The most successful and longest-lasting line-up consisted of keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford and drummer/singer Phil Collins. Significant former members were original lead singer Peter Gabriel and guitarist Steve Hackett. The band moved from folk music to progressive rock in the 1970s, before moving towards pop at the end of the decade. They have sold 21.5 million albums in the United States, with worldwide sales of between 100 million and 150 million.
Formed by five Charterhouse pupils including Banks, Rutherford, Gabriel, and Anthony Phillips, Genesis were named by former pupil Jonathan King, who arranged for them to record several unsuccessful singles and their debut album From Genesis to Revelation in 1968. After splitting with King, the group began to tour professionally, signed with Charisma Records and recorded Trespass (1970) in the progressive rock style. Following the departure of Phillips, Genesis recruited Collins and Hackett and recorded Nursery Cryme (1971). Their live shows also began to be centred on Gabriel’s theatrical costumes and performances. They were first successful in mainland Europe, before entering the UK charts with Foxtrot (1972). In 1973, they released Selling England by the Pound (1973), which featured their first UK top 30 single “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)“. The concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway followed in 1974, and was promoted with a transatlantic tour featuring an elaborate stage show. Following the Lamb tour, Gabriel left Genesis in August 1975 to begin a solo career.
After an unsuccessful search for a replacement, Collins took over as lead singer, while Genesis gained popularity in the UK and the US. Following A Trick of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering (both 1976), Hackett left, reducing the band to Banks, Rutherford, and Collins. Genesis’ next album …And Then There Were Three… produced their first UK top ten and US top 30 single in 1978 with “Follow You Follow Me“, and they continued to gain success with Duke (1980), Abacab (1981), and Genesis (1983), reaching a peak with Invisible Touch (1986), which featured five US top five singles. Its title track reached number one in the US. After the tour for We Can’t Dance (1991), Collins left Genesis in 1996 to focus on his solo career. Banks and Rutherford recruited Ray Wilson for Calling All Stations(1997), but a lack of success in the US led to a group hiatus. Banks, Rutherford and Collins reunited for the Turn It On Again Tour in 2007, and with Gabriel and Hackett were interviewed for the 2014 BBC documentary Genesis: Together and Apart.
Their discography includes fifteen studio and six live albums, six of which topped the UK chart. They have won numerous awards and nominations, including a Grammy Award for Best Concept Music Video with “Land of Confusion“, and inspired a number of tribute bands recreating Genesis shows from various stages of the band’s career. In 2010, Genesis were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The founding members of Genesis, singer Peter Gabriel, keyboardist Tony Banks, guitarist Anthony Phillips, bassist and guitarist Mike Rutherford, and drummer Chris Stewart, met at Charterhouse School, a private school in Godalming, Surrey. Banks and Gabriel arrived at the school in September 1963, Rutherford in September 1964, and Phillips in April 1965. The five were members in one of the school’s two bands; Phillips and Rutherford were in Anon with singer Richard Macphail, bassist Rivers Jobe, and drummer Rob Tyrrell, while Gabriel, Banks, and Stewart made up Garden Wall.
In November 1980 Genesis bought Fisher Lane Farm, a farmhouse with an adjoining cowshed near Chiddingfold, Surrey, as their new rehearsal and recording facility. The building was remodelled into a studio in four months before recording for Abacab began in March 1981. The new environment had a productive effect on the writing process as the band wrote enough for a double album, but they discarded one hour’s worth of songs that sounded too similar to their past albums. Banks said a conscious effort was made to keep melodies as simple as possible which signalled further changes in their direction. The shift was underlined in its production when Hentschel, their producer and engineer since 1975, was replaced by Hugh Padgham after Collins liked his production on Face Valueand Gabriel’s third solo album. Production duties were solely credited the band for the first time with Padgham as their engineer. The album is formed of group written material with an individual song from each member. “No Reply at All” features the Phenix Horns, the horn section of American band Earth, Wind & Fire.
Abacab was released in September 1981 and reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 7 in the US. Three singles from the album entered the top forty in both countries; “Abacab” reached No. 9 in the UK and No. 26 in the US, “No Reply at All” reached No. 29 in the US, and “Keep It Dark“, a European only single, went to No. 33 in the UK. Abacab was supported with a tour of Europe and North America from September to December 1981, ending with shows at Wembley Arena and the NEC Birmingham. The tour marked the band’s first use of the Vari-Lite, a computer-controlled intelligent lighting system. Following a demonstration at The Farm, the band and Smith showed an immediate interest in the technology and became shareholders of the company. In May 1982, three tracks recorded during the Abacab sessions – “Paperlate“, “You Might Recall”, and “Me and Virgil” – were released as an extended play in Europe titled 3×3 which peaked at No. 10 in the UK. Its cover is a homage to the Twist and Shout EP by The Beatles with sleeve notes written by their former publicist Tony Barrow.
“Basically, we reached the point … where we either became a caricature of ourselves and settled into a rut, or we changed. There was no doubt in our minds that change was the answer.”
—Mike Rutherford on the band’s change in direction
In June 1982, Genesis released the double live album Three Sides Live in two different versions. The North American edition contains three sides of live recordings with the fourth comprising the 3×3 tracks and two from the Duke sessions. The European release contains a fourth side of extra live tracks. The album coincided with the home video release of the Three Sides Liveconcert film recorded in 1981. A tour of North America and Europe followed that ran from August to September 1982, featuring guest appearances from Bill Bruford and the Phenix Horns. On 2 October, Genesis headlined a one-off concert with Gabriel at the Milton Keynes Bowl under the name Six of the Best. The concert was organised to raise money for Gabriel’s World of Music, Arts and Dance project which was, by that point, in considerable debt. Hackett, who flew in from abroad, arrived in time to perform the last two songs.
Work on the twelfth Genesis album, Genesis, began in March 1983 with Padgham returning as engineer. It is the first album written, recorded, and mixed at the remodelled studio at The Farm. Banks remembered the band were scarce for new musical ideas which “felt at times as though we were stretching the material as far as we could”. “Mama” concerns a man’s obsession with a prostitute at a Cuban brothel. It originated from a beat Rutherford came up with on a LinnDrummachine that was fed through his guitar amplifier and an echo gate. Collins’ laugh on the track originated from “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
Released in October 1983, Genesis went to No. 1 in the UK and peaked at No. 9 in the US, where it reached Platinum by December that year and went on to sell over four million copies. Three tracks were released as singles; “Mama” reached No. 4 in the UK, their highest charting UK single to date, and “That’s All” reached No. 6 in the US.
In February 1984, Genesis took a break in activity to allow each member to continue with their solo careers. Rutherford formed his group Mike + The Mechanics, Banks worked on his solo album Soundtracks, and Collins released No Jacket Required which achieved worldwide success and increased his popularity as a result.
The music press took note that Collins’ success as a solo artist made him more popular than Genesis. Before the release of No Jacket Required, Collins insisted that he would not leave the band.
“The next one to leave the band will finish it,” Collins told Rolling Stone magazine in May 1985. “I feel happier with what we’re doing now, because I feel it’s closer to me. I won’t be the one.” Collins added, “Poor old Genesis does get in the way sometimes. I still won’t leave the group, but I imagine it will end by mutual consent.”
In June, Collins spoke of the band’s intention to start work on a new album that year, ending rumours to a false announcement that aired on BBC Radio 1 suggesting Genesis had split.
Genesis reconvened at The Farm in October 1985 to start work on Invisible Touch which lasted for six months. They continued their method of songwriting used on Genesis by developing material from group improvisations. Banks remembered the time as a strong period creatively for the band, with ideas “flowing out of us”.
“Invisible Touch” was developed in such a way, when the group were working on “The Last Domino”, the second part of “Domino“. During the session, Rutherford began to play an improvised guitar riff to which Collins replied with an off-the-cuff lyric – “She seems to have an invisible touch” – which became the song’s chorus hook.
Following its release in June 1986, the album spent three weeks at No. 1 in the UK and reached No. 3 in the US. Despite the mixed reviews, Invisible Touch was a commercial success, becoming the best selling Genesis album in the US, selling over 6 million copies there. The album’s five singles – “Invisible Touch”, “Throwing It All Away“, “Land of Confusion“, “In Too Deep“, and “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” – entered the top five on the US singles chart between 1986 and 1987 with “Invisible Touch” topping the chart for one week.
Genesis became the first group and foreign act to achieve this feat, equalling the five singles record set by Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, and Madonna. Genesis commissioned the creators of the satirical British television show Spitting Image, Peter Fluck and Roger Law, to make puppets of them in the style of the show for the video of “Land of Confusion”.
“Nearly 300,000 people at Wembley … I thought at the time, and I still think now, that moment was the peak of our career.”
The Invisible Touch Tour was the band’s largest world tour in its history which included 112 dates from September 1986 to July 1987. Genesis received some criticism in their decision to have Michelob beer as a sponsor. The tour concluded with four consecutive sold-out shows at Wembley Stadium in London. The shows were released in 1988 as The Invisible Touch Tour. When the tour ended, Genesis took a five-year break while each member committed to their solo projects. They performed twice during this time; on 14 May 1988, they performed a 20-minute set at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden. This was followed by a set at a charity gig at the 1990 Knebworth Festival in June, headlined by Pink Floyd.
In 1991 Genesis recorded their fourteenth album, We Can’t Dance, from March to September with their new engineer and co-producer, Nick Davis. The band took advantage of the increased capacity the CD offered and released over 71 minutes of new music across 12 tracks. Collins wrote the lyrics to “Since I Lost You” for his friend Eric Clapton following the death of Clapton’s four-year-old son Conor. Following the release of We Can’t Dance in November 1991, the album went to No. 1 in the UK for one week and No. 4 in the US, where it went on to sell over 4 million copies. The album spawned several hit singles; “No Son of Mine” went to No. 6 in the UK and “I Can’t Dance” reached No. 7 in the UK and the US. In 1993, We Can’t Dance was nominated for a Brit Award for Best British Album.
The We Can’t Dance tour visited North America and Europe from May to November 1992 with each concert attended by an average of 56,000 people. The tour spawned two live albums; The Way We Walk, Volume One: The Shorts reached No. 3 in the UK and The Way We Walk, Volume Two: The Longs went to No. 1 in the UK.
Following the tour, the band took a break in activity. Banks, Rutherford, and Collins performed at Cowdray Castle, Midhurst in September 1993 for a money-raising event with Pink Floyd touring guitarist Tim Renwick and drummer Gary Wallis and Queen drummer Roger Taylor. Rutherford also played bass on Pink Floyd’s set at the same concert.
In March 1996, Collins announced his departure from Genesis. In a statement, he said, “Having been in Genesis for 25 years, I felt it time to change direction in my musical life. For me now, it will be music for movies, some jazz projects, and of course my solo career. I wish the guys in Genesis all the very best in their future. We remain the best of friends.”
- From Genesis to Revelation (1969)
- Trespass (1970)
- Nursery Cryme (1971)
- Foxtrot (1972)
- Selling England by the Pound (1973)
- The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)
- A Trick of the Tail (1976)
- Wind & Wuthering (1976)
- …And Then There Were Three… (1978)
- Duke (1980)
- Abacab (1981)
- Genesis (1983)
- Invisible Touch (1986)