One of the most successful rock acts of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Genesis enjoyed a longevity exceeded only by the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Kinks, in the process providing a launching pad for the superstardom of members Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. The group had its roots in the Garden Wall, a band founded by 15 year olds Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks in 1965 at Charterhouse School in Godalming, Surrey, where fellow students Michael Rutherford and Anthony Phillips were members of another group called Anon. The two groups initially merged out of expediency as the older members of each graduated; Gabriel, Banks, Rutherford, Phillips, and drummer Chris Stewart soon joined together as the New Anon, and recorded a six-song demo featuring songs primarily written by Rutherford and Phillips.
The Charterhouse connection worked in their favor when ex-student, recording artist, and producer Jonathan King heard the tape and arranged for the group to continue working in the studio, developing their sound. It was also King who renamed the band Genesis. In December of 1967 the group had its first formal recording sessions. Their debut single, "The Silent Sun," was released in February of 1968 without attracting much notice from the public. A second single, "A Winter's Tale," followed just about the time that Chris Stewart quit -- his replacement, John Silver, joined just in time to participate in the group's first LP sessions that summer. King later added orchestral accompaniment to the band's tracks, in order to make them sound even more like the Moody Blues, and the resulting album, entitled From Genesis to Revelation, was released in March of 1969.
Music seemed to be shaping up as a brief digression in the lives of the members as they graduated from Charterhouse that summer. The group felt strongly enough about their work, however, that they decided to try it as a professional band; it was around this time that Silver exited, replaced by John Mayhew. They got their first paying gig in September of 1969, and spent the next several months working out new material. Genesis soon became one of the first groups signed to the fledgling Charisma label, and they recorded their second album, Trespass, that spring. Following its completion, the unit went through major personnel changes as Phillips, who had developed crippling stage fright, was forced to leave the lineup in July of 1970, followed by Mayhew.
Enter Phil Collins, a onetime child actor turned drummer and former member of Hickory and Flaming Youth. The group's lineup was completed with the addition of guitarist Steve Hackett, a former member of Quiet World; his presence and that of Collins toughened up the group's sound, which became apparent immediately upon the release of their next album, Nursery Cryme. The theatrical attributes of Gabriel's singing fit in well with the group's live performances during this period as he began to make ever more extensive use of masks, makeup, and props in concert, telling framing stories in order to set up their increasingly complicated songs. When presented amid the group's very strong playing, this aspect of Gabriel's work turned Genesis' performances into multimedia events.
Foxtrot, issued in the fall of 1972, was the flash point in Genesis' history, and not just on commercial terms. The writing, especially on "Supper's Ready," was as sophisticated as anything in progressive rock, and the lyrics were complex, serious, and clever, a far cry from the usual overblown words attached to most prog rock. Genesis' live performances by now were practically legend, and in response to the demand, in August of 1973 Charisma released Genesis Live, an album assembled from shows in Leicester and Manchester originally taped for an American radio broadcast. 1973 also saw the release of Selling England by the Pound, the group's most sophisticated album to date.
The release of the ambitious double LP The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in late 1974 marked the culmination of the group's early history; in May of 1975, following a show in France, Gabriel announced that he was leaving Genesis, owing to personal reasons. The group tried auditioning potential replacements, but it became clear that the remaining members all preferred that drummer Collins take over the role of lead singer. The band returned to the studio as an official quartet in October of 1975 to begin work on their new album: the resulting Trick of the Tail made number three in England and number 31 in America, the best chart showing up to that time for a Genesis album. Its success completely confounded critics and fans who'd been unable to conceive of Genesis without Peter Gabriel.
The group seemed to be on its way to bigger success than it ever had during Gabriel's tenure, as 1977's Wind and Wuthering became another smash. But then Hackett announced that he was leaving on the eve of the release of a new double live album, Seconds Out; he was replaced on the subsequent American and European tours by Daryl Steurmor, but there was no permanent replacement in the studio. In 1978, Genesis released And Then There Were Three, which abandoned any efforts at progressive rock in favor of a softer, much more accessible, and less ambitious pop sound. After a flurry of solo projects, the group reconvened for 1980's Duke, which became their first chart-topper in England while rising to number 11 in America.
The continued changes in their sound helped turn Genesis into an arena-scale act: Abacab, released in late 1981, was another smash, and 1983's self-titled Genesis furthered the group's record of British chart-toppers and American Top Ten hits, becoming their second million-selling U.S. album while also yielding their first American Top Ten single, "That's All." Two years later, the group outdid themselves with the release of their most commercially successful album to date, Invisible Touch, which went platinum several times over in America. Its release coincided with the biggest tour in their history, a string of sold-out arena shows that cast the group in the same league as concert stalwarts like the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead. Their 1991 album We Can't Dance debuted at number one in England and got to number four in America; it was Collins' last album with the group, and with new vocalist Ray Wilson, formerly of the group Stiltskin, Genesis resurfaced in 1997 with Calling All Stations, which recalled their art rock roots. Neither the critics nor the fans warmed to the album -- it sold poorly and the tour was equally unsuccessful. Coming on the heels of the disappointing Calling All Stations, the long-awaited box-set retrospective Genesis Archives, Vol. 1: 1967-1975 was even more welcome. Containing nothing but unreleased material and rarities from previously unavailable on CD, the set was released to surprisingly strong reviews in the summer of 1998. A second volume, containing unreleased material from the Phil Collins era, Genesis Archives, Vol. 2: 1976-1992, followed in 2000.
© All Music Guide, by Bruce Eder