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
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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