Ah now, Genesis. Or Weirdy British Folk-Prog. This is before Genesis went all synthy and Collins-led, back when they were fricking awesome. This is their third album from 1971, though I tend to think of it as the second, with Trespass feeling like the first Genesis album proper.
I recall my introduction to Genesis very clearly, sitting on the floor of my bedroom with my brother, crouched over my beloved JVC radio cassette player listening to a taped copy of Supper’s Ready lent by my brother’s friend. We listened in silence, ears and eyes wide open from beginning to end. I can’t remember what we said to each other afterwards, but I remember thinking what the heck was that? I couldn’t make sense of it at all but wanted to listen to it again immediately and on repeat to get my head round it. I think we were aged around 15 and 13 respectively. Thus, begun my enduring love of prog. To explore further, we went backwards, to this album, and Trepass, and then on to Selling England by the Pound, one of the first pieces of vinyl I bought. This copy is a relatively recent purchase, from the Netherlands, since my brother had it on vinyl, and until leaving home, we tended to share both musical tastes and our slowly growing collections of tapes and records. (No one in our house owned a CD player until the mid-90s).
Progressive rock is definitely one of those genre terms that I hate. It’s become rather meaningless, but at the time (late 60s-early 70s) it was useful to identify musicians who were trying to do something a little different from the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure. There are no ‘verses’ or ‘choruses’ in Genesis until you get to Follow You Follow Me in 1978. For the uninitiated, the best way to determine if something is ‘prog’ or not is to check the following:
- Are many of the album tracks at least 7 minutes long?
- Do the track titles have weird names referencing mythology or literature, or something else kind of arty farty, often with no bearing on the subject?
- Does it contain long ‘solos’ or musical interludes?
- Does it deploy at least 3 different unusual time signatures (usually all within the same song)?
- Does the cover art look like a psychedelic or abstract version of Salvador Dali?
- Does the lead singer also play the flute or viola or some other ‘classical’ instrument?
- Is it unlikely to feature on Top of the Pops?
Tick yes for all of those for this album – a total prog score of 100%!
It also has some storming guitar solos and some fantastic drumming, courtesy of Hackett and Collins, the two newer members of the band. Phil is also noticeable for his first solo vocal and duetting with Gabriel on a number of tracks. There’s a particular English whimsy at play here, and the band are very playful, with Harold the Barrel a laugh-a-minute in particular. More of this word-play is to be found at the beginning of Supper’s Ready.
I love the cover artwork, produced by the same artist who did Trespass and their next album Foxtrot (the one with the mighty Supper’s Ready). The inside features an old-style photo album, with a panel each for the lyrics of each song. I recall reading them avidly whilst listening to my brother’s vinyl copy, still trying to work out what the heck they were going on about. Filled with imagery of ancient gods and mythology, fairy tales and nursery rhymes (hence the title) they epitomise everything that identifies ‘progressive rock’ and what it’s detractors hate about it. Prog is not all noodling Mellotron and dancing with fairies, some of it is downright scary (see Court of the Crimson King) and if you’ve never seen a video of Genesis performing this at the time, when Gabriel puts his wife’s red dress on and a fox’s head for the latter part of The Musical Box, then you really haven’t lived.
Best Bits: End of The Musical Box when Gabriel screams out “Why don’t you touch me, touch me, touch me, touch me now, now, now, now”
Genre: Weirdy British Folk-Prog
Like This, Try This: Running naked through fields of wheat off your face on local cider