Peter Gabriel (vocals, flute; born February 13, 1950); Tony Banks (keyboards; born March 27, 1950); Phil Collins (vocals, drums; born January 30, 1951); Steve Hackett (guitar; born February 12, 1950); Mike Rutherford (bass, guitar; born October 2, 1950)
The story of Genesis really is a tale of two bands with virtually identical lineups. The ﬁrst era of Genesis ran from 1968 to 1975, with Peter Gabriel serving as lead vocalist. The second lasted from 1975 to 1996, during which drummer Phil Collins assumed the departed Gabriel’s duties as singer and frontman. Both phases are distinct, with the Gabriel-era Genesis tending toward epic-scaled progressive rock with a distinctly eccentric British cast, while the Collins-fronted edition moved in a more contemporary and commercial direction. But to say that one period was “prog” while the other was “pop” oversimpliﬁes the situation, doing an injustice to the often sprightly melodies of the former and the continued musical depth of the latter. With Gabriel’s and Collins’ voices sharing certain characteristics of tone and timbre, the transition was, in fact, less jarring than might be supposed.
The group’s initial core – singer/ﬂute player Peter Gabriel, keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist/guitarist Michael Rutherford and guitarist Anthony Phillips – came together at the Charterhouse school in 1966 under the name the Garden Wall. The group’s demo tapes caught the attention of pop producer and songwriter Jonathan King, who suggested the band change its name to Genesis. The group went through several drummers before settling on Phil Collins, who joined in 1970. In fact, Collins was not on Genesis’ debut album, From Genesis to Revelation, released the previous year. Another lineup change saw Phillips replaced by guitarist Steve Hackett.
The lineup of Gabriel, Banks, Rutherford, Hackett and Collins remained intact for the ﬁrst half of the Seventies. During that period, they recorded a series of endearingly eccentric albums, including Trespass, Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot and Selling England by the Pound. Gabriel’s vivid imagination concocted such fanciful narratives as giant hogweeds overrunning the planet and an eavesdropping lawn mower elating old folks’ teatime gossip. “The Musical Box,” one of Genesis’ early master-pieces, spun a Dorian Gray-style tale of murder, reincarnation and desire. The strange, sidelong epic “Supper’s Ready” was the highlight of Foxtrot.
Genesis didn’t hit the charts in America until 1973, when their sixth album, Selling England by the Pound, rose to Number 70 on the coattails of such established prog-rock successes as Yes, Jethro Tull and the Moody Blues.
In concert, Gabriel brought Genesis’ songs to life with a series of theatrical guises donned for every song. He’d appear as a giant sunflower in “Willow Farm” and a glowing-eyed extraterrestrial in “Watcher of the Skies.” His stagecraft became the visual focus of Genesis’ live shows; the other members would position themselves in an inconspicuous semicircle toward the back of the stage.
In 1974, Genesis unveiled The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a conceptual double album with an elliptical story line about Rael, a New York street kid, and his quest for spiritual self-discovery. Instead of the usual lengthy epics, there were 23 songs strung across Lamb’s four sides. A six-month tour followed, filled with intricate staging that included 2000 slides and a host of special effects. It was a spectacle on par with anything attempted in the world of rock to that point, and in its wake, an exhausted Gabriel announced he was leaving the band.
Ironically, though they fretted about continuing without him – and auditioned 400 replacements before deciding Collins was up to the task – Genesis’ most successful days lay ahead of them. The four-man lineup released a pair of delightful albums, A Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering, that mined the same rich vein of British whimsy and musical inventiveness for which Genesis had been known. Following the 1977 release of a double-live album, Seconds Out, Steve Hackett departed. He was not replaced, and Genesis acknowledged the attrition in their numbers by titling the next album And Then There Were Three....
Something wholly unexpected happened at this point: Genesis began having hits. They first cracked the U.S. Top 40 with “Follow You Follow Me,” from And Then There Were Three... Tapping into the streamlined sound of the New Wave movement of the Eighties, Genesis found a way to incorporate pop hooks and artful concision into their work, and the four studio albums they released in the Eighties – Duke (1980), Abacab (1981), Genesis (1983) and Invisible Touch (1986) – generated 10 Top 40 hits. Invisible Touch became one of the biggest albums of the Eighties, launching five major hits: “Invisible Touch” (Genesis’ first and only Number One single), “Throwing It All Away” (Number Four), “Land of Confusion” (Number Four), “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” (Number Three) and “In Too Deep” (Number Three). After Hackett left, Genesis added guitarist Daryl Stuermer and drummer Chester Thompson to their touring lineup.
Collins had become the extroverted frontman and undisputed sparkplug of Genesis. Away from Genesis he launched a highly successful solo career that culminated with the phenomenal success of his third album, No Jacket Required (1985), which sold more than 12 million copies and stayed atop the album charts for seven weeks. Banks and Rutherford released solo projects, including Rutherford‘s band Mike + the Mechanics, but none of them matched Collins’ commercial heights.
Genesis reconvened in the Nineties for one more album (We Can’t Dance, 1991) and world tour before Collins decided to leave for good. Now they were down to two, but Genesis didn’t break up. Recruiting a new vocalist, Ray Wilson, they recorded the 1997 album Calling All Stations. And then Genesis did go silent– until 2007, that is, when Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford reunited for the first time in 15 years for a highly successful world tour.