I can remember for a good portion of my childhood (at least that portion that didn’t include a cassette player in my bedroom or in the car) that radio was my friendly companion. From driving from our home to my grandma’s house 30 miles away to just driving into town to get groceries or my mom plopping me down near the window at the women’s clothing store to play with the hand-me-down toys while she tried on clothes. Radio was the voice that kept me company. From the time I was 4 or 5 years old to when I’d turned 10 the radio provided me with sounds, songs, and melodies that would, for better or worse, stay with me my whole life.
Now I’m sure everyone feels this way, but pop music in my childhood seems so much better than the pop radio of “now”. Sure, there were plenty of pop artists in the early 80s that were nothing more than a shell regurgitating tunes a slew of songwriters wrote for them, but there were also a lot of artists writing their own songs AND performing them. Real artists. Maybe you didn’t dig the neon sheen and overuse of synthesizers, well that’s a matter of taste. Point is, you had some pretty interesting bands invading the top 40. I don’t think it’s quite the same these days. That’s a matter of my taste.
One of those bands that soundtracked my childhood was Genesis. Songs like “Misunderstanding”, “Turn It On Again”, “No Reply At All”, “Mama”, “That’s All”, “Home By The Sea”, “Illegal Alien”, “Taking It All Too Hard”, “Just A Job To Do”, “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”, “Land Of Confusion”, “In Too Deep”, and “Throwing It All Away” were all huge hits and played ad nauseum on the local pop and rock stations. There were plenty of songs that played ad nauseum that caused my pre-teen heart to turn black each time I heard them, but for some reason I never wanted the station turned when “Misunderstanding” or “That’s All” or “No Reply At All” came through the car radio. Dare I say I got a little agitated if the station got turned in the middle of the song.
There was something kind of comforting about the Collins/Banks/Rutherford trio to an awkward kid like me. They weren’t donning the cover of Teen Beat or Circus Magazine. Their songs weren’t cookie cutter stuff, in that you couldn’t just sit down with an acoustic guitar and muddle through. Despite being radio fodder it was still very progressive. Unlike so many other bands in the 80s Genesis didn’t seem to take themselves all that seriously(unlike their earlier incarnation.) I could see them playing Knebworth and I could also just as easily picture them on The Benny Hill Show running around, sped up and being chased by Hill and that little bald fellow. They were a ballads band, for sure. But their ballads enthralled me as a kid, as opposed to making me run in the opposite direction like most ballads did. There was a middle-aged malaise to their sad sack songs that connected with me, even at 8-years old. Sure, hearing Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” on Miami Vice certainly caused me to appreciate the guy. But their video for “Land Of Confusion” did more to solidify my childhood love for these three progressive rock survivors.
So let’s jump in the time machine and travel from 1983 to 2017. I recently streamed Genesis’ Genesis from 1983 and I was pretty taken aback by just how much I loved that album. It’s pretty much jam packed with great songs. Catchy, earworm tunes that take me back to car rides, Sunday mornings listening to the top 40 countdown, and late Friday nights watching Friday Night Videos on mom and dad’s Zenith 25″. Yes, nostalgia does play a big role in my affinity for the album and band, but there’s no denying their songwriting prowess here. This led to revisting Abacab and Duke. Both are exquisite chunks of pop radio confection with a nice mix of progressive musicianship throughout. I perused Invisible Touch as well. This came out in 1986 when I’d hit middle school, guitar lessons, AC/DC, and a newfound affinity for the opposite sex, so tracks like “Invisible Touch” and “In Too Deep” weren’t what I wanted running through my brain(though, I can neither confirm or deny a few melancholy bus rides home from school a little heartbroken while “Throwing It All Away” played from the school bus radio.) While Touch was a little too digital and synsonic-sounding for my tastes, it hit some nerves as well.
But Genesis, to me, is the quintessential 80s hit record. Sure, and then there was three, but man could those three make some great songs. I think they realized they weren’t going to hold onto the grizzled, hardcore progressive rock fans of albums like Trespass, Selling England By The Pound, Foxtrot, and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. The missing combo of Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett was just too much to keep up the concept album facade. It was time to start thinking bigger. Radio hits and securing a second wind of a music career. It started with Duke and continued with Abacab, with their full powers coming to fruition on Genesis. Invisible Touch and We Can’t Dance gave them even more radio hits and success, but it also spelled overexposure and burn out. Plus, the progressive tendencies had pretty much been washed out of the sound. Gone were songs like “That’s All”, “No Reply At All”, and “Home By The Sea”.
Also gone were actual “bands” that were musicians as well as songwriters showing up on the radio. Boy bands, boxed R&B, and the oncoming train wreck called alternative 90s had been filling up the charts with schmaltz and over-produced songs written by small armies of songwriters. There were no more bands like Genesis; middle-aged veterans with musician and songwriting chops going into a studio and bashing out records. Everything became machinated in the music industry. No wiggle room to screw up. Sometimes those screw-ups gave us the best stuff.
Oh well, enough old man whining. I found a NM used copy of Genesis at my local record store earlier this week. I brought it home after getting groceries and threw it on the turntable. Damn. It still hit all the buttons for me. My wife came home and said “I thought this sounded like Phil Collins.” I replied “Yeah, I bought this for $4 at Karma Records today. I never realized how much I loved early 80s Genesis.” After about 30 minutes and a second run through my wife was singing along to “That’s All”, after which she said “I guess I never realized how much I loved Genesis, too.”