Music Discoveries: Peter Gabriel, The Genesis Years

When I was a child in the mid-1980s the radio was full of hit songs by bands like Genesis and Mike and the Mechanics, and artists like Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. I was surprised to learn that all these artists came from the same band, Genesis, and while Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford (of Mike and the Mechanics) still recorded and toured with Genesis, Peter Gabriel had left the band in 1975 (which seemed like eons ago to young me). I liked Genesis well enough, but was really drawn to Peter Gabriel’s work especially due to his art rock, proto-alternative music, and world beat sounds.

It really struck me as unbelievable that irresistible cheezy pop music of 1980s Genesis and its 1980s spinoffs could have anything in common with the music of Peter Gabriel’s work. Yet all these years later I’ve still never listened to Genesis’ early work when Gabriel was the lead vocalist and songwriter for the band. So I’ve decided to do one of my Music Discoveries deep listens where I’m going to listen to all of the recorded output of Peter Gabriel’s career. This week I’ll focus on his time with Genesis from 1969 to 1975.

Title: From Genesis to Revelation
Released: March 7, 1969
Label: Decca

A very late-60s collection of Baroque pop. It starts strong with “Where the Sour Turns Sweet” and “In the Beginning,” but peters out after that. Peter Gabriel’s voice is so boyish it’s hard to recognize

Rating: **

Title: Trespass
Released: October 23, 1970
Label: Charisma

The music sounds more confident and energetic than on the previous album.  The sound is similar to Blind Faith with a bit of proto-prog rock thrown in.  Peter Gabriel has developed the familiar gravely timbre in his voice. Once again the album starts off strong with the first two tracks, “Looking for Someone” and “White Mountain,” being the best on the album. “The Knife” is supposed to be the favored single from this album but I don’t really hear anything than self-indulgent solos.

Rating: ***

Title: Nursery Cryme
Released: November 12, 1971
Label: Charisma

Phil Collins makes his Genesis debut! He even sings lead vocals on the short second track “For Absent Friends.” The album is mostly guitar solos, noodly jams, and so. much. Mellotron.  It’s kind of boring.  But you’ve got to admit that the drumming is good.

Rating: **

Title: Foxtrot
Released: October 6, 1972
Label: Charisma

The thing I’ve never been able to get into about progressive rock (and a lot of rock music from the 1970s) is the excess.  The inordinately long songs (23 minutes!), the extensive soloing, the epic! dramatic! concepts!  This album has all that in spades.  I will admit thought that there is virtuosity in the performance on the instruments.  I find myself spacing out on the epic! sci-fi! story songs and just soaking in the musicality, which is fine.

Rating: ***

Title: Selling England by the Pound
Released: October 13, 1972
Label: Charisma

I think this is the best Genesis album to date. They’ve toned down the proggy excess and added some English folk music influences with some nice arrangements.  Once again, the first two tracks – “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight”  and “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” – are the strongest on the album.

Rating: ***1/2

Title: Genesis Live
Released: August 3, 1973
Label: Charisma

This recording takes advantage of winnowing down the Genesis catalog and the energy of a live performance to create a solid album. Amazingly, the album has only five tracks, although they are all at least eight minutes long.  Despite the fact that I’ve been listening to Genesis all months, the tunes didn’t sound familiar for the most part.  I guess early Genesis was not as ear-wormy as 1980s Genesis.

Rating: ***1/2

Title: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Released: November 18, 1974
Label: Charisma

Peter Gabriel’s final album with Genesis is a sprawling concept album about a fantastical journey of discovery by Rael, a young Puerto Rican from New York.  Because no one can tell a Nuyorican story like a guy from Surrey, I guess. Jokes aside, this is ambitious storytelling through song.  I particularly like the song titles and that many of the songs are much shorter than typical Genesis fare, lending the album some variety. The style of music is less proggy and more similar to Gabriel’s solo work.  While I can appreciate the effort, I don’t find it all too interesting.

Rating: ***

Ultimately, the music on these albums offers very little hint of what Genesis and it’s various spinoff projects would sound like in the 1980s. There is a bit a more of an indication of what Peter Gabriel would do, although I think at this period I believe the songs are too wordy and indulgent in instrumental solos, where as Gabriel would pare things back in a solo career (at least I think he does, I’ll found out next week). The music of early Genesis is not bad but it’s definitely not for me.

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