Genesis: 20 Insanely Great Songs Only Hardcore Fans Know - Rolling Stone
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20 Insanely Great Genesis Songs Only Hardcore Fans Know

A journey through the hidden corners of the band’s discography – from high-concept prog gems to forgotten pop-rock B-sides


Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford of Genesis, circa 1991.

Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty

The question “Do you like Genesis?” brings an inevitable follow-up: “Which one?” The band’s early work, recorded under the idiosyncratic Batwing of frontman Peter Gabriel, is the Holy Grail of progressive rock – exemplified by sprawling masterpieces like the 1974 double-LP The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. But after Gabriel left the band in ’75, Genesis carried on with drummer Phil Collins as their de-facto frontman, transitioning from complex, symphonic epics (“Eleventh Earl of Mar”) to concise, polished pop (“Invisible Touch).” For many diehard prog buffs, the Collins era is a travesty; for many pop-rock aficionados, the Gabriel era is, as serial killer Patrick Bateman put it in the 2000 thriller American Psycho, “too artsy, too intellectual.”

The truth, of course, is that Genesis made incredible music in every one of their distinct eras – from the long-form insanity of “Supper’s Ready” to the savvy yacht-pop of “Hold on My Heart.” What other band has covered so much sonic territory?

It’s been a big year for Genesis. The five members of the classic quintet (Gabriel, Collins, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and Steve Hackett) recently reunited for the upcoming BBC/Showtime documentary, Genesis – Sum of the Parts, and a career-spanning, three-disc box set, R-Kive, arrived last month. To celebrate, let’s take a look at 20 of the band’s buried treasures.

"The Fountain of Salmacis"

“The Fountain of Salmacis”

Phil Collins and Steve Hackett made their Genesis debuts on 1971's Nursery Cryme – but in spite of its historical significance, the album suffers from a flat mix and a tracklist padded with filler. Regardless, the LP's highlights are unimpeachable, especially the oft-overlooked closer "The Fountain of Salmacis." Co-composed by the entire early quintet, this triumphant epic delves into Greek mythology and stretches into jazzy atmospherics. But the biggest goosebump moment is Tony Banks' opening mellotron swirl – a definitive souvenir for the prog-rock time-capsule. 

"The Cinema Show"

“The Cinema Show” (‘Seconds Out’ Live Version)

Percussion master Bill Bruford is the only human being to serve time in each of the Prog Big Three: Yes, King Crimson and Genesis. And the latter gig came about almost as an afterthought. In 1976, fresh from recording his debut lead vocals on Genesis' A Trick of the Trail, Phil Collins invited Bruford to sit in with jazz-fusion side-group Brand X; after mentioning he needed to find a replacement live drummer for Genesis, Bruford casually offered his services for their upcoming tour.

Bruford only stuck around for one tour, replaced in '77 by former Frank Zappa drummer Chester Thompson. But his experimental style breathed new life into the band's setlist, as evidenced on their 1977 live LP, Seconds Out. The album's centerpiece is a dizzying version of "The Cinema Show" (recorded at the Pavillion de Paris on June 23rd, 1976), which is anchored by the journeyman's percussive whiplash. 

"Keep It Dark"

“Keep It Dark”

Abacab oddity "Keep It Dark" cracked the U.K. charts in 1981, but the single was shelved in America. (An understandable decision since it's set in a fidgety time-signature and lacks a clear chorus hook.) But the track, composed by Tony Banks, still burrows under your skin, as Phil Collins scrapes the upper limits of his falsetto over a nagging guitar riff and drum loop. Banks has always been protective of "Keep It Dark," specifically its lyrics – which tell the story of a man abducted by aliens and taken to a peaceful world, only to be dumped back on Earth with a lunatic secret. 

"Get 'Em Out By Friday"

“Get ‘Em Out by Friday”

It's easy to spot which Genesis lyrics were written by Peter Gabriel. Most of the frontman's contributions are conceptually outlandish, often prodding the words-per-minute boundaries of rock singing. "Get 'Em Out By Friday," from 1972's Foxtrot, tells the whimsical sci-fi tale of Genetic Control, a group regulating "humanoid height" in order to fit more people into apartment complexes. But, as usual with prog-era Genesis, the words aren't too important. The track's true strength is its dynamic ensemble playing: Gabriel's throaty roar, Tony Banks' searing organ, Mike Rutherford's galloping bass guitar. 

"One for the Vine"

“One for the Vine”

Tony Banks has always considered Wind & Wuthering one of his favorite Genesis albums, which is understandable since it's dominated by keyboard-heavy pieces. The 10-minute "One for the Vine" became a live powerhouse, played frequently during the band's tours between 1977 and 1980 (and even showing up on Three Sides Live), but the original version is the most essential. Banks leads the band through endless musical shifts, from a Romantic piano ballad opening to a bizarre percussive breakdown to a borderline-disco groove. It's the most ambitious Genesis song from the post-Gabriel era. 

"Driving the Last Spike"

“Driving the Last Spike”

By 1991, Phil Collins was splitting time between Genesis and his hugely successful solo career. That recipe worked on a creative and personal level – it also gave the other two members the chance to work on other projects (Mike Rutherford with Mike + the Mechanics, Tony Banks with his obscure solo albums) and re-enter the band with a clean slate. We Can't Dance is the last album Genesis recorded with the trio lineup, and it's easily their most underrated collection of songs.

Though it's often remembered for the hits (the religious satire "Jesus He Knows Me," the goofy blues-rock aberration "I Can't Dance"), the LP also features a handful of extended art-rock epics, including the 10-minute "Driving the Last Spike." The lyrics, written by Collins, tell the tragic and triumphant story of Britain's railway workers of the 1800s. But the frontman also dominates in other areas, delivering one of his most aggressive vocals and beating his drums to a bloody pulp. 

The Brazilian

“The Brazilian”

Perhaps the biggest Eighties TV crime is that this off-kilter, Grammy-nominated instrumental didn't serve as the title credit score for a detective drama. "The Brazilian," with its blaring synthesizer lines and mechanical tom-tom pummel, is a strange way to end Genesis' most radio-friendly LP, 1986's Invisible Touch – some critics considered it a concession to the band's die-hard prog fans, a taste of art-rock mysticism to offset the slick sensitivity of ballads like "In Too Deep." As a result, a lot of fans write off this hidden gem without giving it a fair shake. 



The most naggingly catchy gibberish in the Genesis discography, the instrumental "Naminanu" was recorded for Abacab but left off the final track list, showing up as the B-side for "Keep It Dark." But the band initially had big plans for the track, planning it as the opening piece of a "Dodo/Lurker" suite (which would have also included the discarded "Submarine"). Since Genesis were already moving away from long-form epics, it made stylistic sense to leave this one on the cutting room floor. Plus, with its neon-bright synth stabs and babbling hook, "Naminanu" sounds great on its own.

Happy the Man

“Happy the Man”

"Happy the Man" is one of the true oddities in the Genesis catalog. This simple, flute-driven folk-pop ditty came out in 1972 – the same year as Foxtrot, one of their most ambitious prog-rock albums. The song's origins are a bit fuzzy: Some Genesis historians claim it was written and performed live during the Trespass era, when original guitarist Anthony Phillips was still in the band. Regardless, it's been mostly forgotten about in the 21st century, despite its charming sing-along vibe.  

Fun fact: Obscure late Seventies prog band Happy the Man didn't name themselves after the song, despite being huge Genesis fans (and even including a "Watcher of the Skies" cover in their early live repertoire). The group even helped Gabriel demo some rough ideas for his first solo album, though he eventually decided to use other musicians. 

Evidence of Autumn

“Evidence of Autumn”

Guitarist Steve Hackett left Genesis in 1977, following their Wind & Wuthering tour, and the remaining trio (Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks) struggled to find their creative footing on the next year's lukewarm …And Then There Were Three. But they rebounded in a major way with 1980's Duke, a more cohesive set of songs that balanced virtuosity with accessibility. "Evidence of Autumn," a starry-eyed ballad driven by Banks' lush keyboards, was recorded during the sessions but pushed aside – winding up as the B-side to pop staple "Misunderstanding" and rounding out the original studio section of 1982's Three Sides Live. It's a classic Banks composition, built on a deceptively complex chord structure and a winding, winsome vocal melody. 

You Might Recall

“You Might Recall”

A leftover from the fertile Abacab sessions, this underrated tune finds Phil Collins belting about lost love over an agile, propulsive groove. "You Might Recall" appeared on two 1982 releases, the Three Sides Live album and the 3×3 EP, but it's hard to fathom why it didn't make the final cut on Abacab – it's one of the most musically distinctive tracks from that era, dominated by Mike Rutherford's funky bass playing and an emotive vocal performance that likely left Collins' voice raw in the recording booth. 

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