In order to assemble what became one of their earliest classics, Genesis had to blend the pastoral whimsy of their first couple of albums and the rock pretensions of their most recent work, Foxtrot. They did just that with 1973's Selling England by the Pound.

There's a slew of literary allusions here (T.S. Eliot in "The Cinema Show," Tolkein in "The Battle of Epping Forest"), but there's also the almost glam-rock propulsion of "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)." And the literary references are apt, since Selling England might be best described as an anthology of short stories, loosely interwoven but separate rather than a true concept album.

Unlike their subsequent double-album opus The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which marked the end of group's celebrated five-man lineup, each of the songs here works both together and of a piece.

If commentary like "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight" was a touch too insular in its focus on modern English life, and the puns sometimes a bit over the top ("he employed me as a karmacanic"), it's all counterbalanced by a group performing at its musical zenith. Check out Steve Hackett's stunning solo on "Firth of Fifth," and Phil Collins' jazz-inflected cadences throughout.

Listen to Genesis' 'Selling England by the Pound'

While Tony Banks' underrated keyboard work (notably in "The Cinema Show") remains the album's other principal voicing, Mike Rutherford's bass begins to take on a more prominent role as well. Peter Gabriel is at his narrative best in "Epping Forest," Hackett gets another tasteful feature in "After the Ordeal" and there's even a hint of what's to come with the darkly emotional Collins vocal feature "More Fool Me."

All of this gives Selling England a layered complexity and an uncommon accessibility, even as it brings together all of the many disparate elements that made Genesis such a force. At least for the time being. Gabriel would be gone after the next studio project, then Hackett two albums later.

 

 

See Genesis Among the Top 100 Albums of the '80s