10 Best Pop-Era Genesis Songs

Genesis formed in the 1960s, when Peter Gabriel, Tony Bank, and Mike Rutherford met at Charterhouse School. By 1971, they’d found their classic quintet of vocalist Peter Gabriel, drummer Phil Collins, keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist Mike Rutherford, and guitarist Steve Hackett. But their first album together, Nursery Cryme, initially missed the UK charts. Fifteen years later, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins were solo stars, spin-off bands like Mike & the Mechanics and GTR were successful, while Genesis marked 1986 with the massive-selling Invisible Touch.

Last week I ranked my ten favourite Genesis songs from their progressive rock years in the early and mid-1970s. This list examines the best of their later work, from 1978’s …And Then There Were Three… onwards. All ten songs on this list feature Genesis as a trio with Collins on drums and lead vocals, Banks on synths, and Rutherford on guitars and bass.

10 Best Pop-Era Genesis Songs

#10 Paperlate

from 3×3, 1982
In 1980, Genesis purchased Fisher Lane Farm in Surrey, converting it into a rehearsal space and studio. Without having to pay for studio time, the recording sessions for 1981’s ABACAB were productive, with enough material for a double album. The group trimmed it down to a single album, but three tracks were released the following year on EP 3×3.

‘Paperlate’ was inspired by the group jamming through the 1973 Genesis track ‘Dancing With the Moonlit Knight’ during a soundcheck. The phrase “paperlate” is featured on ‘Knight’, and inspired this song. As on the ABACAB single ‘No Reply At All’, the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section is featured.

#9 Misunderstanding

from Duke, 1980
Phil Collins blossomed as a songwriter after the end of his first marriage in 1979. ‘Misunderstanding’ was meant for his debut solo album, 1981’s Face Value, but was instead donated to Genesis. You could argue that it shares a similar feel to The Beach Boys’ 1973 single ‘Sail on Sailor’, while others have noted the similarities to Toto’s ‘Hold the Line’. The backing vocals “whee-ooh-ooh-ooh” are the song’s best hook.

#8 Invisible Touch

from Invisible Touch, 1986
For my money, the Invisible Touch album overly streamlines the Genesis sound. The instrumental flourishes from before are replaced by simple radio-friendly arrangements. But despite these qualms, the title track is a robust pop tune. The beat was inspired by Prince’s work, while the lyrics were largely inspired by Collins’ first wife. It was dislodged from the top spot on the UK singles chart by Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’.

I think Invisible Touch was the group’s undisputed masterpiece. It’s an epic meditation on intangibility. 

Patrick Bateman, American Psycho

#7 Mama

from Genesis, 1983
Given later Phil Collins’ efforts like ‘Groovy Kind of Love’ and ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’, it’s difficult to remember when he was once edgy. His voice becomes increasingly more unhinged on ‘Mama’, with a disturbing laugh inspired by Grandmaster Flash’s ‘The Message’. Collins explained in an interview that ‘Mama’ “is about a young teenager that’s got a mother fixation with a prostitute that he’s just happened to have met in passing and he has such a strong feeling for her and doesn’t understand why she isn’t interested in him.” The group started writing in the studio for 1983’s Genesis, building songs from jam sessions. The hypnotically minimal groove they find on ‘Mama’ is the perfect accompaniment for Collin’s unrequited paranoia.

#6 Dodo/Lurker

from ABACAB, 1981
From the early 1980s, Duke and ABACAB are fascinating transitional records for Genesis. They’d largely shed their progressive rock roots by ABACAB, but the dense and moody ‘Dodo/Lurker’ retains some of their mystique. The two songs are combined into one track on ABACAB, but they were originally part of a four-song suite.

Meanwhile, lurking by a stone in the mud, two eyes looked to see what I was. Then, something spoke and this is what it said to me:
Clothes of brass and hair of brown Seldom need to breathe Don’t need no wings to fly Ooh and a heart of stone And a fear of fire and water … who am I?

Dodo/Lurker, Genesis

The above lyrics of ‘Lurker’ contain a riddle. The answer is apparently “Submarine” – it fits the description, as it seldom surfaces and the heart of stone is the uranium powering the nuclear reactor. The song ‘Submarine’ later surfaced on an archival collection – presumably, it was written to follow ‘Lurker’ in the planned four-song suite.


from ABACAB, 1981
Unusually, the #9 UK single ‘ABACAB’ takes its name from its structure, where A, B, & C stand for different components. It was coined into a word, used in the song’s chorus. But by the time the song was finished, the title was obsolete, referring to a structure of an early version of the song – Rutherford explained that “you’ve got the final version where it’s not that at all, it’s like “ACACACUCUBUBUGA”. ‘ABACAB’ is a terrific blend of the two worlds of Genesis, combining their arty weirdness with their pop sensibilities.

#4 Follow You Follow Me

from …And Then There Were Three…, 1978
While Phil Collins emerged as Genesis’ solo star, it was Rutherford who initially pointed the group towards pop. From 1976’s Wind + Wuthering, ‘Your Own Special Way’ was a sweet pop song; their first charting single in the US. Rutherford penned the lyrics and wrote the guitar riff for 1978’s ‘Follow You, Follow Me’, a conscious effort to broaden their appeal to a female audience. It works – it’s sweet and likeable.

#3 No Son Of Mine

from We Can’t Dance, 1991
Out of all the songs on this list, ‘No Son of Mine’ sounds like it could have come from a Phil Collins solo album. Banks contributes the deep and menacing sound that features in the introduction – he created a sample of Rutherford’s guitar and lowered the pitch drastically, hence the working title of “Elephantus” for the track. It perhaps overstays its welcome, running close to seven minutes, although the chorus is a great payoff.

#2 Turn It On Again

from Duke, 1980
In a hiatus between Genesis albums in 1979, each member worked on solo projects. Turn It On Again was constructed from leftovers – verse lyrics from Tony Bank’s A Curious Feeling and an unused guitar riff from Rutherford’s Smallcreep’s Day are combined into ‘Turn It On Again’. It’s amazingly catchy from a song with complex time signatures. The verse and chorus are in 13/8, while the intro and bridge are in 9/4 – making it impossible to dance to.

#1 Home By The Sea

from Genesis, 1983
Genesis became more overtly pop with their 1983 self-titled record, with hits like ‘That’s All’ and ‘Mama’. But vestiges of progressive rock remained on standout track ‘Home By The Sea’ – on the record, it’s followed by ‘Second Home By The Sea’, a lengthy instrumental jam with a brief reprise of the ‘Home by the Sea’ verse at its close. The lyrics, written by Banks, are about a burglar who breaks into a haunted house. He’s captured by the ghosts and forced to listen to their stories for the rest of his life. It’s a gorgeous vocal melody, with a folk lilt.

Did I leave out your favourite Genesis pop-era song?

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    • Thank you! No Reply At All was unlucky to miss out for sure – although maybe hard to have it along with Paperlate.

  1. Most of your favorites are mine too. I just thought of Tonight Tonight also, but now I can’t remember if that was Genesis or just Phil Collins.

  2. Nowadays, I clearly prefer Peter Gabriel era Genesis. As such, to me, these picks are more of a mixed bag than your previous Genesis playlist. That said, there are songs on here I still reasonably enjoy, such as “Follow You Follow Me”, “Abacab”, “Misunderstanding” and “Paperlate.”

    I admit pretty much all of the other tracks on your list are well-crafted pop songs. Some like “Invisible Touch” and “Mama” were played to death on the radio in Germany at the time, so I’ve grown tired of them.

    BTW, one of my favorite contemporary bands, Southern Avenue, released a cover of “That’s All” as a single late last year. While it’s a funky, soulful take, prefer Southern Avenue’s originals. Frankly, I was also a bit surprised they picked that tune – seems like such a random choice for them.


    • The Genesis albums I’m most likely to reach for are Duke and ABACAB as I played the heck out of the 1971-1976 records in my late teens and early 20s.

      That cover of ‘That’s All’ is great! The original was unlucky to miss my list.

  3. good list! Such a weird evolution for this band, in a good way. I’d add ‘Jesus he knows me’ which has long been a guilty pleasure of mine

    • I generally enjoyed the We Can’t Dance singles – they were coming out as I was on the cusp of teenagerhood and getting interested in pop music. I have a soft spot for ‘Never A Time’, which almost made my list.

  4. Really good list. My top would be your 9th…Misunderstanding would be my favorite of them. Funny thing you brought up those other songs…I never thought of them… but you are right…they do sound similiar. The one I think of is Fool In The Rain by Led Zeppelin. They came out close to each other and Collins was hanging out with Plant at the time.

    Paperlate and Turn it On Again are really good also…and they are songs that were not wore out as much as some of their others. Collins sure did over saturate himself during that time period.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever heard Misunderstanding or Turn It On Again on the radio – usually Follow You Follow Me is the only pre-1983 Genesis track I hear.

      Collins drumming is impressive on these pop tracks – he makes ‘Turn It On Again’, in 13/8, sound really simple, while he churns up the beat on the 4/4 ‘Dodo/Lurker’.

  5. This is a harder list to make and probably more contentious at times, I really like Driving the Last Spike and Me and Sarah Jane but but you got my favorite with Dodo/lurker

    • Me and Sarah Jane is a good one. Banks was much better at writing pop lyrics than prog lyrics – or maybe he just got better over time? I find his lyrics tough to stomach on songs like One from the Vine and Firth of Fifth.

  6. 10. Please Don’t Ask
    9. Man of Our Time
    8. Turn It On Again
    7. Many Too Many
    6. Burning Rope
    5. Another Record
    4. Follow You Follow Me
    3. Dodo/Lurker
    2. Keep it Dark
    1. Behind the Lines/Duchess

    Probably cheating with my #1 . . . But they segue, and I always listen to them together!

    • All from the 1978-1981 era, right? Keep It Dark was a late cut from my list, and I felt like I underrepresented Duke on my list.

      • Yeah. Nothing from the self-titled album forward moved me like the run that ended with “Abacab.” I listen to that album, “Duke” and “Then . . . Three” probably more than any other Genesis albums at this point, with possible exception of “Lamb.”

        • I listened to the big prog ones a ton while I was at university, while the 1980-1981 pair are still pretty fresh for me.

  7. I love the Genesis pop era much more than its prog era. I think they were smart to make the shift in the 80s, even if it might have been a cynical grab for cash and to stay relevant.

    • When a band forms, 1 plus 1 hopefully equals 3 or more – but not always.

      I don’t think that was the case with some bands like the Eagles or Genesis.

      By breakup time, the members have become famous and thus have access to some of the best studio musicians on the planet.

      I would prefer Don Henley and Peter Gabriel’s solo libraries versus their old bands’ work.

      I would rather hear “the end of the innocence/boys of summer” or “in your eyes” today than the bands’ early stuff.

      That’s not likely to be the consensus view, I’m sure.

      • I like the Eagles OK, but Joe Walsh solo (who probably doesn’t count since he was already established before the Eagles) and Don Henley solo are up there with them really.

        I would take Gabriel’s post-1981 catalogue over Genesis’ post-1981 catalogue for sure, but the prog era is my favourite for either.

    • I think it was largely a natural progression for them – not too cynical. They started with short, sweet pop tunes on their first album, while Collins was into R&B.

  8. Two songs that will always succeed in gripping my heart and rattling my spirit are: “Fading Lights” and “Heathaze” … they have some sort of mystical power that will transport me into another dimension!

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