Genesis Bio


The long career for Genesis breaks down neatly into two contrasting eras: For the first half Genesis was a cult band fronted by theatrical vocalist Peter Gabriel, playing majestic art rock that set the style for such American acts as Kansas and Styx —story songs set to complex, richly textured music with hints of classical pomp. After Gabriel left, drummer Phil Collins took over as lead singer —proving himself a more down-to-earth frontman —and the band's audience expanded exponentially, as Genesis streamlined its music into romantic pop songs and abandoned costume drama for laser lightshows. By the mid-'80s, Genesis was one of the world's most popular bands.

After Gabriel and Tony Banks played together in a band called Garden Wall, they formed a "songwriter's collective" with Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips while all four were students at Charterhouse, an exclusive British secondary school. In late 1967 British record mogul Jonathan King suggested the name Genesis and got the group a contract that resulted in the poppish 13-song From Genesis to Revelation (1968), which was not released in the U.S. until 1974.

Upon graduating, the four members lived together in an English country cottage and rehearsed for several months before playing their first gig in September 1969. They developed an elaborate stage show —Gabriel had a series of costume changes, including a bat and a flower —And with the adroit drumming of Phil Collins (formerly with Flaming Youth), their songs grew into extended suites on Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, and Selling England by the Pound. They gained a large following in England and a dedicated cult in the United States. In 1974 Genesis' theatricality peaked with a two-LP set and attendant live show, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, in which Gabriel played Rael, who suffered various metamorphoses in a surreal Manhattan.

Gabriel left Genesis after Lamb for a solo career, and the group took 18 months to adjust. It auditioned over 400 singers before deciding Collins could take over; on tour, the trio employed a second drummer so that Collins could roam the stage. Genesis dispensed with costumes and continued to perform older material, which was credited to the whole group. A Trick of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering expanded the band's cult (the latter included Genesis' first hit single, "Your Own Special Way" [#62, 1977], and…And Then There Were Three…, with somewhat shorter songs, became its first gold album in 1978 (the LP later went platinum).

Genesis began to score U.S. Top 40 hit singles with "Follow You, Follow Me" (#23, 1978) from…And Then There Were Three… and "Misunderstanding" (#14, 1980) from Duke, in which the trio turned their narrative skills to love songs. For Abacab, Genesis incorporated some new-wave concision; the album (#7, 1981) sold 2 million copies, and the title song (#26, 1981) and "No Reply at All" (#29, 1981) were hits. The latter featured the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section, which also appeared on Collins' 2-million-selling solo debut, Face Value (#7, 1981). That album yielded the Top 20 hits "I Missed Again" (#19, 1981) and "In the Air Tonight" (#19, 1981).

Collins' second solo album, Hello, I Must Be Going! (1982), was a Top 10 hit and featured a cover of the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love" (#10, 1982). The group's Genesis (#9, 1983) spawned "That's All" {#6, 1983) and "Illegal Alien" (#44, 1984). In 1984 Collins produced ex-Earth, Wind & Fire vocalist Philip Bailey's Chinese Wall album and dueted with him on the hit single "Easy Lover" (#2, 1984). The next year Collins earned an Oscar nomination and won a Grammy for his movie love theme "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" (#1, 1984), and hit #1 with "Separate Lives" (a duet with Marilyn Martin) from the film White Nights. His own 1985 album No Jacket Required hit #1 faster than Michael Jackson's Thriller had, with such hits as "One More Night" (#1, 1985), "Sussudio" (#1, 1985), "Don't Lose My Number" (#4, 1985), and "Take Me Home" (#7, 1986). For the July 13, 1985, Live Aid concert, Collins performed on his own in London that morning, then flew via the Concorde to the Philadelphia show to perform there solo later that day, as well as play drums in the Led Zeppelin reunion with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Also in 1985, Mike Rutherford launched Mike + the Mechanics, whose debut album (#26, 1985) produced hit singles with "Silent Running" (#6, 1985) and "All I Need Is a Miracle" (#5, 1986). The Living Years (#13, 1988) yielded a #1 hit in the title track, which was inspired by the death of Rutherford's father.

Genesis returned to the chars with Invisible Touch (#3, 1986), containing the track (#1, 1986), "Throwing It All Away" (#4, 1986), and "Land of Confusion" (#4,1986). The viciously satirical video for the later featured England's Spitting Image puppets of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and others. "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" (#3, 1987) was featured in TV commercials for Michelob beer, which also sponsored Genesis' 1987 tour (the Michelob campaign, which also used Eric Clapton's "After Midnight," was later satirized in Neil Young's "this Note's for You" video).

In 1988 Colilns, who had acted professionally as a child, starred in the movie Buster (he'd made his big-screen debut as an extra in in the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night); the soundtrack produced #1 hits for Collins in a cover of the Mindbenders' 1966 hit "Groovy Kind of Love" and "Two Hearts," cowritten with Lamont Dozier of the fame Holland-Dozier-Holland Motown team. His But Seriously (#1, 1989), an attempt to confront social issues, certified Collins as an "adult contemporary" superstar, with "Another Day in Paradise" (#1, 1989), "I Wish It Would Rain Down" (#3, 1990), "Do You Remember?" (#4, 1990), and "Something Happened on the Way to Heaven" (#4, 1990).

The hits continued for Genesis into the '90s, as We Can't Dance (#4, 1991) produced "No Son of Mine" (#12, 1991), "Hold On My Heart" (#12, 1992), and "I Can't Dance" (#7, 1992). The album was Collins' last studio effort with the group. He announced his departure in 1996, the same year his album Dance Into the Light was released. It hit #23, but failed to produce any Top 40 singles. Collins diversified in 1999, recording a live album of greatest hits arranged for a 20-piece big band and lending his vocal and songwriting skills to the soundtrack for Disney's animated Tarzan. (He won an Oscar for Best Original Song, for "You'll Be in My Heart.") Genesis continued, returning to the studio in 1997 with a new singer, 28-year-old Scotsman Ray Wilson, formerly of Stiltskin. Calling All Stations (#54, 1997) was touted as a slight return to the band's progressive-rock roots but lacked the commercial appeal of the Collins-era catalogue.

This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).