After Peter Gabriel departed from Genesis in 1975, following the completion of the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway tour, Genesis went through a short process of auditioning singers to replace their iconic singer, with Mick Stickland the only serious contender, before finally realising the right man for the job was already there, sitting behind the drum kit. Phil Collins’ voice was already known to fans through singing backing vocals on several Genesis album tracks, plus he’d sung For Absent Friends on Nursery Cryme as well as More Fool Me on Selling England By The Pound, so Collins stepped up to stage front, after being assured he wouldn’t have to wear a red evening dress and a fox’s head!
Thus, as Mario Giammetti explains, began the period which ultimately saw Genesis moving away from being leading purveyors and exponents of progressive rock towards releasing a series of albums which would see the band becoming one of the biggest in the world, attracting a new audience, huge album sales and even hit singles as the eighties progressed, and an unlikely solo superstar in Phil Collins but, along the way, alienating fans who’d followed the band since the early seventies.
The first two albums with Collins on lead vocals, Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering continued along progressive lines, with Bill Bruford initially drafted in for ‘live’ work, but, as Giammetti reveals, it wasn’t all plain sailing because, despite his excellence behind the kit, Bruford wasn’t always a team player, plus there were tensions developing between Steve Hackett and the pairing of Michael Rutherford and Tony Banks. When the latter stated they’d rather Hackett didn’t record any more solo albums, (Voyage Of The Acolyte had been released in 1975) the guitarist quit in 1977, prompting Collins to name the 1978 album title And Then There Were Three. Losing two key members of the band didn’t seem to worry the fans, though, as the album stayed in the charts for a year.
Giammetti goes into considerable detail about this period, the significant period in late seventies Genesis history. From here onwards, as Rutherford and Banks explain in a series of interviews, Genesis began looking for ‘a simpler style of playing and writing,’ as there was now ‘less desire to write the more complicated stuff.’ Also, songs were now to be credited to the individual writers, rather than ‘all songs written by Genesis’, as had been the norm on earlier albums. But, most unexpectedly, resulting from his recent separation from his family, Collins unearthed a previously undiscovered knack for writing easy-on-the-ear, catchy tunes, which would propel him to solo stardom and dominating the hit parade in the 1980s.
The music of Genesis began to change at almost dizzying speed around this time. There were to be no more long instrumental passages previously found on tracks like Cinema Show, plus no more tracks with unexpected time / key changes or side long opuses leaving you wondering what’s coming next, like Supper’s Ready. It meant goodbye to Fountain Of Salmacis and hello to Follow You, Follow Me – the song which brought Genesis their first UK top ten hit, reaching number seven in 1978, and saw them attracting female fans to their shows. In retrospect, their 1977 classic ‘live’ album, Seconds Out, can be seen as their valedictory address to their past.
But increasing commercial success didn’t always mean the music was better, as even mega-fan Giammetti admits. Albums like Duke and Abacab were attempts at bridging the gap between Genesis’ past and present, but didn’t succeed, mainly because all three members were now keeping back material for recording solo albums, while Collins was reaching number 2 with In The Air Tonight and, as Rutherford said, ‘doing solo albums meant less stuff to bring to the group’. Banks claimed Genesis were ‘barren of ideas’ around this time.
Invisible Touch was a weak album, with few memorable moments, but still sold in shedloads. And don’t get me started on We Can’t Dance! Collins eventually left in 1996, to be replaced by Ray Wilson, the result being the now largely forgotten 1997 album Calling All Stations, with Banks admitting the band was ‘now past its prime’. Genesis called a halt in 2000 after poor ticket sales for their US tour. They reunited to ‘turn it on again’ for a highly successful tour in 2007, after fans had clamoured for a reunion, and they’ll be touring again in 2021-22, with ticket prices at every venue starting at scandalous and increasing to absolutely outrageous.
Giammetti’s book could very well be the last word on what was, for Genesis, the era when their music became more commercial, attracted a different audience and resulted in them becoming unlikely superstars. It’s packed with details about the songs, the personalities, the tours and the set lists, with key personnel expressing some often surprising comments, plus there are also the various side projects, such as Mike & the Mechanics. It’s written from the perspective of the fan for the fans. Everything you could want to know is here.
For this writer, the eighties is the period when Genesis lost their musical soul, and their creativity went into terminal decline. But even knowing this didn’t detract from what is a story well told, and this book should be essential reading for the 1980s Genesis fan.