Monday, November 3, 2008

Genesis (1967-1975)

Early Genesis is arguably the ultimate example of the progressive rock genre. Progressive rock (or prog rock) is a style of music that originated in England in the late sixties. It takes rock music beyond the traditional verse-chorus format incorporating different styles with varying feels and time signatures. The result is a musical journey that takes the listener through many musical dimensions.

"...A Flower?"

Like many people I was a fan of Genesis in the 80's and enjoyed hits such as Abacab and Land of confusion. When I was a little older I was surprised to find out that Genesis had a completely different past life. Surprisingly few people know that Peter Gabriel started out as the band's front man. Genesis enabled Peter Gabriel to really get creative and show his theatrical genius. His stage act and costume designs added a lot to the Genesis experience. Gabriel took these skills and incorporated them into his solo work later on.

Here are a few of my favorite Genesis albums. I have listened to them hundreds, possibly thousands of times and I have worn out several copies of each.

Trespass... Early stuff, not as refined as some of the later work but still impressive. Gabriel's flute gives it a kind of a 'fantasy' feel. It reminds me of my high school senior year trip to Quebec where I listened to the tape over and over again while walking the city's streets which have a distinctive 'old Europe' feel.

Foxtrot spans styles from heavy rock to classical guitar and is adorned with plenty of Gabriel's flute work. It features the supernatural overtones of the epic Supper's Ready (see below) and the socio-political critique of Get 'em out by Friday.

Selling England by the Pound is a refined and beautifully progressive album that incorporates classical and rock themes with medieval and contemporary lyrical imagery. Notable tracks are The Battle of Epping Forest, Cinema Show and Firth of Fifth.

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is the pinnacle of early Genesis recordings. This two-disc concept album follows the lead character 'Rael' through a surreal journey of spiritual enlightenment.

It was on the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour in 1975 that Peter Gabriel announced he would be leaving the band due to estrangement between he and the other band members. Genesis fans were shocked. Gabriel explained that the "...vehicle we had built as a co-op to serve our songwriting became our master and had cooped us up inside the success we had wanted. It affected the attitudes and the spirit of the whole band. The music had not dried up and I still respect the other musicians, but our roles had set in hard." (Gabriel, Peter. "Out, Angels Out - an investigation", August 1975.)

Obviously both Gabriel and Genesis went on to enjoy successful musical careers.

Here are a couple video samples in which you can see the progressive rock style and the theatrical effects used by Gabriel.

Supper's Ready from Foxtrot is a long, very progressive piece. In its entirety it contains seven parts which are as follows:
-Lover's Leap
-The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man
-Ikhnaton and Itsacon and Their Band of Merry Men
-How Dare I Be So Beautiful?
-Willow Farm
-Apocalypse in 9/8 (Co-Starring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchet)
-As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs (Aching Men's Feet)

The parts are loaded with spiritual and supernatural symbolism. Gabriel describes the song's lyrical odyssey as "a personal journey which ends up walking through scenes from Revelations in the Bible....I'll leave it at that." (92.3FM KROCK, NYC, 6/16/86) I particularly like the way this song changes feel, keys and time signatures (notice the part in 9/8, an unusual signature) to take the listener on a musical journey.

Now we go over the garden wall...

I know What I Like(in Your Wardrobe) From Selling England by the pound. This is a pro qualiy video of live Genesis that really shows PG's amazing ability of theatrical performance.

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