Composition And Experimentation In British Rock 1967-1976



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Yet similarities with nineteenth-century compositional practice are not just confined to the realm of texture. From a harmonic standpoint, like the piano intro to Firth of Fifth, Lover’s Leap also features several of the characteristic quirks normally identified with composers of that era. The verse alone, for example, exhibits a tonally-ambiguous beginning, use of modal mixture (with harmonies “borrowed” from the parallel minor into E major, including the half-diminished supertonic in bar 1), as well as a modulation to the distant key of B-flat major (#IV) in bars 6–8, musically portraying the accompanying lyric, “I swear I saw your face change.”  Aside from obvious features of instrumentation (e.g., the use of an electric bass in conjunction with the ’cello), I would argue that the only elements sounding truly out of place in an otherwise very “nineteenth-century sounding” musical landscape are the speech-like syncopations in the vocal melody, which are more typical of a rock singing style as opposed to a classical one. (18)
With the onset of the second tableau we are drawn into a markedly different musical world (its main groove is shown in Example 5). In his review of the Foxtrot album in Sounds magazine (30 September 1972), Jerry Gilbert commented that The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man "nods rather obliquely in the direction of Bowie and seems to be about a supersonic space age farmer.” (19) Perhaps the most notable difference in texture between Sanctuary Man and the preceding music is the presence of the drums, which up until this point have remained tacet. Now the drums and bass work in tandem to create another classic Genesis pedal-point groove. Steve Hackett’s electric guitar (not transcribed in the example) sidesteps, as it often does, the more traditional role of lead instrument in this section and is instead limited to playing sliding figures that help paint an atmospheric background for Tony Banks’s fanfare-like organ part (notated in simplified form on the middle stave).
In stark contrast to the nineteenth-century harmony of Lover’s Leap, the chord vocabulary of Sanctuary Man sits squarely in the tradition of post-1960s rock. First and foremost, the harmonic language of this section should be understood as modal rather than tonal: despite the A major key signature, G-natural —the lowered-seventh scale degree — clearly has primacy over the leading-tone G-sharp, and the dominant chord is absent altogether, resulting in a predominantly Mixolydian harmonic environment. (20) A second paradigm of rock harmony occurs after the pedal point is broken, with the rising progression ii–iii (bars 8–9).  Such stepwise passing of root-position chords is infrequent in classical tonality because of the characteristic stability of the perfect consonances measured above the bass. When it does occur there it is usually in limited and isolated contexts, such as the carefully voice-led deceptive progession V–vi. In rock harmony, on the other hand, it is relatively common to pass by step through root-position chords (e.g., the cadential progression bVI–bVII–I, used at the climax of the sixth tableau). Yet what betrays even more clearly this progression’s rock derivation as opposed to any possible classical origins is its voice leading: as I have shown in Example 5, not only do we have a succession of root position triads, but also a succession of exposed parallel fifths. These fifths are not surprising, since Tony Banks tells us that he originally composed the Sanctuary Man progression on the guitar rather than at the keyboard. (Gallo, 1980: 15-16)
Let us now skip ahead to look at the climactic sixth tableau, in which we are made to witness “the Apocalypse of St. John in full progress.” The music in this section is perhaps the most complex of the entire Foxtrot album, and so for the sake of practicality I will highlight just a few of its key passages. As its title informs us, the sixth tableau is entirely cast in a 9/8 meter; furthermore, the meter is subdivided into constant eighth notes, grouped most of the time as 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 (as we heard also in Riding the Scree). (21) At the heart of the Apocalypse in 9/8 is an extended organ solo over a relentless ostinato figure played by the bass and guitar — consisting of just three pitches, E, F-sharp, and B — effecting yet another extended pedal-point groove (the beginning of the organ solo is transcribed in
Example 6a). Tony Banks has offered insights as to how this music was composed:

“The organ solo started off as a very tongue-in-cheek thing, I thought I’d play like Keith Emerson to see what it sounds like. There were little phrases in there that were supposed to be almost humorous in a way. The other idea on that was to just keep the notes simple, and I said [to Mike Rutherford], “If you can keep just to the three notes E, F sharp and B then I can do any chord I want on top of it.” I could go major, minor, all sorts of things. It was great fun actually as I could go for the real dramatic stuff like a C major chord on top of that, which sounds very tense and that was how it was developed. I was very satisfied with the result of that.” (22)

Though originally intended then to be just “tongue-in-cheek,” Banks creates in this section what must surely rank as one of the finest keyboard solos in all of progressive rock. As in Sanctuary Man, the tonal center is achieved by virtue of the constant repetition of E as a tonic pedal point in the bass/guitar ostinato. As Banks informs us, the limited pitch material of the ostinato accompaniment allowed him to take great liberties in the harmonic structure of his solo above (“I could go major, minor, all sorts of things”). This harmonic freedom can be heard from the very onset of the solo: he begins squarely in E major, then quickly introduces A-sharp (^#4), invoking a Lydian quality; the modality continues to fluctuate two bars later with the introduction of G-natural (^b3), and D-natural (^b6), effecting a brief excursion into the Dorian mode.
The organ solo continues for over two and a half minutes, culminating in a melodic sequence that rises to a spectacular climax on a high C-natural. At this point the vocal makes an impassioned return (“666 is no longer alone”), and here — for the first time in Supper’s Ready— we are bathed in the massive orchestral timbre of a Mellotron chordal accompaniment, an effect that seems to have been consciously saved for this climactic moment, shown in
Example 6b. Following this passage, the tonality quickly modulates from E major to B-flat major, signaling a brief yet triumphant reprise of the music from the refrain of the first tableau (20:11 ff.). This Lover’s Leap refrain is densely orchestrated, complete with tubular bells, snare-drum rolls, and electric-guitar tremolos.
An immediate segue (20:47) takes us into the seventh and final tableau, where we are presented with nothing less than a full-fledged recapitulation — what Nors Josephson describes as a “Lisztian, symphonic apotheosis” — of the A major Sanctuary Man theme from the second tableau. (Josephson, 1992: 84) In live performances, Peter Gabriel would typically sing this final section of Supper’s Ready suspended like an angel above the stage, expressing visually the idea that the ordeal is over and that good has ultimately prevailed over evil. It is no accident that Gabriel’s lyrics for As Sure as Eggs is Eggs (Aching Men’s Feet) contain the most explicit strategic intertextual reference of the entire piece: a recasting of William Blake’s famous poem about building a “new Jerusalem” on English soil, as immortalized in C. Hubert H. Parry’s rousing World War I hymn Jerusalem (1916).
(23) One can hardly imagine a more fitting conclusion for this decidedly British retelling of the story of the apocalypse.


It would take a book-length study to do justice to this remarkable album in all its richness and complexity. Accordingly, there are many wonderful moments on Foxtrot that I have not considered in this article, but I do hope that my analysis will inspire others to tackle Genesis’s music with a similar degree of rigor. I have said before that writing about Genesis is especially significant for me. As I was growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s — and playing in as many pop and rock bands as I did classical music ensembles — this group, and the Foxtrot album in particular, was one of the main reasons why I came to love music and to love thinking about music. The international symposium that has spawned this collection of articles is proof enough that there are many others who also care a great deal about this music, those whose formative years were similarly shaped by both a classical and a rock aesthetic. And as if we need further proof, there are now dozens of Genesis tribute bands scattered around the globe (including, by my count, fourteen groups based in Italy alone), all dedicated to performing these epic songs, note-for-note from the original studio recordings, as perfectly as they can. (24) It seems then that John Covach’s prediction has in fact already come true: that classic British progressive rock is music which will be listened to — and studied — for many years to come.

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