One of the most successful British bands of all time, Genesis made their mark in the 1970s as a progressive rock band influenced by classical music, folk and even jazz fusion, before becoming a huge stadium band in the 1980s with a series of big pop hits fronted by a singer who was also a solo superstar. Genesis began with pupils Peter Gabriel (vocals), Tony Banks (keyboards), Anthony Phillips (guitars) and Mike Rutherford (guitars and bass) at one of England’s most prestigious schools, Charterhouse. They were signed to a recording contract by an ex-pupil, Jonathan King, who had enjoyed a chart hit as a singer with “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” in 1965 and was impressed by Gabriel’s distinctive voice.
Genesis’ first album, “From Genesis to Reveation”, was released in 1969 on the Decca label, produced by King. It showed signs of Genesis’ early ambition, being a concept album which attempted to tell the story of the Bible. It received some good reviews but did not sell. Genesis split from King’s guidance and in 1970 released “Trespass”. The album showed the band were moving into the progressive rock which would define them in the new decade, displaying significant songwriting and musical development from their debut, with the songs longer and far less commercial.
Like many bands, their early years were fraught with line-up changes. By 1971, Anthony Phillips had left and they had managed to get through three drummers. Their third album, “Nursery Cryme”, featured what would become regarded as their classic 1970s line-up with the addition of Londoners Steve Hackett on lead guitar and Phil Collins on drums. It was followed by “Foxtrot” in 1972, which became their first album to reach the UK charts, peaking at number 12. The band were noticeably improving as musicians and songwriters with each release, with their compositions becoming more and more ambitious. “Foxtrot” featured a track called “Supper’s Ready”, which was almost 23 minutes long and has become regarded by critics as one of the key songs in the whole of progressive rock. As well as their increasingly ambitious music, Peter Gabriel was earning a reputation as one of British rock’s most theatrical live performers, telling fantastical stories on stage and dressing in a variety of weird and wonderful costumes.
In 1973, Genesis released what many consider to be their best album of the decade, “Selling England by the Pound”. It showed that as Genesis’ music became more and more complex and idiosyncratic, their popularity was growing in equal measure. The album produced their first UK hit single, “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”, which reached number 21, and the album itself became their biggest success yet, reaching the top three and staying on the chart for 21 weeks. However, behind the scenes, all was not well. Tensions were growing over the way Gabriel’s theatrical performances were attracting all the press attention and stealing the limelight from the rest of the band. He also insisted on writing all the lyrics for the band’s next album, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”, a mammoth concept album which took up four sides of vinyl and lasted over 90 minutes.
Opinion is divided on “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”. Some consider it Genesis’ greatest work as a progressive band and their most ambitious work. Others (including Tony Banks) felt it fell short, believing it didn’t match “Selling England By the Pound” in quality or focus. The public seemed to agree with the latter view, with it failing to sell in anything like the numbers of its predecessor, peaking at number 10 and dropping from the chart after six weeks.
In 1975, following the tour for “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”, Peter Gabriel left the band, wishing to spend more time with his wife and new child. Gabriel would be back on the charts in 1977 with his debut solo album and the top 20 single “Solsbury Hill”, followed by a series of albums into the 1980s which would firmly establish him as one of the most critically acclaimed musicians to come out of progressive rock.
Without the flamboyant Gabriel, many critics were already predicting the demise of Genesis. The band, however, had other ideas. In 1976, having decided not to bring in a new singer, they released “A Trick of the Tail” with drummer Phil Collins on vocals. The album proved the band’s audience was still very much there, matching “Selling England by the Pound”‘s chart position of number 3 and easily surpassing it in sales, spending 39 weeks on the chart. It was followed in 1977 by “Wind and Wuthering”, which established that Genesis were still a popular progressive rock band, reaching number 7 and spending 22 weeks on the chart, despite radical changes in the UK music industry which that year saw the rise of punk rock bands such as The Clash and The Sex Pistols. “Wind and Wuthering” also spawned the band’s second chart single, “Your Own Special Way”, which became a minor hit at number 43. Genesis followed this with their “Spot the Pigeon” EP and a live album, “Seconds Out” but Steve Hackett had had enough and decided to leave. His relationship with the band had broken down, believing they were becoming too safe and rejecting too many of own compositions.
Now a three-piece of Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, Genesis released “And Then There Were Three” in 1978. The album found the band moving into simpler, and for the most part shorter, compositions. One particular song, “Follow You Follow Me”, a ballad with lyrics by Rutherford, would become the first Genesis single to gain widespread radio airplay, becoming their first top ten hit in the UK and their first top 40 hit in the United States.
In 1980, Genesis released “Duke”, which produced their second UK top ten single, “Turn It On Again” and featured several firsts. It was the first Genesis album to feature substantial songwriting contributions by Phil Collins, who wrote two tracks on his own, “Misunderstanding” and “Please Don’t Ask”, both inspired by his recent marital breakdown. It was also the first Genesis album to feature a drum machine (on “Duchess”) and became their first album to top the UK chart.
In early 1981, Phil Collins released his first solo album, “Face Value”. The album spawned a bigger hit single than any Genesis album had done with “In the Air Tonight”, which reached number two in the UK. Collins could now be said to be bigger than the band he was in and the album would spawn further hit singles, eventually spending an incredible 274 weeks on the album chart. Genesis released “Abacab” later in the year and were now a very different band from the one which had made its mark in the previous decade. As the 1980s progressed, Phil Collins would become established as one of the decade’s definitive pop stars, becoming a huge star in Britain and America, but decided to stay as a member of Genesis too. In 1983 Genesis released “Genesis” (their inspiration for album titles deserting them on that occasion), which included “Mama”, their highest charting UK single (number four).
In 1985, Collins reached his commercial zenith with his solo album “No Jacket Required”, which went 12 times platinum in the United States. Mike Rutherford also launched his own successful pop band, Mike + The Mechanics, later in the year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the following year’s Genesis release, “Invisible Touch”, also became the band’s biggest commercial success, going six times platinum. The band’s mega-stardom came at a price. Many early fans felt they had sold out to commercialism and deserted the eccentric Englishness and classical influences which had been their trademark in the 1970s. The public had come to see Genesis as being a vehicle for Phil Collins and many found their songs were becoming difficult to distinguish from his solo work, featuring a similar pop production and being played enthusiastically on the same radio stations and MTV. Ironically, 1986 saw Peter Gabriel achieve his biggest success with the album “So”, which also went multi-platinum and found him competing on the pop charts and MTV with his former band.
Five years passed before Genesis released their final album with Collins, “We Can’t Dance”, which continued the band’s pop success. Collins continued to be a major star in the 1990s, although his popularity was waning from its 1980s peak. In 1996 he announced he was leaving the band to concentrate on other projects. The following year, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford released “Calling All Stations” with Scottish singer Ray Wilson replacing Collins as the voice of the band. It was a commercial disappointment and sales in the United States were so poor a tour of the country was cancelled.
In 2007 Collins returned for a final tour with the band but didn’t record further music with them. In 2010 Genesis were inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, having sold an estimated 130 million albums worldwide, making them one of the 30 best-selling acts in music history.