Beyond the Genesis Divide: Finding Middle Ground in the Gabriel-Collins Debate

With two competing “Genesis” crews about to hit the road, now is the perfect time to take a closer look at the band’s rich In-Between Years.

By Nick Tate

Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel?

The question has divided Genesis fans for decades. Now, with two different “Genesis” bands touring this year — catering to both sides of the Gabriel-Collins divide — the debate is steaming up on social media.

On one side: Fans who relish the band’s arty progtastic 1970s heyday with Gabriel at the helm. On the other: Collins-era devotees who boarded the Genesis train after the drummer replaced Gabriel on vocals and the band became a pop-hit factory in the 1980s and 1990s.

But what’s missed in the Genesis debate is the astonishingly inventive period that marked the band’s transition from the Gabriel era to the Collins years. From 1974 to 1978, Genesis recorded four remarkable studio albums, just as punk was ascending and progressive rock seemed on the ropes.

Each record was groundbreaking in its own way. And all four were so distinctly different, from one to the next, they sound as if different musicians might have produced them.

With two competing “Genesis” crews about to hit the road — the Collins-led “Last Domino?” tour and guitarist Steve Hackett’s “Genesis Revisited” collective reprising the 1970s era — now is the perfect time to take a closer look at the band’s rich In-Between Years.

If you don’t know this middle period of Genesis, there’s no better introduction to the band. If you’re a longtime fan, these albums are worth revisiting. For audiophiles: Seek out the remastered re-releases, featuring Nick Davis’s sparkling 5.1 surround sound remixes.

But before we dive into this Genesis treasure trove, a little background…

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

In November 1974, Genesis released its sixth — and some would say best — studio recording, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The two-disc set is a sprawling concept album showcasing the most experimental music and surrealistic lyrical content of the band’s long history.

It captured the classic Genesis lineup at the absolute top of its game — Gabriel on vocals and flute, Collins on drums, Hackett on guitars, Tony Banks on keys and Mike Rutherford on bass. But the recording of the album also laid the groundwork for what was to come — Gabriel’s departure from Genesis and Collins’ move to center stage, a shift that would produce a huge change in the band’s sound, style and direction.

Gabriel, who came up with the original story of The Lamb, took on the writing of virtually all the lyrics and left much of the musical composition to the others. That was a departure from the band’s collaborative writing process and left Gabriel isolated.

Well-publicized creative tensions within the band intensified during the recording sessions. Those strains exploded as Genesis hit the road in October for a 102-date European and North American tour, with the band staging the album as a theatrical audio-video performance that was trail-blazing for its day.

Just weeks into the tour, Gabriel announced plans to leave for a solo career and to make more time for his growing family. He also hoped to work on a screenplay with William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist (which never materialized). But the band kept the decision under wraps until the tour’s end in June 1975, hoping he’d change his mind (he didn’t).

Yet despite all the behind-the-scenes acrimony, The Lamb stands as the most accomplished Genesis effort of the Gabriel years — making it a desert-island selection for many prog fans

Lyrically, the album is built around the surrealistic story of Rael, a Puerto Rican street punk who undertakes a spiritual journey of self-discovery in a Matrix-like alternate world below the streets of New York City.

It’s more contemporary than typical early Genesis fare, which tended toward Victorian-esque fairytales and Elizabethan fantasies. There are no accounts of man-eating hogweeds or promiscuous hermaphrodites. No stories about magical musical boxes, Arthurian legends or mystical messianic characters.

Instead, The Lamb is a stark and vivid exploration of coming-of-age angst — sexual politics, adolescent rage and anti-establishment fury — not very far removed from what the Sex Pistols and Ramones would later shout about.

Even Gabriel’s voice is edgier and more intense on The Lamb, a far cry from the ancient-mariner’s croon that defined the early Genesis sound.

Musically, the album is a remarkable leap forward from the band’s previous five albums. From the opening title track, the sound is fresh and updated. Higher production values give the band a cleaner, less cluttered sound. And having Brian Eno onboard, adding musical touches and textures — dubbed “Enossification” — enhanced the overall effect (best example: Gabriel’s treated vocals on “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”).

From start to finish, there is an ebb and flow to this epic album. It features extended tracks that have a live-in-the-studio energy, laidback instrumental interludes and long solo passages that give each player the opportunity to take virtuosic breaks.

More than any other Genesis album, The Lamb reveals what each member brought to the table and how the whole was more than merely the sum of its parts:

• On symphonic-prog rockers like “Broadway Melody of 1974,” “Back in New York City” and “The Colony of Slippermen,” the quintet cooks with daredevil-may-care intensity and tautly precise ensemble performances.

• Banks delivers some of finest performances of his career on the jazzy “Riding the Scree,” piano-driven “The Lamia” and sweeping “Carpet Crawlers” (originally conceived as an instrumental).

• Hackett’s fretwork is absolutely sublime, on ghost-y electric and intricate acoustic guitar. Standout tracks “Cuckoo Cocoon,” “Here Comes the Supernatural Anesthetist” and “Chamber of 32 Doors” qualify as his best work in and out of Genesis.

• Rutherford and Collins provide a sturdy and complex rhythm foundation throughout — most notably tearing it up on “In the Cage” (a perennial staple of live Genesis sets for years to come) and rollicking “Lilywhite Lilith.”

• The album even features a free-form, noise-rock interlude, “The Waiting Room,” which plays like prog’s answer to the Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9.”

But the album-closing “It” — the last recorded Genesis track with Gabriel — is the biggest revelation on the record. It’s a showstopper that sounds like nothing else the band had ever done — a fusion-influenced prog workout that offers a preview of the post-Gabriel Genesis to come.

A Trick of the Tail

In 1975, with Gabriel out of the picture, the remaining four members faced a daunting challenge: How to continue on without its iconic front man and vocalist?

It was like the Rolling Stones moving on without Mick Jagger or Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant. Should Genesis soldier on as an instrumental outfit? Recruit a new singer? Or disband entirely, with each member following Gabriel’s lead and going solo?

In the end, Hackett, Collins, Banks and Rutherford decided to continue on as a foursome. And within weeks of Gabriel’s departure, they were writing new music.

The only question: Who would sing the new material?

Initially, the band auditioned hundreds of singers — with Collins later acknowledging some 400 audition tapes were made. But none fit the bill. In the end, Collins stepped up and said he’d like to give it a go.

Looking back, the decision seems inevitable. Collins had taught the new songs to the auditioning vocalists. He’d also sung backup to Gabriel and provided lead vocals on a few Genesis tracks (“For Absent Friends” and “More Fool Me”). The band also had to know that having Collins step up to the mic would be embraced by fans because he was an insider, giving Genesis a sentimental leg up as it transitioned to a new era.

In February 1976, the landmark album, A Trick of the Tail, was released to massive critical and popular acclaim. Even Gabriel, who visited the band in the studio during the album’s recording, would later say he was surprised by how little effort it took for the guys to produce such strong material without him.

The first track written for the album — the propulsive Tolkien-inspired “Dance on a Volcano” — plays like a declaration of independence from the ghost of Genesis past. A heavy prog-rocker in 7/4 time, the piece kicks off the record and crackles along at breakneck speed through a series of musical themes and crazy time signatures. For anyone who feared Genesis were done, or resting on its past glories, this song alone decisively puts those concerns to rest.

Other standout tracks include Bank’s classically inspired “Mad Man Moon,” the acoustic guitar-driven “Ripples” and “Entangled” and two upbeat prog-rockers — “Squonk” (designed to sound like Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”) and the comical “Robbery, Assault and Battery.”

But, as on The Lamb, the closing track here — “Los Endos” — is the biggest departure for Genesis to date, providing a glimpse of things to come. Written by all four members, it is the band’s first jazz-rock instrumental, introducing a new musical direction Genesis would build upon for its next release.

Listen closely and you can hear Collins reprising the “angel standing in the sun” line from 1973’s classic “Supper’s Ready” near the end of the track — a wink and a nod to fans who stuck with the band after Gabriel’s departure.

Wind and Wuthering

After a successful 1976 North American and European Tour, Genesis went back into the studio to record a follow-up, Wind and Wuthering, released in December.

Critics and fans warmed to the new album, which expanded on the new musical ground broken by A Trick of the Tail. But three distinct aspects of the record — and the way it was produced — would lead to another critical lineup change for the band: Hackett’s departure.

No. 1: Banks is primary songwriter on Wind and Wuthering, with most tracks — including the “Eleventh Earl of Mar,” “One for the Vine,” “Afterglow,” and “All in a Mouse’s Night” — based on music he’d written. Hackett would later say his own musical ideas for the album were rejected in favor of Banks’s material. Even so, the guitarist’s lone contribution — “Blood on the Rooftops” — is perhaps the strongest piece here and Hackett’s best post-Gabriel Genesis effort.

No. 2: Three instrumentals — “Wot Gorilla?” “Unquiet Slumbers for Sleepers…” and “In that Quiet Earth” — extrapolate from the jazz-prog fusion ideas first introduced in “Los Endos.” Hackett’s stunning acoustic and electric fretwork on these tracks offers a clear glimpse of the musical direction he would later pursue as a solo artist.

No. 3: Rutherford’s sweetly saccharine love song, “Your Own Special Way” would become the band’s first charting single, consolidating the band’s growing popularity and marking the biggest step from prog to pop for Genesis — a move that would come to define the band’s focus for the next two decades. It even earned Genesis a spot on the Mike Douglas Show. (Check YouTube for the performance and watch for Collins missing his cue to begin lip-synching the song, probably because the show used the edited single version of the track and not the full album version, which has a longer instrumental intro).

After another successful world tour in 1977 — which produced the live “Seconds Out” double album, and the release of a throwaway three-track EP, Spot the Pigeon — Hackett left Genesis in October.

His departure surprised almost no one. By then, he’d produced his first solo album, 1975’s genre-busting Voyage of the Acolyte, with Rutherford and Collins guesting. He had also started writing his second solo, 1978’s wildly eclectic Please Don’t Touch!, featuring tracks that his Genesis bandmates had rejected and guest vocalists Rich Havens, Steve Walsh (Kansas) and Randy Crawford.

And Then There Were Three

In 1978, with Genesis now reduced to a trio, the band produced its most commercially successful outing of the decade, And Then There Were Three. For Collins-era fans, it is the most accessible of its 1970s recordings. It is the breakthrough album that would bring the band new legions of fans across the globe.

Most tracks are short, stripped-down affairs built around Collins’ vocals. Conspicuously absent are the grand musical ideas and extended solos that marked the classic Genesis sound. Banks composed or co-wrote eight of the 11 tracks and Rutherford handled all the fretwork, giving the album a frustrating sameness in style and “Genesis lite” quality.

Even so, And Then There Were Three features several flashes of prog brilliance, particularly on the Rutherford-penned “Deep in the Motherlode” and “Snowbound.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the album also features, “Follow You, Follow Me,” the band’s highest-charting single to that point (No. 7 in the U.K. and 23 in the U.S.). On the strength of the single, and its wide FM radio play, the album went on to be certified platinum (selling one million copies) by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Some 43 years later, this album — above all others — is the most controversial line in the sand for fans on opposing sides of the Genesis divide.

For Gabriel and Hackett fans, it marked the end of the band’s status as prog-rock pioneers and a strident move into yacht-rock territory. But for devotees of the Collins-Banks-Rutherford era, it ushered in the band’s most popular period, as the trio became a global powerhouse that would last Collins departed after 1991’s We Can’t Dance.

Worth noting: During the recording of And Then There Were Three, all three members of Genesis were already laying the groundwork for solo projects that, in retrospect, provide an interesting sidelight. Banks, Collins and Rutherford would go on to produce soft-rock debuts that echoed the radio-friendly Genesis sound — Banks’ A Curious Feeling and Rutherford’s Smallcreep’s Day and Collins’ top-selling Face Value.

Those recordings starkly contrast the challenging post-Genesis material Hackett was producing at the time, which incorporated elements of jazz, classical, prog, folk, soul and even cabaret. They were also vastly more conventional than Gabriel’s extraordinary 1977 solo debut, which embraced everything from heavy rock (“Modern Love) to lounge jazz (“Waiting for the Big One”), folk pop (“Solsbury Hill”) orchestral rock (“Here Comes the Flood”) and even barbershop-quartet whimsy (“Excuse Me”).

Looking Ahead: What Would Fans Most Like to Hear?

So, as the “Genesis Revisited” and “Last Domino” tours prepare to hit the road, the question for fans on all sides is: What will the two bands perform live and what tracks would most fans like to hear?

It’s too early to predict set lists. But it’s a good bet that both touring bands will feature tracks from some these definitive Genesis albums recorded between 1974 and 1978.

Hackett has already announced plans to perform Seconds Out in full. And on the last Collins-Banks-Rutherford reunion tour in 2007, nine of the trio’s 21-song set list were taken from that remarkable middle period in the band’s history.

All of which is to say: Regardless of which side of the Genesis divide you’re on, 2021/2022 promise to be a feast for the ears.

2 comments

  • The early Gabriel Years, the transition 4 album period and later Collins influence all constitute high quality music , different genres, same band, over 2 plus decades. I grew up on these great albums, and not a bad one , nor even mediocre among the lot. However, the complex arrangements from the early Gabriel years are most dear to me.

  • I go back to 1972 the 1st time I saw a Genesis, selling England by the pound incredible album incredible Prague album and then the lamb lies down on Broadway which was a 2 and a 1/2 hour show So which was incredible double. When Peter Gabriel left a lot of us Genesis fans thought that that was it for them. But we forgot that Collin’s voice was close to Gabriel’s in vocal range. When trick of the tail came out it was a reprieve While Genesis is back but without the costumes it was a little different.. My biggest hang up with band after and then there were 3 was the got too commercial and they weren’t the same.. Actually a lot of us believe they should change their name from Genesis to something else because Genesis fit Anymore. Phil Collins is very talented,, Or was now he has to sit in a chair and just sing he can’t play drums anymore the only thing I really had against him was he took the band to a top 40 type of band they were no longer a prog band it’s a prog band it’s a shame a lot of bands went that route except for one rush who never really had a top 40 hit but they had just as many fans as Genesis .. I often wonder which direction they would have gone if Gabriel would have stuck with them.

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