It’s not surprising that decades down the line many people don’t realize that Peter Gabriel was once a driving member of Genesis. He was not only the lead singer of the group but one of their primary songwriters. It was Gabriel who pushed the band into the realm of rock theater, stretching boundaries with his multimedia presentations. The Genesis of the early 1970s differed radically from the pop-oriented band that exists today. It was a progressive rock band that explored strangely surreal musical and lyrical frontiers. Their songs were steeped in fantasy and populated with strange characters such as giant hogweed plants, hermaphrodites and aliens from outer space. The music was filled with uncommon chord progressions, odd time signatures and a dramatic implementation of dynamics.
At the heart of this sound was keyboardist Tony Banks, who was responsible for much of the unusual harmonic content in their music and was an early pioneer of both the mellotron and the synthesizer. Although he was classically trained, he was one of the few keyboardists from that era who exercised taste and restraint and played mostly what was necessary for the song. Guitarist Steve Hackett was responsible for creating a haunting, ghostly electric guitar sound that shimmered within the music. He easily shifted from aggressive rock guitar to nimble nylon string classical guitar performances. Michael Rutherford also brought an interesting duality to Genesis with his thunderous bass work and delicate 12-string guitar passages. Rutherford was also an important composer for Genesis, creating many memorable guitar riffs. Drummer Phil Collins was (and is) considered to be one of the finest rock drummers ever (though this has been overshadowed in recent years by his vocally oriented solo pop material). Together these players made music that was cutting-edge and against the grain of commercial rules.
The group began as a pleasant diversion from the private boarding school, Charterhouse, that the founding members were sent to for their high school education. The original group-Gabriel, Banks, Rutherford, Anthony Phillips (guitar) and John Silver (drums)-was actually more of a songwriters collective than a rock band. They recorded demos with the hope of getting other artists to cover their songs, and in the process managed to get a tape to Charterhouse alum Jonathan King, an artist/producer. King was impressed enough to sign the group to a recording contract and christened them with the name Genesis. Their debut album, From Genesis to Revelation, was a fairly undistinguished record with amateurish performances; it sold a pitiful 500 copies. After King dropped the band, they decided to do some woodshedding and become professional (at which point Silver left and was replaced by John Mayhew). Genesis paid their dues playing some of the worst gigs in the UK before they were noticed by Tony Stratton Smith of Chrisma Records and signed to that label. Their sophomore effort, Trespass, was a dramatic improvement over their first album and contained many hallmarks of the early Genesis sound: Gabriel’s strange stories and passionate vocals, Banks’ keyboards and the lovely 12-string guitars of Rutherford and Phillips. Unfortunately, Phillips had serious health problems around this time (as well as overpowering stage fright) and left the band. Around the same time the decision was made to fire the erratic Mayhew and replace him with Phil Collins. After an exhaustive search, Genesis made Steve Hackett their new guitarist and set about recording their third album, Nursery Cryme, which clearly benefited from the presence of the new members.
By 1972 Genesis was finally reaping rewards from years of hard work. Their Foxtrot album was released and is now considered to be one of their classic recordings. The band became headliners in Europe and began testing the waters in showcase gigs in America. They were able to capitalize on this momentum with the follow-up album, Selling England by the Pound, which featured their first Top 20 single “I Know What I Like.” After a hard year of touring to promote the record they agreed to take their first extended break before reconvening to record the next album.
May 1974 marked the beginning of a very turbulent time for the group. They had all agreed to the idea of a concept album and went through the democratic process of voting on the candidates. Gabriel’s idea, which was accepted after much haggling, was The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which tells the story of Rael, a young punk in New York City who is transformed through a surrealistic series of events and adventures. The story is a multilayered tale filled with allegory and metaphors, but clearly reflects aspects of Gabriel’s own life. He has said as much: “I’m sure that my own doubts and searches were built into the story I wrote for Rael.” It was agreed that Gabriel would be responsible for all of the lyrics and the companion story since his vision was such a personal one.
Once the concept was agreed upon, the band decided to live together as they wrote the album at Led Zeppelin’s infamous home and recording environment, Headley Grange. Unfortunately, by the time the band arrived, the house was in a spectacular state of disrepair. “It had been raped,” Collins remembered. “By that time, rats had become the main occupants. You’d walk down the hall and these rats would slowly scurry across the floor. But we spent three months there driving each other crazy.”
At this time it was starting to become clear that the band was going through a period of personal and professional difficulties. Gabriel was being lured by William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist) to write story ideas for his next movie. A film school dropout, Gabriel was intrigued by the offer and saw this as a major opportunity for himself in that industry. However, the band was adamant that he couldn’t take a break to work for Friedkin, so Gabriel left the group. Genesis’ management intervened and brought him back into the fold, but the seeds of discontent were sown. Hackett recalls, “I think the band was starting to fall out of love with each other. It seemed to be disintegrating and then integrating again. I got the feeling that everything was being held together with cellophane tape. And in some instances it probably was.”
Despite their problems, the band found the music for their album was practically writing itself. Quickly it became clear that they had much more material than could fit on a single album and so they decided to make a double LP (thereby doubling Gabriel’s workload). Generally the group would write and rehearse in one room while Peter toiled in another working and revising the lyrics and vocal melodies. After about three months at Headley Grange they regrouped at a farm house in Glosspant, Wales, to record. Producer John Burns was enlisted to work with Genesis on this project, and he is remembered by the band affectionately for being not only a good engineer, producer and musician, but for having a good sense of humor and being able to diffuse potentially lethal situations by saying the right thing in a positive way. Burns and engineer David Hutchins had set up in Wales with the Island Mobile Studio, and the group managed to record backing tracks in about two weeks. The Mobile was equipped with two 3M 24-track recorders, a Helios 30-input desk, Altec monitors and two A62 Studers for mastering. Although the initial recording went quickly, Gabriel fell behind in his efforts to finish the words and melodies. As he recalled, “I had very arrogantly stuck my neck out and said, ‘I’ve got to write the whole thing,’ and then I couldn’t do it in time.”
The title song for The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway began its life as a Tony Banks piano piece featuring a classically European stylistic device where both hands play in the same register. Gabriel then created the lyrics and vocal melody for the song, painting the landscape of New York City in words and music. The rest of Genesis added their parts to the arrangement until the piece was complete.
One of the most prominent instruments on the song is Mike Rutherford’s bass. He used a Micro Frets six-string bass that he remembered as “one of those basses that has tons of character, but it’s difficult to play. Not only did I find that the strings are closer together, but I also found that the scale length was much shorter.” He used a Marshall fuzz through an Acoustic amp to give his part that biting edge.
All the guitars were recorded with Shure mics. Hackett played a 1957 Gibson Les Paul through an HH 100-watt amp. To help set the atmosphere of the song in New York, he created the sound of a fly buzzing by hammering notes on the guitar and running DIs into a pair of fuzz boxes. For the haunting obbligato on the bridge, he used a Schaller volume pedal (to clip off the attack of the notes) in conjunction with an Echoplex. Collins used a Gretsch drum kit with a Ludwig snare and Paiste cymbals. The drums were fully miked, and there were also room mics. Tony Banks played an RMI electric piano for the backing tracks and added the grand piano introduction when the band completed the vocals and overdubs later at Island Studios in London. Gabriel’s vocals were recorded using a Neumann U47 (a mic he still uses).
The band worked feverishly to get the album completed by the scheduled release date. A European tour was scheduled but was canceled when Hackett injured his left thumb. While he convalesced the band worked night and day mixing the album. Collins recalled, “We ended up back in London doing the vocals and mixing the album in shifts. I’d be mixing and overdubbing all night and then Tony and Mike would come in and remix what I’d done, because I’d lost all semblance of normalcy by that point.”
Although the album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, was not a tremendous success when originally released (it hit Number 10 in Britain and Number 41 in America), it became perhaps their most respected work and sold steadily for many years as the band became more popular. Today, the title tune is the only Gabriel-era Genesis that you are likely to hear on the radio. The band went on to perform the whole of The Lamb in concert (as The Who did with Tommy) 102 times in Europe and America; those shows are fondly remembered by those lucky enough to have attended one. It was also the last opportunity to see Gabriel with the band, because soon afterward he departed the group to begin a solo career. Fortunately, one of the complete shows was documented and is available in the recently released box set Genesis Archive 1967-75.