*. Portions of this article have been adapted from Spicer, 2000: 77-111.
1. Peter Gabriel’s fondness for “dressing up in costumes [and] playing silly games” (about which he would later reminisce in his 1980 solo hit Games Without Frontiers) began famously at Genesis’s Dublin concert on 28 September 1972, during the opening weeks of the Foxtrot tour, where, unbeknownst to his fellow band members, Gabriel appeared onstage wearing a red dress and a fox’s head — thus mimicking the character depicted in Paul Whitehead’s surrealistic cover painting for the Foxtrot album — to perform the finale of The Musical Box. (In her contribution to this collection, Laura Leante examines Gabriel’s different onstage personae and use of mime in various live performances of this particular track.) Whitehead’s trio of cover paintings for the Trespass, Nursery Cryme, and Foxtrot albums may be viewed at the artist’s official website: Needless to say, the surrealistic images found on the album covers of many of the British progressive rock groups in the early 1970s contributed greatly to the overall reception of the genre, an important topic beyond the scope of the present article.
2. The first three Genesis albums failed to chart in their native Britain, but by January 1972 Trespass had reached #1 in Belgium, and by March, just prior to their first seven-date tour of Italy in April, Nursery Cryme had risen to #4 on the Italian charts. Foxtrot was Genesis’s first U.K. hit album, reaching #12 in late 1972.
3. Transcribed from an interview in the 1990 BBC film Genesis: A History (available on video but not DVD). I highly recommend this film to the reader who wishes a more detailed account of the history of Genesis during their early period, including fascinating concert clips.
4. When asked recently about how Genesis would typically compose their epic songs, Tony Banks confirmed that “a lot of things were sections we brought in, but as you develop them with the group you change them” (from a 23 November 2001 interview, available online at the official Genesis website:
5. The initial inspiration for Watcher of the Skies came to Banks during the group’s first Italian tour: “I wrote the lyrics … with Mike in Naples. … We were sitting out on top of this building, and it was a hot sunny day, and we were just looking out across a vast area of buildings and fields, and there wasn’t a soul to be seen. It looked like the whole population had just deserted the planet, and that’s what Watcher of the Skies is all about … an alien being coming to the planet and seeing it completely deserted …” (Gallo, 1980: 42).
6. For a detailed description of the Mellotron and the myriad other keyboard instruments used in progressive rock, see Vail, 1993.
7. See Holm-Hudson, 2008. Holm-Hudson asserts that Banks’s affinity for such linear chromatic progressions reached its apex on the two Genesis albums immediately following Gabriel’s departure, A Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering, where several of the songs are credited solely to Banks rather than the group as a whole. He then goes on to analyze the voice-leading design in a number of chordal passages from these mid-period albums using so-called “neo-Riemannian” techniques, an important sub-discipline of music theory that has developed mainly in North America over the past decade or so. For a useful survey of neo-Riemannian concepts and progressions, see Roig-Francolì, 2002: 863-71. See also Capuzzo, 2004: 177–99.
8. The sheer lengths of the tracks rendered the majority of British progressive rock unsuitable for release as singles. Nevertheless, Genesis — likely at the urging of their record label, and in the quest for a U.K. radio hit — did release an edited version of Watcher of the Skies as a single in February 1973 (Charisma 103; the single failed to chart in the U.K.). In order to cut the track down from over seven minutes to less than four, the single edit begins squarely at the onset of the main groove, thus omitting entirely the Mellotron introduction as well as the reprise of this music that serves as the song’s extended instrumental coda. In his contribution to this collection, Dai Griffiths explains why he prefers his progressive rock in shorter doses, and so he would probably enjoy this edited version. However, I’m sure that many Genesis fans would agree with me that without the dramatic build-up of the introduction — arguably the song’s most striking feature — the single version of Watcher comes across as something of a letdown.
9. Admittedly, Genesis themselves would later simplify their pedal-point grooves on their more commercially-accessible records during the 1980s and 1990s, often resorting to the well-worn stadium rock formula of repeated tonic eighth notes in the bass, as evinced by such radio-friendly singles as Turn it on Again (1980), Abacab (1981), and No Son of Mine (1991).
10. Beginning with Nursery Cryme, Mike Rutherford often used bass pedals in conjunction with his electric bass to add extra muscle to the tonic pedal at especially climactic moments; listen, for example, to the booming entrance of the bass pedals that Rutherford deliberately saves for the third and final verse of Back in NYC (at 4:18).
11. To date, probably the most illuminating study of grooves in pop and rock music is Hughes, 2003. Hughes distinguishes between two main types of groove: exotelic, “designed to create a sense of completeness at [its] end and then simply use repetition to generate a wave-like pulsation from completeness to incompleteness and back”; and autotelic (or “self-generating”),“designed to lead the listener to expect its beginning will follow its ending” (15). If we examine the main groove to Watcher of the Skies (Example 1b) along these lines, the staccato bass riff seems self-contained within each bar while, at the same time, the syncopated two beat pick-up figure at the end of each bar in the organ part seems constantly to push the groove forward into the next downbeat, thus creating a wonderful tension between exotelic and autotelic components within the same groove. A thoroughgoing examination of pedal-point grooves in Genesis is a topic that deserves an article all of its own, one which I hope to pursue at a later time.
12. The drumming in Riding the Scree suggests also the complex polyrhythmic style of free jazz, a style that Collins was able to explore more fully in his work with the British fusion group Brand X during the late 1970s and 1980s.
13. My thanks to one of my graduate students in New York, Tom DeMicco, for sharing with me his transcription of the Firth of Fifth intro. For an extended analysis of Firth of Fifth, see Macan, 1997: 106–12; see also Enzio Temporelli, “Musica e Alchimia: Strutture Esoteriche e Matematiche Nella Musica Dei Genesis,” available online at
14. For an analysis of Because, focusing on Lennon’s seemingly naïve misappropriation of nineteenth-century harmonic syntax, see Spicer, 2001: 44–49.
15. From the aforementioned interview with Gabriel in the BBC film Genesis: A History.
16. To be fair, the borrowing of themes and characters from mythology and science fiction formed only part of the typical subject matter for Genesis’s lyrics. As John Covach notes in his recent rock history textbook , “Gabriel spun bizarre tales, most of which delivered stinging, if sometimes obscure, criticisms of British life and values” (Covach, 2006: 332). A case in point is the third track on Foxtrot, Get ’Em Out by Friday, which, in a not-too-subtle attack on the U.K. council housing system, chronicles the plight of tenants threatened with eviction in a futuristic Britain where “the directors of Genetic Control” have announced “a 4ft restriction on humanoid height” so they “can fit twice as many in the same building site.” This “social criticism” aspect of Genesis’s lyrics would reach its peak in their follow-up album to Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound.
17. Compare, for example, the opening section to The Musical Box (from Nursery Cryme).
18. On the studio version of Supper’s Ready, Gabriel’s voice during the verses of Lover’s Leap has been double-tracked so as to sound simultaneously at pitch and at an octave higher, giving the singer’s persona a kind of “split personality” in accordance with the message in the lyrics.
19. It is evident from the lyrics that the Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man — “a fireman who looks after the fire” — is meant to represent Satan himself.
20. Many of rock’s harmonic idioms owe an allegiance to blues traditions. The cadential progression bVII–IV–I, for example, can be understood as a variant of the V–IV–I progression that closes a typical twelve-bar blues, with bVII substituting for V, as it frequently does in rock harmony. Emphasizing its root motion in descending fourths rather than descending fifths, Walter Everett has coined the term “double-plagal cadence” for the bVII–IV–I progression; see, for example, Everett, 2001: 364. For a more extended discussion of modal harmony in rock music — and the use of the lowered seventh in particular — see Moore, 1995: 185–201.
21. The pulsing eighth notes — and their accompanying repeated harmonies — at the beginning of the Apocalypse in 9/8 (15:38 ff.) have long reminded me of the famous incessant "Augurs of Spring" chord in Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (1912). For a fuller analytical explanation of the harmonic and textural similarities with Stravinsky in this passage, see Spicer, 2000: 95–96.
22. From a Banks interview by Alan Hewitt that originally appeared in The Waiting Room magazine (available online at Banks goes on to describe how the organ solo crystallized during an extended jam session in the studio involving a trio consisting of himself, Phil Collins, and Mike Rutherford. Interestingly, this foreshadows what was to become Genesis’s preferred method for composing new pieces beginning with the 1978 album … And Then There Were Three …, when the group was in fact reduced to just these three members.
23. Parry’s Jerusalem is perhaps the most famous and beloved of all Anglican hymns. In concert, Peter Gabriel made the reference to the hymn even more explicit through the bizarre story he told as a lead-in to Supper’s Ready, which culminated in his whistling an odd, jazzy reinvention of the tune he called "Jerusalem Boogie" (one can hear Gabriel’s story on the live version of Supper’s Ready available on Genesis Archive 1967–75). Certainly Banks, Gabriel, and Rutherford would have known the hymn from their boyhood years spent at the exclusive Charterhouse school, where no doubt they would have often sung the hymn at morning assembly. Gabriel has described the importance of hymn singing in shaping his early musical experience: “Hymns used to be the only musical moment at Charterhouse. … [T]he organ in Chapel was magnificent and the playing was great. … Everyone would stand up and scream their heads off. … It was really emotional, and people would come out of Chapel feeling like they were on top of the world” (Gallo, 1980: 14). For a discussion of the profound influence of Anglican church music on many of the classic British progressive rock groups, see Macan, 1992: 102–103.
24. Despite the statement to the contrary on the group’s official website, rumors of an impending reunion of the classic early-70s lineup continue to circulate voraciously among Genesis fans. This seems all the more unlikely now that the 1980s lineup of Collins, Banks, and Rutherford have announced that they will be reuniting, without Gabriel and Hackett, for a 2007 world tour.


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