Top 10 Peter Gabriel Genesis Songs
Since the first rumblings of Genesis in 1967, it was clear that Peter Gabriel had his own unique vision. His path to find his own artistic identity would lead him to constantly look for new ground. Though his tenure with Genesis was less than a decade, the mark he left on the band, and the fans, is undeniable. To this day there are those who swear only by the Gabriel era, dismissing everything that came after, while, of course, record sales would play devil’s advocate. While Gabriel would go on to artistic and commercial triumphs on his own, the music he created with Genesis remains a unique and incredible batch of recordings. We have picked a paltry few of the many highlights of the fabled era for this list of the Top 10 Peter Gabriel Genesis Songs, but the truth is, there’s nary a bum note in the entire catalog.
“In the Beginning”
The first Genesis album, From Genesis to Revelation is all but forgotten, even by many of the band’s fans. While the band is obviously not fully developed yet, as a first step, it’s got plenty of charm and great tunes. Early on, Genesis had adopted a significantly more “pop” approach than what they would soon immerse themselves in. Plenty of nods to the likes of the Beatles and Bee Gees were front and center, but you can hear the rumblings of what would become the true Genesis sound on the song “In the Beginning.” The song begins with an ominous rumble before the acoustic guitar driven tune kicks in, and the offbeat lyrics give a hint as to what was to come. While the song has elements of the Moody Blues, it is decidedly more aggressive. The essence of musical drama was in the air. A lost gem if ever there was one.
With their second album, Trespass, Genesis had noticeably changed direction from their first recordings. Gone were the more quaint, Baroque pop stylings, and in their place a more, dare we say, “mature” mood created. The songs were longer, more complex and more demanding. This approach would be cemented by album number three, but of the songs here, there is no denying “The Knife” as king. This song was their first show-stopper, serving as the centerpiece of their concerts at the time. The band is commanding as they flex their musical muscle here, while Gabriel is finding his signature voice here as well.
“The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”
The shimmering piano intro sets the scene as the band slowly move in and the story of the troubled Rael is put forth on the No. 8 entry in our list of the Top 10 Peter Gabriel Genesis Songs. The catchy, yet far from simplistic song, is brimming with a bravado not always part of the Genesis arsenal. Gabriel’s vocal here ranks as one of his finest. “The story in a way, is like a Pilgrim’s Progress but on the streets of New York,” said Gabriel in commenting on the album, “It’s a spiritual journey into the soul, but it was quite a tough world that’s feeding the imagery.”
“Firth of Fifth”
While Gabriel’s performance on this tune from their fifth album, Selling England by the Pound, is nothing short of brilliant, it is the instrumentalists who really steal the show here. From the grand piano intro by Tony Banks to the spine-chilling guitar solo from Steve Hackett, this is a tour de force. Banks, Hackett and Gabriel (on flute) each draw from the same melodic theme for their respective solos, but it’s not until Hackett is in the driver’s seat that it takes off for the skies.
“The Carpet Crawlers”
“The Carpet Crawlers” is arguably the most beautiful song Genesis ever laid down. From the haunting piano intro to the final fadeout, it is second-to-none in terms of dreamlike beauty. The melody itself is haunting, but Peter’s performance here is beyond compare. The song builds, becoming more forceful and majestic as it moves along. Though a 1999 re-recorded version featuring both Gabriel and Phil Collins made its way to radio play, it is the Lamb original that resonates for the ages.
“Watcher of the Skies”
The opening number during the band’s 1972 tour and No. 5 on our list of the Top 10 Peter Gabriel Genesis Songs, “Watcher of the Skies” set the stage for the band’s increasingly visual stage shows. As Gabriel appeared out of the darkness with bat wing headdress, glowing eye make up and glittery cape, he transformed Genesis concerts into a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. The long organ intro by Tony Banks creates a tension not broken until the band crash the party in 6/8 time. The stop-start riff may have been inspired by the intense style of King Crimson, but Genesis put their own spin on things. Certainly one of the band’s most loved songs.
“Dancing With the Moonlit Knight”
As the needle hits the vinyl on the first track on Selling England by the Pound, we hear Peter Gabriel alone in the spotlight, almost as if he’s delivering a sermon. “Can you tell me where your country lies, said the uni-faun to his true love’s eyes,” he sings a capella before the band quietly make their presence known. Gabriel recites a tale of a not-so merry Old England, as the band are blazing here with complex changes dished out left and right. “One of the aims of this record was to look at Englishness in a different way,” said Peter Gabriel in an interview about the making of the album. Guitars and Mellotron entwine to create a beautiful wall of sound.
“The Musical Box”
“I think we wanted to expand the horizons of the musical world we were living in,” said Peter Gabriel in a documentary about Nursery Cryme, their third album, and first album to feature guitarist Steve Hackett and drummer Phil Collins. By this time, they had finally found their musical identity. Incorporating a variety of influences from the worlds of pop, rock and classical, “The Musical Box” kicks off that album and welcomes the listener to their unique world. It’s all here, the drama, the humor, and the intricate musical road map. “And the nurse will tell you lies of a kingdom beyond the skies,” were not your standard rock and roll lyrics, but of course, Genesis were not your standard rock and roll band. They would up the ante over the next few albums, surpassing themselves at every turn, but this is their first genuine classic.
“Back in N.Y.C.”
Released in the fall of 1974, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is arguably the band’s masterpiece. The listener is taken on a thrilling ride from start to finish, veering from pure pop melodies to wild sonic experimentation, often within the same song. As the conceptual, and admittedly confusing, story of Rael unfolds before our ears, one thing is for certain, Genesis were at the top of their game. Gabriel’s performance throughout is stunning, perhaps nowhere more so than on “Back in N.Y.C.” The power of his voice here is striking as he spits out the lyrics with pure venom. The anger in his performance, and the fact that the character of Rael was a leather jacket-clad street punk, predates both the Ramones, and punk rock by nearly a year. So much for the prog vs. punk wars.
The signature song of the band’s live set for several years, “Supper’s Ready” is an epic tour de force, its power and beauty remaining in full bloom all these years later. Though the song clocks in at over 22 minutes, it’s hardly the pretentious ramblings often associated with prog rock. It is, in fact, a handful of shorter songs strung together to create a milestone of the progressive rock era. The often surrealistic lyrics are laid out atop the ever-shifting, always dynamic musical backdrop to create one of the most unique entries in their catalog. For many, this was the pinnacle of the Gabriel era, and heads our list of the Top 10 Peter Gabriel Genesis Songs.