40 Years Ago: Genesis’ ‘Pure Prog’ Era Ends With ‘Spot the Pigeon’ EP
For most Genesis fans, Wind & Wuthering marks the end of the band's pure prog-rock era. And as their final LP with Steve Hackett, it certainly draws a line through the discography: After the guitarist's departure, the remaining trio gradually chipped away at their dense, complex song structures. Given that loaded historical context, it's easy to forget about 1977's follow-up leftovers EP, the spotty Spot the Pigeon – Hackett's true studio swan song. Not that the band members would even care if you forgot – most of them wish it didn't exist.
Hackett, who released his debut solo LP, Voyage of the Acolyte, two years prior, entered the Wind rehearsals with a new level of confidence – and a batch of new songs he hoped to squeeze on the track list. But given their glut of songwriting talent (and awkward band dynamics), the guitarist faced resistance to his material. Genesis rehearsed his winding prog instrumental "Please Don't Touch" but ultimately discarded it for another fusion-tinged cut, the Phil Collins / Tony Banks co-write "Wot Gorilla?" They also rejected his robust ballad "Hoping Love Will Last" after he requested they recruit an outside female singer.
The band persevered through the tensions, winding up with a fairly democratic LP: Hackett co-wrote four of the nine selections (including the epic "Eleventh Earl of Mar" and cinematic Collins team-up "Blood on the Rooftops," highlighted by his elegant nylon-string guitar work). But, partly due to the time constraints of the vinyl era, they were forced to delegate three other songs to Spot the Pigeon, which almost everyone viewed as an afterthought.
Opener "Match of the Day," with its hammy soccer lyrics ("There's a few things before we go / That I think you ought to know / Obstruction, body checking, heavy tackles"), showcases the band's undervalued quirkiness, as Collins croons a summery pop hook over synth-bass and jangly acoustic guitar. Looking back, though, Collins wishes they'd left it on the cutting room floor: "It was also not our finest hour looking back at it now!" he admitted in a 2006 message board post. "I wrote the embarrassing lyrics and the track featured an attempt to bring some of the hipper grooves of the day into Genesis, with very suspect results." (The drummer hazily recalls filming a promotional video, but sadly no evidence has survived.)
The lightweight "Pigeons," highlighted by a one-note banjolele line, also adds to the EP's reputation as a fluffy filler release. "The thing about 'Pigeons' was that it was possible for the band to play a whole note for a whole thing: ding-ding-ding-ding," Hackett told fans at a 2009 event. "And that was unvarying whilst the keyboard changed and [Banks] tried to do as many different chords as possible. It was obviously a send-up and it was trying to sound like an English musical performer called George Formby."
But even Pigeon naysayers can't deny the majesty of closer "Inside and Out," a Hackett-dominated composition that builds from 12-string folk to a fiery prog workout that peaks with Banks' circus-like synth solo. Over the years, Hackett has remained adamant – for good reason – that "Inside" should've cracked the Wuthering track list as it exemplified the band's multi-layered sound.
"I think it was one of the stronger tracks that didn’t make it onto the album," he told Vintage Rock in 2017. "I think it should have been because it has a very beautiful sound to it. Right from the word 'go,' it’s got that Genesis multi-jangle thing where it sounds like one guitar, but it's a whole bunch of guitars all playing the same thing."
Spot the Pigeon was a minor chart success upon its May release, landing at No. 14 in the U.K. Five months later, just weeks before issuing their double-live LP, Seconds Out, Genesis announced Hackett's departure from the line-up.
Despite its obvious flaws and general band disinterest, Spot the Pigeon has aged well – and converted some detractors over the decades. The EP – minus "Match of the Day" – was released on the 2000 box set Genesis Archive 2, and label Audio Fidelity reissued the album on vinyl for Record Store Day in 2012. Most crucially, Hackett dusted off "Inside and Out" during his Genesis Revisited tour marking Wind & Wuthering's 40th anniversary.
"It was my last record with the band. But it happened to be a great record," the guitarist told Ultimate Classic Rock in 2017. "Live, with the band, they’re doing magnificent versions of 'Eleventh Earl of Mar,' 'One for the Vine,' 'Blood on the Rooftops,' '…In That Quiet Earth,' 'Afterglow' — all of which I think are great tunes in one way or another.
"We’re also doing 'Inside and Out,'" he added, "which should have been on the album."
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