It’s hard to blame Genesis for carrying on after Phil Collins left the group in 1996. After all, just four years earlier, they packed stadiums all over the world on the We Can’t Dance tour. They’d been around for nearly three decades and had somehow gotten more and more popular with each passing year, even after original frontman Peter Gabriel quit in 1975, followed by guitarist Steve Hackett’s exit two years later. The lesson up until this point was that no defection could stop their relentless journey forward.
When Peter Gabriel quit, they auditioned a bunch of singers before deciding to simply promote drummer Phil Collins to frontman. That wasn’t an option this time as keyboardist Tony Banks doesn’t have much of a voice (let alone the charisma to front a band), and guitarist Mike Rutherford proved on his 1982 solo LP Acting Very Strange that, to put it mildly, singing isn’t his forte. For the first time in the group’s history, they had to reach outside their ranks to find a new lead vocalist.
They eventually settled on 28-year-old Scottish singer Ray Wilson, best known for fronting the band Stiltskin. (It’s possible you remember their 1994 song “Inside” from a Levi’s commercial, but you probably don’t.) The new lineup of Genesis released Calling All Stations on September 1st, 1997. The top album in America that week was No Way Out by Puff Daddy, followed by the Men in Black soundtrack, The Art of War by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Spice by the Spice Girls. This wasn’t exactly a friendly commercial environment for Genesis, especially minus Phil Collins, and the album debuted at Number 54 on the Billboard 200 and quickly fell off the chart completely.
The group hoped to revive interest in the album with an American tour, but initial sales were so dismal that they were forced to call the whole thing off. They did launch a rather extensive tour of Europe (where interest in Calling All Stations was far stronger) and hardcore Genesis fans were delighted to hear long-neglected tunes like “Dancing With the Moonlight Knight” and “The Carpet Crawlers” in the setlist. But it was clear that the general public didn’t really want a Phil Collins-free Genesis. The tour wrapped up May 31st, 1998 at Rock im Park festival in Nuremberg, Germany. Here’s video of the group playing “Calling All Stations” that night.
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Once the tour ended, the group had to face some difficult truths. “I sort of felt that going forward to create a new Genesis required too much work,” Mike Rutherford told Rolling Stone in 2015. “I just didn’t have it in me, and I had the Mechanics. I know that Tony and Ray wanted to carry on, but I just knew I couldn’t do it.”
Wilson’s brief tenure has been all but forgotten by most everyone but the most-devoted Genesis fans. The 2014 BBC documentary Genesis: Together and Apart – which delved deep into such matters as the creation of the puppets for the “Land of Confusion” video – acted like it never even happened. Wilson continues to tour on his own, however, and he always plays a bunch of Genesis songs and even tunes from the members solo career like “Another Day In Paradise” and “Solsbury Hill.” Some nights he even does Mike and the Mechanics songs. Why the hell not? For one brief moment in time, he did indeed front Genesis. Not many people on this planet can claim that.