The first time I really sat down to listen to Genesis, I was a kid in boarding school. I'd borrowed A Trick Of The Tail from one of the smartest Seniors on my floor. An eccentric honors student who specialized in French, Latin and wearing his hair in the style some of us called "cumulo-nimbus". Somehow he got one of the prettiest girls in the school to fall for him. What was his secret? That strange music he listened to while he studied?
Apparently not. I was bored by the borrowed cassette. And what a shame I started my discovery of Genesis with the first post-Peter Gabriel album. Because I didn't bother to try to learn more for decades.
I'd argue today the album to start with is their fourth: Foxtrot. Released October 6, 1972, Foxtrot reveals a confident band, jamming together, performing together and composing together. Some of the songs actually rock, including the dark sci fi opener "Watcher of the Skies", featuring Tony Banks on mellotron.
"I look back on 'Watcher of the Sky', it's got a fantastic intro. The rhythm's great. I think the words are a bit suspect. They're kind of OK." says Mike Rutherford " Tony and I wrote them. But looking back it's a little too busy. But I think that rhythm "bumpetee bum bum bum bum was a nice rhythm under those chords"
An inventive rhythm Phil Collins chalks up to the influence of Yes, a band he saw play as often as he could.
Peter Gabriel added some darkness to the tune by dressing in a cap and glow in the dark makeup.
Foxtrot ends with "Supper's Ready" a dreamy 23 minute, seven part epic Gabriel has described as "a personal journey which ends up walking through scenes from Revelation in the bible". It has also been said that the song was inspired by a supernatural encounter Gabriel and his wife shared. Like most of the album, all members contributed ideas, riffs, lyrics and arrangements.
"I think we were writing better as a group" says Tony Banks who had written section VII "As Sure As Eggs is Eggs" on guitar as a university student.
"So you had these quite specific bits like "Willow Farm" (section V) was Peter's and then we had these big chunks that were all written by people, kind of put them all in the same song, and then it was kind of the filling out stuff that almost ended up being the strongest stuff there like the Apocalypse part (section VI) which really was Mike, Phil and I just wrote together. When the group can all feel they're involved in the composition it tends to produce a better result."
The group dynamic would not last forever. Gabriel appeared on the front page of Melody Maker wearing a red dress and a fox mask, without running it by the band leading to a ton of arguments. " I thought 'fuck it. I'm just going to do it', laughs Gabriel. "Because there was always this band democracy stuff and actually it wasn't a real democracy 'cuz some people were more powerful than others. And the more bloody minded of us tended to get their way more often as it is in every band the world over."