Genesis’ loyal fans and outspoken critics love and hate the band for the exact same reasons. During their prime-era prog-rock run in the early ’70s, with Peter Gabriel as frontman, Genesis either represented the genre at its peak of bloat or expressiveness; during the ’80s, with Phil Collins on vocals, they were selling out stadiums — and labeled as creative sell-outs — with their polished, streamlined pop-rock.
But Genesis managed to persevere for three decades — partly due to their immense virtuosity and melodic craftsmanship, but also because of their musical breadth. Very few prog bands outlived the arrival of punk and new-wave — or at least not with their dignity intact. Not only did Genesis survive these cultural changes, they actually thrived because of them — constantly discovering new ways to restructure their sound. There’s a graceful arc to the band’s discography, with each album bringing on subtle shifts in their production and songwriting. It’s a bizarre thought, but we wouldn’t have the buttery-smooth “Hold On My Heart” without the devilish “Supper’s Ready.”
And every member, regardless of longevity, left a mark on the Genesis name. Gabriel’s influence on the band’s early sound is impossible to overstate — with his soulful voice, surreal lyrics, and outlandish stage presence (see: the Bat Wings, the Fox Head), that invaluable charisma guided the band toward stardom. Meanwhile, founding member Anthony Phillips (who quit following 1970’s Trespass) helped define the Genesis DNA with his ornate 12-string sound. Steve Hackett, Phillips’ replacement, redefined the physical capabilities of the electric guitar, using effects pedals and finger-tapping to summon mystic textures. Collins saw both sides of the Genesis spectacle: His propulsive, tom-driven drumming is unrivaled in its blend of jazziness and funkiness and all-out bombast; and few singers have the physical and emotion range to pull off both the shriek of “Mama” and the gentle croon of “Follow You Follow Me.”
And then there were two: Keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarist-bassist Mike Rutherford helped co-found Genesis in 1967, as students at the prestigious Charterhouse School in Surrey, England. And their innovative songwriting drove the band throughout all its varying incarnations. Banks, in particular, is the band’s unsung hero: Straight-faced stage performer and camera-shy, he rarely gets proper credit, but he’s the one band member Genesis could never afford to lose. From ambitious, multi-part epics (“One For The Vine”) to stripped-back soul-pop (“Anything She Does”), he wrote from the mindset of a classical composer. And, most importantly, there’s always a melodic heart running through the complex chord changes and winding time-signatures. (What other prog-rock keyboardist wrote melodies that actually stuck in your head? Every zany arpeggio is tempered with a strong, hummable theme.)
Even though a reunion is never going to happen according to Collins, it’s a fitting time to reflect on the Genesis catalogue. The band got together earlier this year for the documentary Sum Of The Parts, and the career-spanning R-Kive box-set hit shelves in September. So slip on your finest fox head and red dress: Let’s explore all of the band’s studio and live LPs, from worst to best.
Start the Countdown here.