Friday, February 24, 2012

Rock Bio #14: Genesis

The last in a series of brief artist biographies I wrote for in the spring of 2010 ...

When Peter Gabriel left for a solo career in 1975, Genesis was presumed to be on its last legs. But, true to its name, the prog-rock band was reborn, becoming an adult-contemporary pop juggernaut after promoting Phil Collins from drummer to lead singer.

Peter Gabriel (vocals), Mike Rutherford (bass), Tony Banks (keyboards), Anthony Phillips (guitar), and Chris Stewart (drums) met at boarding school in Surrey, England, and formed Genesis as teenagers in 1967. After a few psychedelic, Bee Gees-style pop singles, the group recorded their first album, 1969's From Genesis to Revelation, replacing Stewart with John Silver and then John Mayhew before reconvening for 1970's Trespass.

Genesis's sophomore album provided a glimpse of their future as progressive-rock stylists, including experiments with song structure and length ("The Knife" is nine minutes long) and complex instrumentation. Mayhew and Phillips then departed, making way for former child actor Phil Collins on drums and, shortly thereafter, Steve Hackett on guitar.

Their lineup now solidified, Genesis started gaining recognition as a popular live act. Gabriel wore makeup and various costumes onstage as the group's concerts evolved into elaborate theatrical affairs, quietly ushering in the era of music videos. In 1972 came Foxtrot, which closed with the 23-minute epic "Supper's Ready," and by the time Selling England by the Pound hit record stores in '73, Genesis was achieving momentum on FM radio in the United States.

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) was the band's most ambitious offering yet, a double-LP concept album about a Puerto Rican boy in New York City; the accompanying tour, in which the entire album was re-created each night, featured laser-light effects and spoken narration by Gabriel. Lamb was a sizable hit, but Gabriel's dominance over the project created a rift between him and the rest of the band. In May of '75 he announced he was leaving Genesis.

Collins took over as lead vocalist, but it wasn't until after Hackett left in '77 that Genesis shifted from progressive rock to a more mainstream pop sound, scoring their first U.S. Top 40 hit in 1978 with the gently melodic "Follow You Follow Me," from And Then There Were Three.

The '80s found the remaining trio of Collins, Rutherford, and Banks churning out one hit after another as Genesis—1980's "Misunderstanding," 1983's "That's All," and five top-five smashes from 1986's Invisible Touch (the title track and "Land of Confusion," among others)—with additional hits coming from Rutherford's side project, Mike & the Mechanics ("All I Need Is a Miracle," "The Living Years"), and Collins's solo albums and movie-soundtrack contributions—he scored seven number-one singles that decade, including "One More Night," "Against All Odds," and "Two Hearts," making him one of the biggest pop stars of the Reagan era.

Collins recorded one more album with Genesis—1991's We Can't Dance, which generated five more Top 40 singles—before leaving amicably in '96 to pursue other opportunities. Rutherford and Banks continued with a new vocalist, Ray Wilson, for 1997's Calling All Stations, but it's the last studio album to date from the group.

The 1971-'75 lineup of Collins, Rutherford, Banks, Gabriel, and Hackett reunited in 1999 to record a new version of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway's "The Carpet Crawlers" for a greatest-hits compilation, and in 2007 the Invisible Touch-era trio embarked on a 40th-anniversary tour. Genesis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, a fitting honor for a band that took the word "progressive" to heart and never stopped moving forward.

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