50 Years Ago: Genesis Release First Single, ‘The Silent Sun’
Genesis are rightfully regarded as one of the most innovate and eclectic progressive rock bands of all time. But -- a couple late-era Phil Collins belters aside -- they're not remembered as cookie-cutter pop balladeers. Timing is everything: On Feb. 23, 1968, these British lads got off to an awkwardly uncharacteristic start with their debut single, "The Silent Sun," the most saccharine, lightweight ditty in their discography.
The band's earliest seeds were sewn at Godalming's Charterhouse Boarding School, where the raw, soulful vocal talent of Peter Gabriel impressed pop record producer Jonathan King (who'd also scored a solo hit of his own with 1965's "Everyone's Gone to the Moon"). Aiming to secure King's approval (and a recording contract), Gabriel and keyboardist Tony Banks whipped together "The Silent Sun," a flowery, piano-driven ballad the band has often pegged as a Bee Gees-styled rip-off.
Their ploy worked. The band's debut studio album, From Genesis to Revelation, was released in 1969 on Decca, though it flopped in magnificent fashion. It was a turbulent time for the band, who disapproved of King's heavy use of overdubbed strings and felt smothered by his presence in the studio. (Fun fact: It was King who initially suggested the name Genesis, along with the Biblical concept of their debut.)
Hardly anybody looks back on "The Silent Sun" without wincing. In a way, it's unfair: If you remove the Genesis name from the equation, it's a pleasantly inoffensive pop throwaway, with some stately piano chords from Banks and soothing chorus harmonies, as Gabriel romanticizes poetry like, "She is the warmth of my lonely heart / The motion of a turning wheel." Nope, Genesis were clearly not meant to climb the pop charts on the coattails of the Bee Gees -- but "The Silent Sun" remains fascinating, if more as a historical document than a song.
After the dismal sales of From Genesis to Revelation, the band split with Decca and King, ultimately embracing a more complex, progressive style on their subsequent album, 1970's highly underrated Trespass. This would be their last album with founding guitarist Anthony Phillips (who fled the band after debilitating bouts with stage fright) and their sole album with drummer John Mayhew (who as later replaced by percussive monster Collins).
Today, Genesis have a sense of humor about "The Silent Sun," looking back on that naive time as a stepping stone to something far more powerful.
On the 1985 interview LP Mike on Mike, bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford reflected fondly on the Jonathan King era: "Jonathan King, for all his faults -- he has a funny reputation in England -- did give us a fantastic opportunity. Because in those days, in England, you couldn't get in the studio. I mean, now a new group can very easily get a chance to go and record a single, just something, you know, to show there's something going for them. In those days, to get any sort of record contract, was really magical. And he gave us a chance to do a whole record. You've got a bunch of musicians who were really amateur, could barely play well, were barely a group, and were able to go in one summer holiday and make a record."