2010 Rock Hall Inductee: Genesis

 By Dave Thompson
GENESIS eventually trimmed its lineup down to (from L-R) Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins and Tony Banks. Photo courtesy of Genesis
GENESIS eventually trimmed its lineup down to (from L-R) Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins and Tony Banks. Photo courtesy of Genesis
The honor is so richly deserved that it’s probably churlish to ask precisely which incarnation of Genesis it was that brought them into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.

We can probably discount their first — the five fresh-faced schoolboys who gathered between classes at Charterhouse public school to compose meandering epics about deserted lighthouses, oceans of motion, and the nocturnal predilections of one-eyed hounds. Their last, in which two original members united with the lead singer from Stiltskin for one final, not-as-bad-as you-think-it-was album, is probably out of contention as well.

But in between times, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett, Anthony Phillips, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins were responsible for some magnificent music and some awe-inspiring success, and we must hope that all six will be receiving the reward. Because all six deserve it.

It was during Phillips’ tenure, for example, that the band cut Trespass, the album that announced Genesis as a potential giant and gave their live show the tumultuous “The Knife.” It was a transitional disc, shifting the band’s focus away from the over-earnest word-mongering of their debut LP, From Genesis To Revelation (1969), and into the panoramic landscapes of melody and movement that would become their forte. By the time of their next disc, 1971’s Nursery Cryme, Hackett and Collins had joined the band (Phillips quit for a superb solo career), and Genesis were truly under way.

For fans of a certain vintage, their next two albums (three if you include Genesis Live) were the high-water mark of this lineup. Nursery Cryme, with the spectral “Musical Box” and rambunctious “Return Of The Giant Hogweed,” indicated the sheer theatricality with which Genesis approached the progressive rock scene. 1972’s Foxtrot, with the side-long “Supper’s Ready” still standing as a career-best achievement, was the cue for Gabriel to step out from behind a wall of shyness to become the most captivating frontman of the age, bar none. 

Arming himself with a wardrobe full of astonishing disguises, ranging from transvestite foxes to menacing flowers, and on to sinister old men and a headpiece made from bat wings, Gabriel’s taste for the visually vibrant raised Genesis from a mildly interesting club band to a stadium-filling spectacle, while two further LPs, 1973’s Selling England By The Pound and 1974’s double-disc concept The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, drove both music and masks to new extremes. The Slipperman suit that he donned for the last portions of the latter album’s stageshow remains one of the most intriguing outfits any rock performer has ever donned, all the more so because its bulky layers did much to muffle his vocals — and audiences didn’t even care.

Gabriel did, though, and in 1975 he quit the band, walking off stage at their final show knowing that he would never be called upon again to become Harold The Barrel. And that should have been the end of the story, because how on earth do you follow all that?

By elevating your drummer to the front of the stage, and carrying on with a whole new outlook, of course. Collins’ first albums as the voice of Genesis were carved much in the style of their predecessors. A Trick Of The Tail (1976) and Wind And Wuthering (1977) were both good efforts, but it was clear that the band was searching for something new. Hackett quit, following Gabriel into solo-dom, and the wryly-titled And Then There Were Three (1978) became the first Genesis record to audibly founder, at the same time as becoming one of their biggest hits yet.

And then it was 1980, and the band unleashed Duke, a record that was more or less the antithesis of everything Genesis had ever been before — maddeningly commercial, effortlessly danceable, exquisitely pop. The hit singles flew off the main attraction. Collins launched a parallel solo career and added to the excitement, and by the time Abacab arrived the following year, Collins was the voice of two of the new decade’s biggest-selling acts. 

Genesis (1983), Invisible Touch (1986) — even if you didn’t buy the albums, there was no escaping Genesis on the chart. “Turn It On Again,” “Misunderstanding,” “Mama,” “Illegal Alien,” “Invisible Touch,” “Land Of Confusion,” “Turn It On Again” — all were massive hits.

At the end of the 1970s, Genesis had scored a grand total of five hit singles worldwide, and just one of them, 1978’s “Many Too Many,” had bothered anybody’s Top Ten. By the time of their final album together, 1991’s We Can’t Dance, they had racked up two dozen, and had even topped the American chart. And the fact that a lot of the Gabriel-era fans had turned their back on the band long before didn’t register a jot.

Collins quit the band in the early 1990s, leaving Banks and Rutherford to soldier on with the farewell Calling All Stations (1997). Since when, Genesis’ time has best been spent curating their own back catalog and history. No less than four multi-disc box sets have chronologically chronicled the band’s entire recorded output with generous attention to rarities, unreleased material, long-lost video footage and more; a fifth rounded up the band’s concert movies in similar, all-encompassing style. A reunion with Collins a couple of years back spawned a monster tour and a brand-new live album, and the grapevine constantly buzzes to rumors that Gabriel might return as well, for a concert, a tour, or even an album.

None of which answers the question with which we started this piece, but really, it’s not that important. The fact is, if any band’s career, both in life and death, could be held up as an example of how every group should conduct itself — by following its own finest instincts all the way, and not allowing anything to throw it off course — it is Genesis. And, for that reason, having their name hung up in the Hall of Fame is the very least they deserve.

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