It’s easy to think you’ve heard all there is to hear about Genesis. Between selling some 130 million albums worldwide, papering MTV with videos, and a well-deserved Hall of Fame nod — not to mention launching the hitmaking solo careers of Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford — we’ve all gotten to know these prog pioneers pretty well. Still, with a history stretching back to the late ’60s, Genesis continues to surprise and delight. Here are 20 facts you probably didn’t know about Genesis:
Phil Collins nearly didn’t take over as singer after Peter Gabriel’s departure. Mick Strickland was brought in as a potential replacement, but he couldn’t comfortably sing in key for the already-recorded backing tracks that would become 1976’s ‘A Trick of the Tail.’
The acronym ABACAB was originally used as a way of remembering the compositional sequence on the title song for Genesis’ 1981 album – with A standing for the verse, B for chorus and C for bridge. Only, they didn’t end up recording the final song that way.
Gabriel remains annoyed by the notion some have that Genesis was comprised of “snotty rich kids,” saying “it used to piss me off seeing all these ‘people’s hero’ musicians – like Joe Strummer – who’d come from a similar background to mine, but were keeping it quiet. In Genesis, we were always very straight about where we came from, and we were middle-class, not aristocratic.”
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Tony Banks is the band’s most frequent songwriter, but he’s never sung lead on any Genesis track.
An aggressive section in ‘The Musical Box,’ the early Genesis classic, grew out of a suggestion from Gabriel that Mike Rutherford channel the Who. “I was really wanting to try to persuade Mike,” he said, “to find something like a little [Pete] Townsend, arm-waving, balls-y attacking section in there.”
Believe it or not, Collins never wanted to be the singer. The band’s original thought, upon Gabriel’s departure, was to “forget the vocals; we’ll just carry on as an instrumental four-piece.” Collins’ first wife actually suggested the idea that he take over, after realizing that the audition process was going poorly.
In time, the Collins-led edition became known for innovative music videos like the Grammy-winning ‘Land of Confusion.’ But it wasn’t always that way. Check out this incredibly cheesy promo clip for the title track of ‘A Trick of the Tail,’ which features a miniature Collins performing atop a piano.
Collins can, at least partly, credit Gabriel’s parents’ pool for his original gig as Genesis drummer. He listened to the earlier candidates auditioning while he took a dip, and based his own performance on what his bandmates had previously said they did (and didn’t) like from the others.
‘Follow You, Follow Me’ became Genesis’ first-ever Top 10 UK hit in 1978. Funnily enough, Rutherford says he wrote the lyrics for this pop breakout in 10 minutes, as well.
The first artist to cover a Genesis song in the studio was – drumroll – Phil Collins. The accidental frontman recorded a loose-limbed version of ‘Behind the Lines’ for his 1981 solo debut, ‘Face Value.’ The track had earlier served as the opener on 1980’s ‘Duke.’
One of Gabriel’s more memorable on-stage gets ups – a red dress paired with a creepy fox head – was borrowed in part from the wardrobe of his then-wife Jill. The rest of Genesis, prior to its debut at a former boxing arena in Dublin, expressed uncertainty over how the costume would go over. The audience’s shocked reaction, however, convinced them they were doing something right.
Beginning in the early 1980s, many of Phil Collins’ lyrics originated as gibberish words sung during jam sessions. He would then craft the sounds he was singing into actual lyrics. Perhaps the best known example is the 1983 anthem ‘Mama,’ about a young man obsessed with a disinterested prostitute. Collins was improvising over an instrumental when he stumbled upon the word “mama.”
The ‘Against All Odds’ soundtrack – best known for Collins’ emotive solo title ballad, which went to No. 1 in the U.S. – actually features three tracks from individual members of Genesis. The forgotten Gabriel treasure ‘Walk Through the Fire’ is joined by Rutherford’s quirky ‘Making a Big Mistake.’
During the outsized tour for 1974’s ‘Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,’ Gabriel often struggled to sing in his grotesque Slipperman costume. In fact, the entire trek had a Spinal Tap-esque atmosphere. Production miscues ranged from visual slides that didn’t synch with the music, to a dangerous explosion that nearly derailed one gig altogether.
A Tony Banks pep talk first convinced the self-conscious Collins to sing the word “mama,” but it wasn’t for the earlier-mentioned radio hit of the same name. Instead, this was five years before – during sessions for ‘Many Too Many’ off of 1978’s ‘And Then There Were Three.’ Banks remembers having to tell him, “You can sing ‘mama’! Stevie Wonder uses ‘mama’ in his lyrics all the time.”
As Genesis transitioned into a leaner, more pop-oriented sound, not every one was thrilled. The ‘Abacab’ tour was, in fact, greeted with smatterings of boos. “They didn’t like the scaled-down thing at all,” Collins says, taking particular offense at the reaction to ‘No Reply At All.’ “Who says we can’t have horns on it? It’s our f—-ing record!” he added. “So we did it, and people hated it.” Well, not everyone. ‘No Reply’ eventually went Top 30 in the U.S.
Stephen Lovekin, Getty Images
‘Invisible Touch’ is the only Genesis song to reach No. 1 in the U.S., though it only got to No. 15 in the UK. In fact, Genesis never scored a charttopper on its home charts. ‘Mama’ finished highest, at No. 4. 1991’s ‘No Son of Mine’ went to No. 6 in the UK.
The 1991 Grammy-nominated ‘I Can’t Dance’ single actually originated as a joke. Rutherford created the bluesy riff after watching a Levi commercial that used The Clash’s ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go,’ and didn’t think it would work because of its simplicity. When Banks added the hammy keyboard sounds, it took on a different direction and the band went with it.
Genesis was named by its original manager Jonathan King, who wanted to mark the beginning of his production career.
Oh, and that creepy and hilarious laugh during ‘Mama’? It was inspired, Collins says, by an off-the-cuff moment in Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s seminal hip-hop hit ‘The Message.’ Producer Hugh Padgham had the single, and Collins says “we all thought it was great – this laugh.” They went back to the studio, and it ended up on tape.
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