Sunday, May 2, 2021

BB's Album Rankings - GENESIS

BB's Album Rankings - GENESIS


Time again for another artist album ranking, listing my selections from least to most favorite studio albums. Up this time is another of my favorite bands – Genesis. Now, there’s a lot that can be said about Genesis, and certainly they have had their ups and downs, and changes through the years, from their stellar progressive rock albums to their more commercial rock and pop-oriented later albums. But, overall, I think they have one of the more impressive catalogs in rock, with several masterpiece albums, and high quality albums throughout their history, whether focused on prog or pop/rock.

So, Genesis was first formed in 1967 by core members Peter Gabriel (vocals, flute), Tony Banks (keyboards), Mike Rutherford (bass, guitar), and Anthony Phillips (guitar) at Charterhouse School, Surrey, where they were students. They released their first album in 1969, while all still in school and in their teens.  Their venture into more progressive rock began with their second album, Trespass (1970), but guitarist Anthony Phillips, who was a major part of their overall style and sound, left after that album, due to health and stage fright issues (Phillips, however, went on to a successful and productive solo album career). But the ‘classic’ lineup of the band began in 1971, when guitarist Steve Hackett and drummer Phil Collins were brought in. An impressive series of progressive rock masterpiece albums followed, until Peter Gabriel left in 1975 to go solo. Gabriel was not replaced, with Phil Collins now covering lead vocal duties. And the band continued without hesitation, releasing two more stellar progressive rock albums before Steve Hackett left the band in 1977 (also to a successful solo career). But Hackett was not replaced either, and now Mike Rutherford handled guitar and bass on record (additional musicians were added in concert). Although many predicted the end of Genesis (first after Gabriel left, then after Hackett), the band kept going, seemingly getting stronger, albeit slowly changing styles to a more commercial, radio-friendly, pop-rock-oriented sound, while still maintaining prog rock elements and influences. By the 1980’s, the band had emerged as a hit-making powerhouse, with the move toward shorter pop-oriented songs and ballads yielding a string of hit singles and #1 albums that carried into the nineties. But after taking a break in the early nineties, Collins announced he was leaving the band in 1996. The remaining 2 members (Banks and Collins) decided to continue on (now without Gabriel, Hackett, or Collins), but the resulting album was not well-received, and marked the end of Genesis, aside from various reunion tours and events over the years. Both the earlier Prog years and the later more pop leanings certainly have their devoted fans, although it seems relatively few seem to love the band through all those years. There are those that only listen to the Peter Gabriel years (1969-1974) and derisively dismiss anything released after that time, and then there are many who only discovered the band through their later mainstream hits and pop ballads. And before we get into the catalog, I first want to dispel the biggest myth surrounding the band and their changes over the years: That as soon as Gabriel left, the band stopped being a progressive rock band and became a pop band driven almost completely by Phil Collins. That’s not true at all, or even that there are 2 distinct phases of the band as a progressive rock icon and a pop music hitmaker. As usual, the reality is a lot more complicated. I submit that the band continued to be a great progressive rock act well after Peter Gabriel split, producing some of their best progressive albums in his aftermath (at least as long as Steve Hackett was still involved, and possibly beyond). It’s true that by the ‘80’s the shift towards pop hits and ballads was prominent, but they always maintained at least some progressive edges and influences.

I am someone, however, that enjoys Genesis all throughout their career (although not everything they did), as they remained a top-notch (although quite different) band throughout their many changes. After all, there’s nothing wrong with pop/rock, if it is good pop/rock, and Genesis made some pretty darn good pop/rock, in addition to some of the greatest progressive rock of all time.   

Here’s to the albums and career of a great band – Genesis. And here is my ranking of the Genesis Studio Albums, from Least to Best – in my opinion.  Genesis released 15 studio albums between 1969 and 1997, as well as a few EPs and several live albums (which won’t be discussed here), although I believe only 13 of the albums should really be considered actual Genesis albums (as will be discussed below).

Last: The First album released by Genesis, From Genesis to Revelations (1969) as well as their last album, Calling All Stations (1997), can’t really be considered true Genesis albums. The first album, although includes the core members of Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford, the band was nothing like they would become. They hadn’t found their voice or sound yet and were trying to imitate other pop bands and styles of the time (such as Moody Blues, Bee Gees, etc.) at this point. Not really much of note here, a bunch of forgettable pop ditties (although the fact that they were made when these guys were teenagers is still pretty impressive). And with Calling All Stations, not only was Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett long gone, but so was Phil Collins. The remaining duo of Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford brought in Ray Wilson as vocalist and Nick D’Virgilio on drums, but the results can hardly be called Genesis. Overall, the album is not bad and has some good tracks, but it isn’t Genesis anymore (And Then There Were Two?). I think they would have been better off calling this a new band, as that is what it was, and maybe could have found some success in doing that, without the expectations of being Genesis. Anyway, not really worth evaluating as Genesis albums (they would still be at or near the bottom anyway).

13. Abacab (1981)

I have to say that, personally, this was one of the most disappointing albums I have ever heard in my life. Coming into this album, I had been pleasantly surprised at how strong the previous two albums (after the departure of Steve Hackett) had been. But this album is a disaster. I understand that times were changing and they felt they needed to try something new, but this is terrible. I consider this Genesis’ attempt at New Wave, but it just doesn’t work and is easily the worst Genesis album. The sound and style on this album pretty much negates everything they had done up to this point. Gone are the lush soundscapes, intricate instrumentals, and beautiful melodies, only to be replaced by songs that are simplistic, repetitive, tuneless, and frankly annoying. They use a lot of programmed (machine) drum tracks (which is crazy because they have one of the greatest rock drummers in the band), and many of the songs sound like they were making them up as they went along (which apparently they were). Some might say they should be given credit for trying something new, as they apparently were specifically trying to record songs that did not sound like anything they had done before, but this is just a complete wrong direction for the band. One of the few bright spots here is ‘Man on the Corner’, which is a cool Collins ballad, but little else here is worth much. The only Genesis album I never listen to (by choice).  Best songs: ‘Man on the Corner’, ‘Another Record’. Worst songs: ‘Who Dunnit?’, ‘Abacab’, ‘Keep It Dark’, ‘Dodo/Lurker’, ‘No Reply at All’.  

12. Invisible Touch (1986)

The band at their most ‘poppy’, yet there are still some quite good songs here. You have to get past such lightweight disposable (and somewhat annoying) pop fluff like ‘Invisible Touch’ and ‘Anything She Does’, but ‘Throwing It All Away’ is a genuinely beautiful pop ballad and ‘Land of Confusion’ is a solid quirky rocker. They even throw a bone to whatever remains of their prog-rock fans with ‘Domino’ and parts of ‘Tonight Tonight Tonight’, that keep the prog elements burning faintly. And the oddball instrumental ‘The Brazilian’ could have been something if it went anywhere (after intriguing opening sections, the song just repeats itself after the first 2 min.).  So, definitely a mixed bag here, but some worthwhile elements.

11. We Can’t Dance (1991)

A stronger album than many give it credit for. Although only a couple standout tracks, there are some quite good songs here, and the album comes in at a whopping 71 minutes, basically a double album in length, and I never fault a band for giving their audience more music for the same price. Yes there are some lackluster tracks here that just go by relatively unnoticed, but more than enough good songs to make a decent album, and overall, just a very pleasant listening experience.  Not too exciting, but nice. Best songs: ‘Dreaming While You Sleep’, ‘Fading Lights’, ‘Living Forever’, ‘Tell Me Why’. Worst song: ‘I Can’t Dance’.

So, those are really the only not-so-great albums. All the rest I consider at least quite good/very good.

10. Genesis (1983)

I really like this album and consider it a great comeback after the dismal Abacab. Great sound throughout and a return to a more suitable and familiar Genesis style, mixing pop and rock with progressive flourishes throughout. The standout tracks include the ‘Home by the Sea’-‘Second Home’ combo, ‘Silver Rainbow’, and ‘It’s Gonna Get Better’ (all proudly showing their prog elements). And the singles are mostly good, with ‘That’s All’ a wonderfully fun pop ditty and ‘Taking it All Too Hard’ a beautiful love ballad. Only the regrettable ‘Illegal Alien’ and the irritatingly creepy ‘Mama’ keep this from being a really great album. Still a darn good one.

9. And Then There Were Three (1978)

Surprisingly strong album considering this followed the loss of guitarist extraordinaire and composer Steve Hackett (and was not replaced with another guitarist). Yes, there is a noticeable shift in style, but several excellent tracks here. With Hackett gone, the sound is even more keyboard-oriented, with Tony Banks dominating the sound, but he creates many very effective soundscapes. Several songs have quite beautiful melodies and themes. They purposely went for shorter songs here in order to fit more songs on, but the style and structure are still very much in the progressive rock vein. The only weakness here is that overall, there is somewhat of a sameness to the songs here (most likely due to the loss of a key songwriter and the more diverse sounds and styles that he brought). Some have tried to make the case that because this album contains the band’s first actual hit single (‘Follow You, Follow Me’), it signals their sellout, but the song is in the same vein and quite similar to other songs that they made much earlier in their career (such as ‘I Know What I Like’), and is quite a good song.  Overall a very good album, showing they could carry on as a threesome.  Best songs: ‘Burning Rope’, ‘Undertow’, ‘Deep in the Motherlode’, ‘Snowbound’, ‘The Lady Lies’. Weakest songs: ‘Scene’s From a Night’s Dream’, ‘Say It’s Alright Joe’.

8. Trespass (1970)

Early Genesis finding their unique style, the first ‘real’ Genesis album, setting the stage for greater things to come, yet not quite hitting their stride yet. This was prior to Phil Collins and Steve Hackett joining the band, but guitarist Anthony Phillips sets the mood with his acoustic 12-string magic, and Banks’ keyboard wizardry and Gabriel’s vocals establish the basics of what is to come. The songs on Side One all have some really great moments, yet do not quite hold together completely (just not quite fully realized – beautiful sections marred by other dull or lackluster sections). But they put it all together on Side Two, with three great songs, ‘Stagnation’ being the best, and ‘The Knife’ considered an early classic, with a darker and harder tone and style than the rest of the album. Overall, a very good, but not quite great album. Best songs ‘Stagnation’, ‘Dusk’, ‘The Knife’. Weakest songs: ‘Visions of Angels’, ‘White Mountain’.

7. Duke (1980)

Certainly the best album of the post-Hackett, 3-man band years. And although the album contains some soft ballads, it still is a quite masterful progressive rock album. Highlights are the songs included in the Duke Suite (‘Behind the Lines’, ‘Duchess’, ‘Guide Vocal’, ‘Turn It On Again’, ‘Duke’s Travels/Duke’s End’), which were originally planned to be one multi-section 30-min epic song, but instead were divided up throughout the album. But it all works here, and the ‘Duke’s Travels/End’ make a powerful album closer, reminiscent of their best progressive work. Even the hit single ‘Misunderstanding’ is a great ‘pop’ song, and ‘Turn It On Again’ is a rousing rocker. I would have been fine with the band continuing to include a couple of pop/rock hits like these per album, as long as the overall album also continued to provide the kind of depth and musicianship present here, but that was not to be on future albums. A great album.

6. Nursery Cryme (1971) 

The arrival of newcomers Steve Hackett and drummer Phil Collins (and setting the ‘classic’ lineup) pays immediate dividends as Genesis solidifies their sound and establishes themselves as one of the greats of the burgeoning progressive rock scene. The new kids are even given a song all their own to showcase themselves (‘For Absent Friends’). Collins’ dynamic drumming is immediately apparent (and the biggest step up from the previous album), and Hackett’s inspired guitar work takes off from where Ant Phillips left off.  Tracks such as ‘The Musical Box’ and ‘Fountain of Salmacis’ are great, enduring classics. However, it is not quite as consistently great as the band’s very best albums. Personally, I have never liked the somewhat annoying and unpleasant epic ‘Return of the Giant Hogweed’ (although many consider it classic). That as well as a couple other lesser tracks keep this from cracking the top five or reaching the masterpiece category of their very best.

Now, the top five, all truly great albums, and among the very best progressive rock albums ever made.

5. Wind and Wuthering (1977)

Steve Hackett’s last album with the band, yet dominated more by Tony Banks and Phil Collins, and just a great album.  They continue their tradition of great album openers and closers, with ‘Eleventh Earl of Mars’ and the stunning closing combo of the dynamic instrumental ‘Into This Quiet Earth’ and the transcendent ‘Afterglow’, perhaps their greatest soaring ballad (and bringing the power reminiscent of the finale sections of ‘Supper’s Ready’).  ‘One for the Vine’ ranks among their greatest epic tracks and Hackett’s ‘Blood on the Rooftops’ is beautifully sublime. If they would have included Hackett’s wonderful ‘Inside and Out’ in place of the relatively weak ‘All in a Mouse’s Night’ this could have ranked even higher (‘Inside and Out’ was relegated to the little-heard EP Spot The Pigeon).  

4. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)

Peter Gabriel’s oddball epic adventure swan song with the band, a fantastic double album. In the first half (disc 1), every song is brilliant, just masterful, covering a variety of styles, but all fitting together perfectly. Sure, it’s hard to follow or make much sense of the sprawling narrative of Rael’s bizarre journey in this concept album, but the music is sensational. Based just on the first half, this album would have ranked even higher on this list, near the top.  However, the listening experience falters somewhat in the second half (disc 2). There’s still some great stuff there as well (such as ‘The Lamia’, ‘Lilywhite Lilith’ etc.), but both the story and the music bogs down considerably here with some tedious and lackluster sections that diminish the whole to some degree. Some sections are nothing more than noises, sound effects, and moody atmosphere that bring the whole album to a screeching halt. I have to admit that for a long time I hardly ever played the second disc (although listened to the first disc often) due to these issues (which is a shame because then miss out on the good stuff that is there). In recent years, I have made my own edited version, removing the offending sections and making the whole thing fit on a single CD, and it is much more enjoyable, and now I can enjoy the whole thing (or nearly whole thing). Still a great album (with ~80 of the 94 minute runtime being superb), but the problematic parts in the second half keep it from making the top three, which are virtually flawless albums. Best songs: ‘Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging’, ‘In the Cage’, ‘Back in NYC’, ‘Cuckoo Cocoon’, ‘Chamber of 32 Doors’, ‘Hairless Heart’, ‘Carpet Crawlers’. Worst songs: ‘The Waiting Room’, ‘Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats’, ‘Ravine’, ‘Colony of Slippermen-The Arrival’.

3. A Trick of the Tail (1976)

With this album, their first without Peter Gabriel, the band not only proved they could survive the loss of Gabriel, but that they would thrive, as they went and produced one of their very best albums as well. First, the production and sound quality is brighter and cleaner than previous albums (previous engineer David Hentschel stepped into a producer role here), and the songs are generally a bit lighter and brighter as well (relative to the somewhat dark and ominous Lamb), yet just as strong of a progressive rock album. It also plays as more of a stylistic and engrossing whole, rather than as a collection of individual songs. Starting with the dynamic opener/closer combo of ‘Dance on a Volcano’ and ‘Los Endos’, the album shines from beginning to end. In between is an array of entertaining story songs, ranging from the gentle beauty of ‘Entangled’ and ‘Ripples’ to the engaging whimsy of ‘Trick of the Tail’ to the excitement and mystery of ‘Robbery…’ and ‘Squonk’ to the engrossingly beautiful epic ‘Mad Mad Moon’. Every song is a gem.  Best songs: ‘Mad Mad Moon’,’ Dance on a Volcano/Los Endos’, ‘Entangled’, ‘Trick of the Tail’, ‘Ripples’. Weak songs: none

2. Selling England By the Pound (1973)

A true masterpiece. From beginning to end just a brilliant album in every aspect. Every song a classic of style, sound, and substance. And probably their most accessible of their early work, with superior songwriting, masterful musicianship, great melodies, and spellbinding instrumental passages. Every band member shines throughout, from Phil Collins’ dynamic drumming, Tony Banks’ inspired keyboard work, Steve Hackett’s otherworldly guitar, and Peter Gabriel’s expressive and inimitable vocals. One of the greatest progressive rock albums of all time. Simply astounding. A great, dynamic album opener of ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’ leads to their ‘almost a hit’ sing-along song ‘I Know What I Like’, and then the incredible ‘Firth of Fifth, with its fantastic piano opening sequence, powerful melodies, and Steve Hackett’s stunning guitar solo making this a powerhouse epic track. And then the charming ‘More Fool Me’, where Phil Collins is featured on vocals, and we get a preview of what’s to come later in one of Phil’s most engaging songs and performances. And it just gets better from there, with what is perhaps the best of the band’s series of darkly comic epic story songs, with the inventive ‘The Battle of Epping Forest’, and then eventually leading to one of the band’s greatest songs of all ‘The Cinema Show’ , a beautiful, fantastic epic with some of their best instrumental sections. This was the first Genesis album I ever heard, and was immediately blown away by it. Just utterly fantastic. Best songs: ‘The Cinema Show’, ‘Firth of Fifth’, ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’, ‘I Know What I Like’. Weak songs: none.    So, how could this not be their best album? Well that’s only because at #1 is…

1. Foxtrot (1972)

For me, this is the greatest progressive rock album of all time, which makes it one of the greatest albums of all time, and so just has to be Genesis’ best album as well. A tour de force of dynamic, intriguing, and powerful progressive rock from beginning to end. Stunning musicianship and instrumental prowess throughout, and their greatest songs. The standout track is, of course, 'Supper’s Ready', the greatest progressive rock song of all time, a 23-min epic that fills Side 2 of the album, and has everything you could ever want in a song. Introduced by Hackett’s beautiful brief solo classical guitar piece ‘Horizons’, 'Supper's Ready' starts with the wonderful anthemic  ‘Lover’s Leap’ section, establishing the theme with a beautiful soaring melody, then moving through the subsequent sections featuring delightful, beautiful, emphatic, quirky, majestic, silly, powerful, and bizarre aspects as it moves along, culminating in the utterly incredible and powerful long buildup of 'Apocalypse in 9/8', resolving in the most triumphant, majestic, and transcendent finale reprising themes from earlier in the piece. An unparalleled achievement in rock music. And unlike most long-form songs, there are no lulls or letdowns or long repetitive passages or tedious solos. The multiple sections keep the song moving and changing throughout, introducing new elements and themes every few minutes, and astonishing instrumental and vocal sections. And this is the only 20-plus minute song I know that actually seems too short, as when it comes to the end, you just want it to keep going on longer, it is just such a joy to listen to. Although certainly the highlight, the album has much more to offer as well. Side 1 also contains some of the band’s greatest works, including album opener ‘Watcher of the Skies’ and the quirky darkly comic story song ‘Get Em Out by Friday’. But the highlight of Side 1 is the vastly underrated masterpiece that is ‘Can-Utility and The Coastliners’, a masterfully efficient mini-epic that packs all the beauty, excitement, glory, and drama of their long-form epics into an incredible and remarkably creative song coming in at a concise runtime of under 6 minutes. The album is just amazing from beginning to end, set the bar for what progressive rock could accomplish, and influenced countless imitators and admirers, and fans. The epitome of progressive rock.

OK, so that’s how I see it. But all of those top 5-7 albums are just great, and thus I don’t have any complaints about others picking any of them as their favorite. But for me, it will always be Foxtrot at the top, the unparalleled, unbeaten, and undiminished champ of progressive rock. Disagree? Please enter your comments and your own ranking list in the comments below. But remember, these are just opinions, there are no definitive right or wrong rankings, as we all hear and enjoy different aspects of music. Let's hear from some of you.


Highway 61 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Highway 61 said...

1. Selling England by the Pound
2. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
3. Foxtrot
4. A Trick of the Tail
5. Nursery Cryme
6. Wind and Wuthering
7. Trespass
8. And Then There Were Three
9. From Genesis to Revelation
10. Genesis Live
11. Seconds Out
12. Duke
Everything else... not worth ranking (imo).

Derek said...

My top three just for the fun :
1. Seconds out
2. A trick of the tail,
3. Wind and Wuthering.

All the best and nicely written article. Thanks,

Derek from Paris

Unknown said...

Thanks for a great and well written think piece! About all that I would debate you on is the status of From Genesis to Revelation. I think it's a cool example of the late sixties music that was coming out of the UK at the time. Take it for what it is as opposed to comparing it to the likes of Trespass and it's a good little period piece. Yeah, it ain't everyone's cuppa but I find myself enjoying it once every blue moon or so. I would certainly rate it over most anything after Duke. To each their own as the kids say!