Any list of the top 10 Genesis albums is always going to run into problems. Music is subjective anyway, with one fan’s favorite album being another’s worst nightmare. But when you’re dealing with a band like Genesis, there’s an even bigger problem. They may always have been unified under one name, but they were essentially two different bands. There was the band under Peter Gabriel, which helped set the template for prog-rock, and the band under Phil Collins, which gradually became less prog and more pop with each subsequent album. If you’re equally enamored with both eras, then consider yourself a rarity.
It would be easy to draw a line in the sand and say Peter Gabriel era = good, Phil Collins era = bad. But it’s not as simple as that (even if some people will insist on telling you it is until they’re blue in the face). Few bands survive, let alone thrive, after losing their original frontman. Yet in terms of popularity, Genesis only got bigger after Phil Collins stepped out from behind the drums and took over the mic.
What all of this means is that you probably won’t agree with our list. But give it a read anyway. Even if it doesn’t change your mind, it might just expand your playlist.
#10 – Invisible Touch
Mention of Invisible Touch doesn’t usually go down well with fans of old-school Genesis. Ultimately, that’s to be expected, and it’s by no means a perfect album. But neither is it a complete failure. The production hasn’t aged well, but the same can be said of most albums from the mid-80s. Its main failing is not making the most of the band’s talent – although considering how small the band had become by that point, it’s perhaps understandable, if not necessarily excusable. If you can somehow leave all that aside, however, you’ll find an album stuffed with the kind of radio-friendly pop hits that most bands would have given their right eye for. It’s commercial, for sure, and it’s certainly no match for the band’s earlier records. But if it’s judged purely on its own merits and not by the standards of its predecessors, it’s really not the travesty it’s made out to be.
#9 – ….And Then There Were Three …
After Steve Hackett got tired of being underused as a lead guitarist, he quit the band, leaving Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, and Tony Banks to soldier on without him. They put up a good fight, but on tracks like “Follow You, Follow Me” (the album’s lead single and the band’s first taste of worldwide pop success), it’s clear that the clock was ticking on the days of old-school Genesis.
#8 – Duke
Duke was the point that everything began to change in a major way. There’s still a good share of proggy moments, but the scattering of pop tunes set off alarm bells for old fans. For the new fans coming up in their wake, it was a different story. Ultimately, it would be those fans the band would set their sights on over the coming albums. For now though, pop and prog had to learn to live together; here, at least, they manage it respectably well.
#7 – Trespass
After Genesis’ debut failed to set the world on fire, the band tried a different tack with its follow-up. They changed producer, switched their pop-oriented sound for folk-flavored prog rock, and dialed their ambitions up a notch. The result, for many, is their ‘real’ debut. Neither Phil Collins nor Steve Hackett were on board yet, and the band still hadn’t figured out the best way to execute their ideas. But the potential was there, and in the case of “The Knife,” the album’s mind-blowing closer, so were the seeds of greatness. It may not have been a flawless album, but it was a crucial stepping stone to what came next.
#6 – Wind & Wuthering
After A Trick of the Tail proved that Genesis could manage quite nicely without Peter Gabriel, the remaining four-piece returned to the studio for Wind & Wuthering. Like its predecessor, it doesn’t find them deviating too far from the template. It’s a little calmer, the jazz fusion is gone, but it’s still prog. Listen hard enough, though, and you’ll hear the first faint rumblings of revolution, most notably in the poppy “Your Own Special Way,” a very mediocre love song, but a much more conventional one than the band had ever attempted before. A change of direction was on the horizon. Prog’s days were numbered; those of Genesis weren’t.
#5 – A Trick of the Tail
Losing a frontman is always a major blow for a band, but losing one like Peter Gabriel is potentially lethal. Most bands would have packed up their equipment and called it a day. But not Genesis. With Phil Collins now in charge of the mic, they returned to the studio for their seventh studio album. The result, A Trick of the Tail, is remarkably similar to their previous albums. Phil Collins is still keeping his plans for pop stardom under wraps, seemingly content to follow Peter Gabriel’s example both in terms of the album’s musical direction and his own vocal delivery – at least for now. Obviously, Peter Gabriel’s absence is felt, but even that can’t undermine what’s essentially a startlingly good piece of prog rock.
#4 – Nursery Cryme
In 1971, Genesis turned things up a notch. 1970’s Trespass was good, but the following year’s Nursery Cryme blew it out the water. Phil Collins and Steve Hackett had been bought on board, and the classic quintet was now in place. Suddenly, the writing got more creative, the instrumental interplays got better, the songs got longer, and the theatrics got wilder. The album’s opener, the enchanting “The Musical Box,” suggested right off the bat that Genesis were moving into a different league. They were, and while they’d end up making better albums, Nursery Cryme was the one that paved the way.
#3 – Foxtrot
When Nursery Cryme came out in 1971, we didn’t think Genesis could get any better. Turn’s out, they could. Foxtrot,Genesis‘ fourth studio album, gave us two of their most epic creations – the jaw-dropping, 23-minute epic “Supper’s Ready” and the majestic “Watcher of the Skies.” The rest of the album doesn’t exactly make for unpleasant listening either. It was a milestone moment for the band, with some critics calling it their “undisputed masterpiece.” Which it was – until they pulled two even greater albums out of their sleeve in the following two years.
#2 – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Peter Gabriel’s final album with the band didn’t meet with universal praise when it first hit the shelves in November 1974. Fortunately, plenty of fans didn’t give two hoots what the critics said and bought it anyway, sending it to No. 10 in the UK and No. 41 in the US. It’s continued to grow in popularity ever since, and deservedly so. Concept albums are always risky, but here, Genesis nails it. Sure, there’s a couple of moments where it starts to wander, but those moments are rare and easy to overlook when you consider the album in its entirety. Everyone plays their part exceptionally well, but considering it was Peter Gabriel’s last stand, the last word has to go to his voice and his lyricism, both of which are utter genius.
#1 – Selling England By The Pound
During the first few years of the 1970s, Genesis just seemed to get better with each new album. Nursery Cryme outdid Trespass, and then Foxtrot came along and bettered them both. It didn’t have long to enjoy its rein at the top though. Just a year after we thought Genesis had reached their peak, they dropped Selling England by the Pound and proved everyone wrong. Everything we’d come to expect from Genesis was here – the theatrics, the instrumentals, the side helping of Britishness – but it was sharper, more refined, and ultimately better than anything that had come before. It might not be a completely flawless effort, but it’s easy to overlook the odd misfire when you’re dealing with an album of this caliber. Selling England by the Pound isn’t simply the greatest Genesis album, it’s one of the greatest pieces of 70s prog rock ever made.
Feature Photo: ~Andrew St.Denis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons