nursery Cryme, this 10-minute mini-opera features the newly arrived Collins and Hackett. It also showcases the quintet's fully formed obsessions: a preoccupation with nocturnal moods and odd time signatures, pastoral passages and lyrics that merge Lewis Carroll-like whimsy with the surreal and macabre. The story's grand finale — the aged spirit of a murdered child returns from the dead to unleash a lifetime of pent-up desire — allowed 21 year-old Peter Gabriel to create a memorable onstage moment by wearing a creepy mask resembling an old man while performing.

"Harlequin" (1971)

At the beginning, Genesis sat comfortably next to like-minded bands such as King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator. It was perhaps the staggering individual talent of its members that allowed them to transcend their prog roots and become one of the most popular rock bands in history. A deep album cut like "Harlequin" brims with promise — its vulnerable, luminous energy has aged particularly well.

"Supper's Ready" (1972)

Together with "Close to the Edge" by Yes — both released the same year — "Supper's Ready" sums up the beautiful madness of the British progressive school, its attempt to elevate rock 'n' roll into a level of complexity and ambition that was unimaginable until then. The song features music-hall extravagance, cozy folk harmonies and 12-string guitars, cutting edge 9/8 drum patterns, and the apocalypse itself ("as sure as eggs is eggs"), its 23-minute run time  occupying the entire side B of the Foxtrot LP. The ending crescendo, with Gabriel in stunning vocal form, evokes the rapture of a classical symphony.

"Firth Of Fifth" (1973)

Keyboardist Tony Banks was inspired by Rachmaninoff for the hyper-romantic piano intro to this Genesis stage favorite. Only five albums into its career, the band had achieved full artistic maturity — a rare state of grace that wouldn't last long. The melodies are particularly rich on this solemn rock hymn, and Hackett's byzantine electric solo became a point of reference for generations of future guitarists like Eddie Van Halen and Brian May.

"Carpet Crawlers" (1974)

A proposed album based on The Little Prince was canned in favor of Gabriel's patchy narrative about a disaffected Puerto Rican teen in New York City. Eerily predating the punk revolution, double LP The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway found the band overreaching for the first and only time. Still, it boasts many spectacular moments — and a Brian Eno contribution — such as this dreamy ballad with nonsensical lyrics and a spectral, spiraling piano pattern. Perhaps prematurely, Gabriel decided to leave the band while playing the entire album live across America.

"Dance On A Volcano" (1976)

They considered carrying on as an instrumental unit, then held auditions in search of a new vocalist. But in the end, Genesis decided to give Phil Collins a chance as lead singer, with Yes virtuoso Bill Bruford joining behind the drum kit on tour. Released in 1976, the first two post-Gabriel albums — A Trick of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering — include some of the band's finest work; the revamped sound direct and pristine. "Dance on a Volcano" reflects the influence that the then-popular jazz-rock fusion  had on Collins.

"Ripples" (1976)

Genesis shone the brightest whenever they explored the more delicate, mournful shades of their sonic palette. From 1980 onwards, pop balladry would be the framework of choice. Before then, songs like "Ripples" combined the band's folk-rock vein with the influence of classical music. There are hints of Debussy and Ravel in the floating instrumental bridge — a passage seeped in longing, which arguably stands as the quintessential Genesis moment.

"Eleventh Earl Of Mar" (1976)

One of those rare instances when an album's title and cover sum up the specific aura of the music inside, Wind & Wuthering is misty and autumnal to the core. It is the one Genesis session most influenced by Hackett — his complex acoustic guitar contributing to the haunting mood. This was his last record with the band, followed by a string of brilliant solo albums.

"Duchess" (1980)

Hitting a sweet spot between art-rock density and mainstream vigor, Duke showcased Genesis as champions of eccentricity — sweeping instrumental workouts next to sad ballads about getting divorced. "Duchess" uses a primitive drum machine pattern as launching pad for a saga about the inevitable decline of a veteran singer. Years of nonstop touring had opened up Collins' vocal chords, resulting in performances that sounded positively soulful.

"Dodo/Lurker" (1981)

Beginning with Abacab, Genesis abandoned individual song credits and started writing from scratch in their newly built home studio. They infuriated longtime fans by adding a brass section to a couple of hits, experimenting joyfully with noise and booming drums, and incorporating Collins' hitmaking recipes once his solo career took off. It was undoubtedly a different band, but the subterranean prog tendencies were still there. There's a new-wave polish to "Dodo/Lurker," but the grandiose melodrama of years past shines through.

"You Might Recall" (1981)

Perhaps the biggest strength of the trio's commercial heyday was its ability to begin with a small idea like a riff or melody and allow it to blossom into a pop miniature. A B-side from the Abacab sessions, "You Might Recall" underscores the grit in Collins' voice — all those Motown records that he loved growing up — as well as the ease with which Banks and Rutherford became succinct and economical, without sacrificing the magic in their songwriting.

"In The Cage Medley" (1981)

Pittsburgh '76. Zurich '77. London Lyceum '80. Some Genesis concerts became the stuff of legend among fans, boosted by breathtaking light shows and the drum duets between Collins and former Weather Report percussionist Chester Thompson. Lifting a song from The Lamb and connecting it with various instrumental sections and the somber "Afterglow," the "In The Cage Medley" was always the high point of their concerts. This version from the double album Three Sides Live is electrifying.

"Home By The Sea" (1983)

With electronic drums and a new arsenal of keyboard patches, this is the tight, quirky edition of Genesis: a trio of wealthy rockers in their '30s who played four sold-out shows at Wembley in 1987. Some of their creative choices were baffling during this period, but when the magic worked, it was the very "pictures of delight" referenced in the lyrics of "Home by the Sea." The instrumental section in the middle sums up the best of '80s Genesis — grand, funky and cohesive. Vari-Lites were invented for songs such as this one.

"The Brazilian" (1986)

At the end of their journey together, Genesis excelled in a stark brand of minimalism. The trio found precious harmonic nuggets and maximized their emotional impact through the art of orchestration. This tribal percussive workout — almost like the theme to an imaginary movie — builds up subtle variations on the same lush melody and offers a striking coda to Invisible Touch, an album filled with massive pop singles.

"Hold On My Heart" (1991)

From 1981's "In The Air Tonight" until his departure from the band, Collins juggled solo stardom with his Genesis commitments. As a result, the despondent breakup ballads for which he became famous started infiltrating the group material. Still, the contribution of Banks and Rutherford to perennial radio favorites like "Hold On My Heart" added subtlety and sophistication. The result was openly commercial, but also possessed an indelible, peculiar beauty of its own.

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The Week In Music: March Madness

A field of 64 bands set to vie for ESPN's best rock band crown

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

March Madness is here, that captivating time of year when 68 teams set out on the Road to the Final Four in their quest for NCAA men's college basketball supremacy. This year's tournament is scheduled to get underway March 17, with brackets to be announced March 13. However, those wishing to take part in some early madness with a side of musical fun can get a head start with ESPN's Herd Rock Band Bracket, a 64-artist field devised by radio host Colin Cowherd to crown the best rock band. Formal ESPN analysis is still pending, but we'll chime in with a few first-round matchups to keep an eye on. Teen spirit and Kurt Cobain will face off against the head games of Mick Jones when Nirvana and Foreigner clash in the West: Seattle Region. It will be all pinball wizardry and anarchy when the Who and the Sex Pistols battle it out in the East: New York Region. Metal will look to bring the heat against '60s psychedelia as Metallica takes on Jefferson Airplane in the Midwest: Cleveland Region. And shred guitar prowess will duel angst-ridden prog rock as Van Halen and Tool duke it out in the Far East: London region. Upset alert: Though arguably a mismatch on paper, can Scott Stapp and the No. 16-seeded upstart Creed deliver a knockout blow to the Fab Four, the No. 1-seeded Beatles, in the Far East: London region? Fill out your brackets here. Rock's March Madness survivor will be crowned later this month.

The man who went against all odds, fronted Genesis and brought us pop gems such as "Sussudio" is calling it a career. Following an onslaught of speculation on the reasons behind his retirement, Phil Collins surfaced this week to clear the air with "breaking news" on his website. "I'm not stopping because of dodgy reviews or bad treatment in the press," said Collins. "I am stopping so I can be a full-time father to my two young sons on a daily basis." Collins did take the press to task for painting him as "a tormented weirdo…who feels very sorry for himself, and is retiring hurt because of the bad press over the years." An eight-time GRAMMY winner, Collins assured that his retirement decision was a no "straitjacket" required proposition.

If you're a musician with an appetite for rock-solid financial planning from someone who has been there, done that, you're in luck. Former Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan is launching Meridian Rock, a wealth management firm designed to educate musicians about their finances. While McKagan made a name for himself in GNR and the GRAMMY-winning rock band Velvet Revolver, he now fronts his own project, Loaded, and is fully loaded when it comes to financial credibility. After making millions with Axl, Slash and friends, in the '90s McKagan took basic finance courses at Santa Monica Community College in Southern California, and later earned a degree in finance at Seattle University. What type of clients does he think his firm can help? All are welcome, especially those musicians who may be timid. "If they're anything like me when I was 30, they're too embarrassed to ask," said McKagan. "I didn't know what a stock was [or] what a bond was."

With possibly one too many guys trying to touch her junk, Ke$ha has launched a safe-sex campaign. You may file it under just say no way, but the party animal/cannibal has issued 10,000 Ke$ha condoms with her face on them, which will be fired from a canon into the audience at her live shows (fortunately, there's nothing symbolic about that method of distribution). With Ke$ha condoms and a bottle of jack, we should be ready to go until the police shut us down, down.

When's the last time you took a ride down the western country line on a train? Better yet, when's the last time you took that ride with three indie bands? This April, GRAMMY nominees Mumford & Sons will embark on a six-stop tour with Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show. Titled The Railroad Revival Tour, these three bands will take a ride on a 1,500-foot long train featuring 15 vintage railcars pulled by two locomotives and are set to travel more than 2,000 miles across five states. The tour kicks off April 21 in Oakland, Calif., with stops in San Pedro, Calif., (April 22), Chandler, Ariz., (April 23), Marfa, Texas, (April 24), Austin, Texas, (April 26), and New Orleans (April 27). Could the railcar be the new tour bus? With gas prices these days, we're not sure if that'd be less or more costly.

While Lady Gaga was born this way, up-and-coming artist Maria Aragon was just born…10 years ago. After uploading a video of her cover of Gaga's "Born This Way" to YouTube, Aragon was invited onstage to perform a duet with the Lead Monster herself during a March 3 concert in Toronto. "Maria represents what this song is all about," said Gaga before leading into the song. "It's all about the next generation and the future and no more divisiveness, only unity." Let's hope this is a story that inspires future generations of Little Monsters. Don't be a drag, just be a queen.

Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" is No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Jennifer Lopez's "On The Floor" (featuring Pitbull) is atop the iTunes singles chart.

Any news we've missed? Comment below.

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Last Week In Music

Phil Collins Says He's "Still Not Dead Yet," Adds More U.S. Tour Dates

Phil Collins

Photo: Don Arnold/WireImage/Getty Images


Phil Collins Says He's "Still Not Dead Yet," Adds More U.S. Tour Dates

The U.S. leg of his Not Dead Yet tour in 2018 marked the GRAMMY winner's first major shows in the country in over a decade

GRAMMYs/Mar 22, 2019 - 03:01 am

Today, GRAMMY-winning drummer/singer/legend Phil Collins announced the Still Not Dead Yet, Live! 2019 U.S. tour. The British star will begin the 15-date tour leg on Sept. 23 in Dallas and finish out on Oct. 19 in Las Vegas, following the success of his 2018 North American return.

He will perform at large venues in U.S. cities, including several he hasn't been to in a decade or more. The dates include stops in Atlanta on Sept. 28, Madison Square Garden in New York City on Oct. 6 and the new Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif. on Oct. 17, before closing things out in Vegas.

Before returning to the States, Collins will bring the Still Not Dead Yet, Live! to Europe in June. He announced that tour last November, tweeting; "I have rediscovered my passion for music and performing! It's time to do it all again and I'm excited… it just feels right."

The shows follow his successful Not Dead Yet tour, named after his 2016 autobiography, which took him around the world in 2017–2018. The North American leg in Fall 2018 marked his first jaunt in the region in 12 years.

He will be backed by the same band as the last tour, which includes his son Nicholas Collins on drums. The concert's promoter has shared that fans can expect to hear some of his biggest hits over his 40-plus year career, including favorites "Against All Odds," "Another Day in Paradise," "In the Air Tonight" and "Easy Lover."

In October 2016, Collins celebrated the release of the autobiography and his triumphant return with a performance backed by The Roots on "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon." Prior to Not Dead Yet, his last major tour was another coyly named one, The First Final Farewell Tour in 2004–2005.

He has won eight career GRAMMYs, including as a founding member of iconic '80s rock Genesis. 30 years ago, Collin's released his fourth solo studio album, 1989's …But Seriously. The album had four hit songs, including "Another Day In Paradise," which earned him Record Of The Year at the 33rd GRAMMY Awards.

Tickets for his 2019 U.S. tour go on sale Fri., March 30, with presales beginning the day prior; more info here.

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Phil Collins To Receive Johnny Mercer Award

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Phil Collins To Receive Johnny Mercer Award
GRAMMY-winning artist Phil Collins will be honored with the Johnny Mercer Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Songwriters Hall of Fame, at the 2010 Songwriter Hall dinner June 17 at the Marriot Marquis Hotel in New York. The award is given to a writer or writers already inducted into the Songwriter Hall. Past recipients have included GRAMMY-winning artists Billy Joel, Carole King, Frank Sinatra, and Stevie Wonder, among others. (3/12)

Video Game Sales Down 15 Percent In February
Sales of video games are down 15 percent in February due in part to the ongoing decline of music video sales including “Guitar Hero” and lower sales of the Nintendo Wii, according to market researcher NPD Group. Consumers in the U.S. spent $1.26 billion on video game systems, software and accessories during the month, down from $1.48 billion in the prior year. Other industry competitors saw an increase in sales with Sony's PlaySation 3 up 31 percent and Microsoft's Xbox 360 up 9 percent. (3/12)

Take A Look At Phil Collins Now
Phil Collins in "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)"


Take A Look At Phil Collins Now

'80s megastar faces the odds in this week's GRAMMY winners edition of Forgotten Videos

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

Welcome to Forgotten Videos, GRAMMY winners edition. For some, these videos are forgotten, for others just filed away, and for others still, a totally brand-new discovery. Our aim is to take you on a little trip down memory lane or help you discover new music, GRAMMY-style.

Phil Collins
"Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)"

Today, Phil Collins is a retired (or not, more on that later …) father living a quiet life in Switzerland. But back in the day (pretty much the entire decade of the '80s), he was an inescapable presence on radio and MTV (and to some extent at the GRAMMY Awards, given his 27 nominations and eight wins).

How did it all happen? Even Collins can't really explain it. "Nobody was more amazed by my solo success than I was," he told the Daily Mail in 2010. "It took me completely by surprise. Everything I touched turned to gold at that time."

Among Mr. Midas' successes was "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)," a song that was borne out of the sessions for his solo debut, 1981's Face Value, but that he turned into this No. 1 theme for Taylor Hackford's Against All Odds, a love/hate story starring Rachel Ward and Jeff Bridges (pre-the Dude and Bad Blake).

In fact, "Against All Odds" — which won the Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male GRAMMY and was also nominated for Song Of The Year — really set the stage for a number of Collins ballads that would follow, including "One More Night" and "Separate Lives (Love Theme From White Nights)," that, along with his deitylike omnipresence, would ultimately lead to critical blowback.

But back to the '80s, a period of nonstop hits for Collins, including "Against All Odds" and its accompanying video, which, like many movie-theme clips of the time, essentially acted as a trailer for the film. In it, a passionate Collins sings intercut with scenes from the movie (a little lovemaking here, some fighting there, a high-speed car chase …).

Perhaps not surprisingly, the video was directed by Hackford (who was paid a cool $20,000 to basically promote his own movie, according to Wikipedia).

Collins' bio is familiar to most. He was a child actor who had a bit role in the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, but gained musical fame after he was selected as the replacement drummer for Genesis. After group leader Peter Gabriel departed in 1974, Genesis turned to Collins as lead vocalist. His first solo album appeared in 1981 and was a bigger success than any previous Genesis record. By the end of the '80s, Collins' outsized level of success had arguably created his downfall, the result of being everywhere all the time and on constant radio rotation.

"In the '80s there was an awful lot of vitriol coming my way," he told the Daily Mail. "Some of the criticism hurt and I would respond by writing letters and telephoning journalists to have it out with them. [In] hindsight I can see that I was oversensitive. But I felt I was being disliked for the wrong reasons, reasons that often had nothing to do with the music. There are still people who hate me for reasons that have nothing to do with the truth."

So that's when Collins decided to retire .… Well, not exactly. In 2011 it was reported Collins' was quitting music due to hearing loss, a dislocated vertebra and nerve damage in his hands, but his rep quickly told People magazine, "He is not, [and] has no intention of, retiring."

Still, his most recent album, 2010's Going Back, a Motown and classic soul covers record, feels a bit like a career coda. Then again, artists such as Michael McDonald and Rod Stewart have stretched such career codas into new careers. Meanwhile, there seems to be a re-evaluation of Collins afoot.

"Recently, I was out with Genesis in New York where we were being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," Collins said. "Iggy Pop came over to me to pay his respects and I'm thinking, 'Iggy Pop!? The godfather of punk! This wouldn't have happened 10 years ago.'"

Do you think a Phil Collins comeback is against all odds? Got any Forgotten Video recommendations? Leave us a comment.

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