The 10 Best Genesis Songs
Abacab, the 11th studio album by UK prog/pop legends Genesis, turns 40 tomorrow. Nursery Cryme, the band’s first album with drummer Phil Collins and guitarist Steve Hackett, turns 50 in November. Meanwhile, the band’s SECOND reunion tour begins in the UK Sept. 20, with US dates to follow in November (fingers crossed!). Their drummer for the tour is Phil Collins’ son Nic, who wasn’t even alive when his father last wrote original material for the band 30 years ago.
All of this is to say, well, Genesis are old! They’ve been around the proverbial block, but against all odds and age, the power trio of Collins, guitarist Mike Rutherford, and keyboardist Tony Banks are back for another honest to god Genesis tour, just like it was all those years ago when they all still had mullets.
This tour wasn’t always a given. 2007 should’ve been it. All signs seemed to point that way. Since that tour, Phil Collins incurred a series of health problems, lost his ability to play the drums, obsessed over the Alamo, became a recluse, returned from his self-imposed exile, hung out with Action Bronson, wrote an autobiography, and toured as a solo act. Rutherford and Banks… well… I’m sure they were up to something! I’m just glad Phil, Mike, and Tony at least finally decided to tour instead of wasting their golden years attending Knicks games.
Naturally, now is as good as time as ever to revisit their illustrious discography. Over the past 50-plus years, Genesis have released 14 albums plus one that shall not be named. They’ve also released four excellent live albums that, as you’ll see below, are as important to their legacy as any extended studio jam they created (not to mention the extensive amount of live bootlegs available online – might I suggest their 1980 Lyceum Ballroom show). Their catalogue is as wide-ranging and diverse as one would expect from a band their age. It’s a catalog that even today seems to be a little slept on (although if you were alive during the band’s insane run during the ‘80s, you could probably still use the rest).
Because of how diverse it is, I fear I have put myself in a no-win situation. Picking 10 songs from the robust discography of Genesis was never going to be easy. I’m of the opinion that both the Gabriel years and Collins years are equally great, but I realize they might as well be two different bands. Then again, the ’70s and ’80s were also two wildly different decades. I’d like to think that we’ve since come to accept the fact that bands simply grow and change. A band may no longer be interested in creating overly wrought prog rock fantasies. Even Peter Gabriel grew out of that, and so did Genesis after he left. Over the years, they became less interested moonlit knights, cuckoo cocoons, and squonks, and more interested in targeting matters of the heart through more direct songwriting. Even during the Collins years, Genesis seamlessly nestled lengthy prog journeys alongside impeccably crafted pop songs. What separates Genesis from their peers is that they just happened to be really good at both.
Inevitably, a lot of your favorites (and mine) are going to be left off. I’m warning you right off the bat, the first three albums don’t make the cut. Then there are three post-Gabriel albums not represented here: And Then There Were Three, Genesis, and We Can’t Dance (while I love those records, I’m not convinced any of those songs belong as top-tier Genesis. Maaaybe “Mama”? “Second Home By The Sea”? “Down And Out”? “Follow You, Follow Me”? “Driving The Last Spike”?). And once again, we shall not be mentioning a certain album from 1997 featuring the single “Congo.”
"Keep It Dark" (from Abacab, 1981)
Since the Invisible Touch tour, Genesis have been unusually reluctant to mention the most eccentric album in their catalog, Abacab. I don’t think they’ve touched any of these songs in 30 years. What gives? Recent documentaries don’t even talk much about the creation of the album, their first in which songs were created not beforehand but via extended jams in the studio. I hope they amend this on the upcoming tour. Surely, you’ve heard the title track thousands of times as you traverse the aisle of your local grocery, and maybe “Man On The Corner” and “No Reply At All” still get some pity spins on classic rock radio. But for my money, “Keep It Dark” is one of the best hidden gem from ’80s Genesis. The song is built around a mechanic guitar line that almost sounds out of sync with the beat, and if you pay close enough attention, you can still hear among the neon synths that charming band of storytellers who made Wind & Wuthering.
"I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" (from Selling England By The Pound, 1973)
With all due respect to the pre-Foxtrot albums, I think the band was still finding its way on each of them. You could maybe make the argument to include “The Musical Box” on this list, but admit it, the only reason you listen to that one is for the last three minutes or so. So let’s jump to Selling England By The Pound, the band’s finest album front-to-back with Gabriel at the helm (we here at Stereogum think as much). “I Know What I Like” is the band’s first genuine leap to the pop charts. It was a bit of an outlier in their catalog to that point, a psychedelic stomp indebted to the Magical Mystery Tour about a young groundskeeper in a quarter-life crisis. I’m not sure they ever would’ve gotten a song featuring your typical cast of Gabriel characters high on the charts, but at least they tried. The chorus is definitely the catchiest Gabriel ever wrote with the band. It has since become a fan favorite and a live staple that features a bit in which Collins plays the tambourine with his head. Whatever helps keep them mowing blades sharp!
"Land Of Confusion" (from Invisible Touch, 1986)
I’ve come around on Invisible Touch. It’s got “Domino”! While it’s definitely the most extravagantly polished album the band ever recorded, the whole thing works in all the best ways a shiny, very ’80s album can. In our poptimistic age, it’s about time we give credit where credit is due (yes Patrick Bateman was ahead of the curve in that regard). “Land Of Confusion” is a great single with an iconic video to boot, thanks to those grotesque Spitting Image puppets. It also happens to be the angriest track they’ve ever written (“In The Air Tonight” does not count, even though it was this close to becoming a Genesis song depending on which band member you ask). The world we live in is in trouble, and the people in charge suck, so it’s time to take matters into our own hands and make it a place worth living. It’s a song that could’ve been written yesterday.
"The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" (from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, 1974)
Like Tony Banks, I’m not sure I’m totally sold on The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. The story never really made a whole lot of sense, but damn if the music isn’t on point. The title track to the saga sets the table perfectly, introducing you into the world of the protagonist Rael as he ventures into the crypts and cracks of 1970s New York City. You can hear Manhattan waking up in the early morning through Banks’ keys, as Gabriel paints a picture for us of drugstores, bustling cars blowing their horns on unmade roads, night-dwellers returning to their homes as the sun rises. They say the lights are always bright on Broadway, but there’s something dwelling underneath. This is only the beginning. This track, along with the rest of the album, is one of Gabriel’s finest moments in Genesis. There’s a great recording from the Genesis Anthology Box Set of a 1975 show in Los Angeles in which Genesis played the album in full for an audience that had never heard it. These songs sound even more monstrous on stage, and that’s without being able to see the elaborate light show and bubbling Gabriel costumes. Here’s hoping Peter Gabriel decides to revisit the idea of staging it one more time. We all know Steve Hackett will be available.
"Turn It On Again" (from Duke, 1980)
Technically 2007 was not the first Genesis reunion. The band actually reunited as a five-piece for a one-off show in October 1982 at the Milton Keynes Bowl in order to help Peter Gabriel out of a financial jam. The band played a solid – if a tad under-rehearsed – set of songs from their ’70s prog-rock heyday, but they also threw in two songs they didn’t write together as a five-piece: Gabriel’s first hit single “Solsbury Hill” and Genesis’ latest single at the time, “Turn It On Again” from their 1980 album Duke. While Phil took the mic for that one, Peter Gabriel opted to play the drums for the song. After all, how hard could the seemingly straightforward rock song be? As Tony Banks once recalled about the performance, “it was typical Peter: ‘Oh, I can play this.’ But once he started playing, he kept looking around going, ‘Oh fuck!’ ‘Turn It On Again’ does funny things; it’s truly a Genesis song.” I guess post-Gabriel Genesis isn’t as dumb as it looks, eh Peter? While “Turn It On Again” sounds simple enough, the song is in 13/8, a tricky time signature that feels like a danceable stomper but is just off-kilter enough to give you a hard time clapping along. It’s a peppy and exhilarating single, and it’s the first time Collins sounds like he’s enjoying being the lead singer of Genesis. On the album it arrives in the middle of what was originally supposed to be a 20-minute long suite of “Behind the Lines”/”Dutchess”/”Guide Vocal”/”Turn It On Again”/”Duke’s Travels”/”Duke’s End,” an idea they ditched so not to invite comparisons to their original epic “Supper’s Ready.” As a live staple, the band has butchered it a bit over the years by tacking on Motown medleys, but in its original form, it helped usher Genesis into the ’80s as arena-rock stars.
"The Carpet Crawlers" (from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, 1974)
Is “The Carpet Crawlers” about the hero of the story, Rael, entering the depths of NYC on a subway? Possibly. Is it about the strange characters and creatures he visualizes underneath Manhattan as he begins to go insane? Maybe. Is it about sperm reaching an egg and being born? I don’t think it really matters. I certainly don’t have the answers, but I imagine the idea of birth or rebirth had to be on top of Peter Gabriel’s mind, as he and his wife were expecting their first child around the time this was recorded and released in 1974. In fact, it sounds like a lullaby, the last thing you hear before entering a deep sleep. Maybe it’s simply about finding your way towards something, heeding the voice that calls to you. “You gotta get in to get out,” goes the mantra, the voices of Peter and Phil in perfect harmony over a dreamlike backdrop as Steve Hackett’s guitar weeps. It’s one of the more gorgeous melodies in their catalogue. Gabriel wasn’t always known for his tenderness on record, seemingly more interested in the theatrics of it all. On “The Carpet Crawlers,” he sounds gentle. Through the eyes of Rael, he takes a moment to appreciate the warmth of lambswool under his naked feet. He’s finally allowing himself to feel comfortable. He wouldn’t write “In Your Eyes” until years later, but perhaps this is where the tenderness begins. “The Carpet Crawlers” is also something of a swan song for Gabriel-era Genesis, as it was the last single they released before he left in order to spend more time with his growing family. It also happens to be the last song they worked on as a full band, when they rerecorded it for a 1999 compilation album. I like that version a lot, the way Gabriel and Collins interlock their harmonies a bit more than they did on Lamb, but the ethereal quality of the original is hard to beat.
"Los Endos" (from A Trick Of The Tail, 1976)
A Trick Of The Tail is arguably the most important album in the Genesis story. At the time of its creation in 1976, Peter Gabriel had just left, and doubts about Genesis’ ability to carry on were rising, but the band was not ready to call it a day. They needed this album to work. They needed every song to be so on point that fans would forget Peter Gabriel was ever there in the first place. Luckily for the band, when Phil Collins stepped out from behind his cymbals and toms and into the spotlight with a microphone, everything just clicked. With A Trick Of The Tail, Genesis were reborn. Songs like “Dance On A Volcano” or the Zeppelin-riffing “Squonk” are more than enough to put any fears about post-Gabriel Genesis to rest, but the piece that ties it all together is “Los Endos.” As great as Gabriel was in Genesis, he was never the most important member of the band, because it was never about just one person (which is probably why the band was miffed when the press focused more on Gabriel’s costumes and less on the songs). It if there was ever a showcase for Genesis THE BAND, “Los Endos” would be it. Partially inspired by Collins’ time playing with jazz fusion outfit Brand X, “Los Endos” tells the story of A Trick Of The Tail without any frills and vocals (except for a lone tribute to Peter Gabriel in the outro). They play the shit out of this closing track, which has become a showstopper in concert over the years. It will be fun to see Nic Collins tackle this one.
"In The Cage (Medley: Cinema Show, Slippermen)"/"Afterglow" (from Three Sides Live, 1982)
Am I just doing this so I can squeeze a few more songs into a top 10 list? Maybe. But I think these live takes are important to the Genesis story. You wouldn’t talk about Peter Frampton without Frampton Comes Alive, you can’t talk about the Allman Brothers without At Fillmore East, and I really don’t think you can rate a Genesis discography without Genesis Live, Seconds Out, and Three Sides Live. Genesis were an incredible live band (they still are), and their concert LPs are great time capsules of what they were capable of back in the day.
For the purposes of this column, I’ve included the Three Sides Live version, but really, I invite you to watch and listen to the medley from the 1984 MAMA tour. Genesis play one of the best songs from Lamb, “In The Cage,” and turn it into a medley of some of their best moments as a band – “Cinema Show” (a classic Genesis song in itself), “The Colony Of Slippermen,” and “In That Quiet Earth” – before launching right into the best closer (and one of the best songs) in their catalog: “Afterglow.” “In The Cage” became a fan favorite during their ’80s run, and while the song is great on Lamb, the band turned it into a monster during their run in the ’80s. A lot of that has to do with honorary Genesis members Daryl Stuermer on guitar and Chester Thompson on drums. Each plays his instrument with the ferocity of a runaway bullet train. They generate a manic energy that the studio version could never live up to. Then there’s “Afterglow,” Tony Banks’ meditation from Wind & Wuthering about being the last man standing after a nuclear fallout. It’s haunting and beautiful, and while I think “Afterglow” is great on its own, it’s better with the lead in from “In That Quiet Earth” in this live medley.
"Firth Of Fifth" (from Selling England By The Pound, 1973)
The piano intro of “Firth Of Fifth” sounds like it could’ve been composed in the 1700s. Tony Banks might as well be wearing a powdered wig. “Firth Of Fifth” compresses and expands in all the ways the best progressive rock songs do. It houses rare 13/16 and 15/16 time signatures, a meditative flute interlude, and a killer synth solo that sounds like something out of the ELP playbook. The person who really steals the show here is Steve Hackett, who delivers the guitar solo of his career. Hackett was never about being flashy, and he takes his time squeezing the last drop of emotion out of every note.
"Supper's Ready" (from Seconds Out, 1977)
Everything Genesis ever did after “Supper’s Ready” would be compared to that 20-plus minute opus from Foxtrot. When the song arrived in 1972, not many bands were willing to write songs as sprawling as “Supper’s Ready.” After all, who was going to put a 20 minute song on the radio? “Hey Jude” barely got by with seven. While trying to write a follow up to “The Musical Box,” Genesis went down a rabbit hole. They followed all the ungodly chord changes and time signatures where they led. They fit seven misfit song fragments into an Iliadic jigsaw. Nowhere else does “Suppers Ready” sound as good as it does on Seconds Out. Phil Collins sings like his damn life depended on it. He was still young and had a lot to prove as a frontman. When he comes in during the “Apocalypse In 9/8” section yelling “six six six!,” that might be the most urgent the man has ever sounded on record. On Seconds Out, when Genesis reach the finale and the song fades into the heavens, they sound absolutely biblical.
Listen to the playlist on Spotify: