Today (November 11) marks 30 years since Genesis released their final studio album with singer/drummer Phil Collins. The band helped to invent progressive rock, but unlike their peers, they were able to transition to a more streamlined rock sound, dominating rock radio in the early ’80s. And they went on to become pop superstars, while never totally ditching their prog roots.
The members of the most popular lineup: Collins, along with founding members Mike Rutherford (guitar and bass) and Tony Banks (keyboards) are about to kick off one last U.S. tour. In honor of the band’s incredible legacy, we are ranking their greatest songs, spanning the entire Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins eras. (Yeah, we know about their final album, 1997’s Calling All Stations featuring singer Ray Wilson, and with all due respect, none of those songs make the Genesis top 40). As you’ll see, we love the prog-rock Genesis, but we also love their hits as well. What did we miss? We’re sure you’ll let us know on social media.
Mike Rutherford once told this writer that he was glad that Genesis existed in their era and not this one. While we don’t normally think of Genesis as a controversial band, this song, which took shots at evangelical preachers, would have conservative media up in arms if it was released today. The live version of this song allowed Phil Collins to ham it up with his preacher impression, which might not go over as well today.
An absolutely heartbreaking ballad inspired by the tragic death of Eric Clapton’s son, Conor (his death inspired Clapton’s classic “Tears In Heaven”). Phil Collins and Eric Clapton were close friends and collaborators at the time.
The ‘Invisible Touch’ album marked the peak of Genesis’ pop domination, but even on that album, they still reminded fans of their progressive rock roots. This explosive instrumental closed the album and allowed Phil Collins to really show off his creativity on the drums. The song was recently used to great effect in the 2020 film ‘Palm Springs’ (if you haven’t seen it, check it out!).
The fourth side of ‘Three Sides Live’ was new studio tracks, to hold the fans over until their next album, 1983’s ‘Genesis.’ “Paperlate” is one of two Genesis songs that used the horn section from Earth Wind & Fire (the other being “No Reply At All”). Phil Collins also worked with them on his solo material. This song came during the transitional period where the band were clearly looking at mainstream appeal outside of the progressive rock world, and even the mainstream rock world. Pretty soon, Phil and Genesis would be ubiquitous in pop music and that would last for nearly a decade.
Phil Collins later did a more R&B influenced solo version of this song for his first album, ‘Face Value,’ but the Genesis version is the better one. Mike Rutherford’s funky bass playing and guitar playing are the secret weapon here.
Recorded during the band’s massively successful reunion tour in 2007, this was one of the real deep tracks that they played to appeal to the die-hard fans. We’re glad that they’re reuniting again, but it’s tragic that Phil Collins can no longer play drums. His playing here, along with Genesis’s longtime touring drummer Chester Thompson, is incredible. Thompson, by the way, is no longer part of the touring band: now, Phil’s son Nic Collins is the band’s drummer.
The opening track from the band’s first live album with Phil Collins on vocals. It’s amazing now to think that anyone doubted that Collins would be able to replace Peter Gabriel. He proved that he had the vocal chops on 1976’s ‘A Trick Of The Tail’ and ‘Wind And Wuthering.’ But on ’Seconds Out,’ he proved that he wasn’t just a worthy singer, he was also a worthy frontman (and he only got better as the years went on).
‘Wind and Wuthering’ was the band’s last album with guitarist Steve Hackett. Maybe not coincidentally, “Your Own Special Way” -- written by Mike Rutherford -- was the band’s first hit single in the U.S., reaching #62. What seemed like a fluke at the time would later be a regular occurrence, as Genesis as a band (and as individual members) would spend lots of time on the pop charts in the years to come.
"Ripples" was one of the highlights of the band’s first album with Phil Collins on vocals. Written by Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, the folky song showed that they were leaning towards simpler songs with catchier choruses. Despite having an insane amount of talent in the band, they realized that they didn’t have to show off their chops on every song.
One of the many songs on ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ to showcase Tony Banks’ spectacular piano playing. Midway through the song, Steve Hackett melts faces with a stellar guitar solo, before ceding the spotlight back to Banks. Many of the songs on ‘Lamb’ don’t hold up outside of the album’s narrative -- it’s a very ambitious concept album. “Anyway” is one that works on its own, as long as you don’t get too invested in the lyrics.
Here, Genesis combined prog-rock lyrics with a poppy jam. Tony Banks said of the song, "the idea was that the [main] character had to pretend that he'd just been robbed by people and that's why he'd disappeared for a few weeks, and in fact what had happened [was] he'd been to the future and gone to this fantastic world where everything was wonderful and beautiful and everything... but he couldn't tell anybody that, because no one would believe him and the powers that be kept him silent."
This is a *really* deep cut; it’s a single from their debut album, from before Phil Collins even joined the band. It featured Peter Gabriel singing, Tony Banks on keyboards and Mike Rutherford on bass, with Anthony Phillips on guitar and John Silver on drums. Progressive rock was in its earliest stages at this point; “Where The Sour Turns To Sweet” sounded like a cross between the Assocation and the Hollies.
The fifth single from ‘We Can’t Dance.’ That LP came out just weeks after Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind,’ an album that had a seismic effect on pop culture. By the time “Never A Time” hit radio in November of 1992, Genesis (and many of their peers) seemed out of step with popular culture, and that was particularly true on this ballad. Which is a shame: it’s an excellent song, particularly Mike Rutherford’s guitar playing, which seemed to be channeling Eric Clapton.
27. “Back In N.Y.C.” from ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ (1974)
Phil Collins originally wrote the song for his solo debut, but ended up giving it to Genesis, who had their biggest hit yet with it (it climbed to #16 on the pop charts). For many pop music fans, this was the first they’d heard of Genesis.
Another big pop hit, and again, it was written by Collins alone. The song begins with a drum machine, something Collins was using in his solo career (despite his considerable skills as a drummer). The song dealt with the homeless crisis in England, a topic he’d revisit on his solo song years later, “Another Day In Paradise.”
Their first single from their first album as a trio. Mike Rutherford wrote the lyrics, and Rutherford, Collins and Banks co-composed the music. It was a lot simpler and more accessible than their earlier material, and went on to become their first U.S. top 40 single, hitting #23.
An evocative instrumental composed by Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford, it highlights Hackett’s underrated playing. The song begins as a musical conversation between Hackett, Rutherford and Tony Banks; Phil Collins’ drums come in about two minutes into the song, giving it a bit more of a “rock” feel.
This one easily could have been on a Phil solo album. He wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the music with Banks and Rutherford. The soulful breakup ballad -- a specialty of Phil’s -- was one of the band’s biggest hits. It reached #3 on the pop charts. We could expand more on this, but Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman did such a good job in 2000’s ‘American Psycho.’ (You can find it on YouTube but take note, it’s rather NSFW).
An eight and a half minute socially conscious prog-rock jam: it was a sci-fi tale that told of an eviction of low-income tenants. Peter Gabriel used a tactic that he favored during the early years of Genesis, where he used different vocal styles when singing from perspectives of different characters.
Another song that saw the band embracing simplicity (Collins said that his drum part was influenced by Ringo Starr). Mike Rutherford’s guitar solo was also simple, but at the same time, it was perfect. The song was their first top 10 single in America, reaching #6.
The first song from their first album with guitarist Steve Hackett and drummer Phil Collins, and what a bizarre introduction it was. A ten and a half minute epic with lyrics based on a Victorian fairy tale. Follow us here: it’s about two children who live in a country house. The girl, Cynthia, kills the boy, Henry, by cleaving his head off with a croquet mallet (that’s the scene on the album’s cover). She later discovers Henry's musical box. When she opens it, Henry’s ghost appears. But he’s old and getting older and to make things creepier, he tries to talk Cynthia into having sex with him. Genesis have a lot of weird songs (particularly on ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’) but this might be the weirdest.
Genesis were always supportive of Phil Collins’ solo success, even as it surely shifted the balance of power in the band. Tony and Mike never seemed to sweat Collins’ growing popularity as a solo artist, but surely they noticed that he scored four #1 hits by ‘86 (“Against All Odds,” “Sussudio,” “One More Night” and “Separate Lives” with Marilyn Martin). With “Invisible Touch,” they finally had their first and only U.S. chart topper. Ironically, it was knocked out of the #1 slot by a classic from their former singer: Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” And while the prog-rock die-hards may not have loved the poppy jam, Collins has called it his favorite Genesis song.
The last song on their second album, their final with original guitarist Anthony Phillips. It was more aggressive than most Genesis songs, although Peter Gabriel’s flute solo provided a mellow interlude. The song was one of the first times Gabriel penned socially conscious lyrics. He said he was inspired by a book about Mahatma Gandhi, and in the lyrics, he discussed how “all violent revolutions inevitably end up with a dictator in power.” But you can decide for yourself what he meant when he sang: “Soon we'll have power, every soldier will rest and we'll spread out our kindness/To all who our love now deserve/Some of you are going to die/Martyrs of course to the freedom that I shall provide.”
With “That’s All,” “Illegal Alien,” “Taking it All Too Hard” and “Just A Job To Do,” Genesis were clearly looking past the rock charts to the top 40. But on “Home By The Sea/Second Home By The Sea” -- clocking in at a combined 11 minute plus -- they pointed out that they still had some classic prog rock jams in them.
Prog-rock at it’s finest. Here’s another 11 minute epic! This one shows off Steve Hackett’s sublime lead guitar, Banks’ keyboards, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins’ harmonizing and some sweet flute *and* oboe playing from Gabriel. Collins’ drumming under the solos is subtle but amazing. It’s one of the few songs that Gabriel had no hand in writing; while the band is credited as co-writers on all the songs, apparently Banks and Rutherford co-wrote the lyrics, and co-composed the music with Collins and Hackett.
‘Invisible Touch’ in some ways seemed to follow the template of ‘Genesis.’ Each album had a socially conscious jam (the awkward “Illegal Alien,” “Land of Confusion”), a two part progresssive rock throwback (“Home By The Sea/Second Home By The Sea,” “Domino”) and a reggae-styled soft rock jam (“Taking It All Too Hard,” “Throwing It All Away”). ‘Genesis’ also had a weird and creepy jam with “Mama,” and ‘Invisible Touch’ had “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight.” While we prefer “Mama,” the pop charts clearly favored “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight.” The former hit #73 on the Hot 100, while the later hit #3. Of course, that was with a shortened version of the song; we prefer our “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” in its full eight minute, fifty one seconds form.
One of the Gabriel-era songs that the Collins-era Genesis performed the most, and it’s easy to see why: the band was firing on all cylinders on this one (and Collins’ drumming is particularly excellent).
The last song from what is, in effect, the last Genesis album (we’re not counting the post-Phil Collins album, ‘Calling All Stations’). Tony Banks wrote the lyrics, and it seemed that he knew that the band were coming to some sort of end. Genesis’ breakup was a bit unique in that there never seemed to be ill will between the members. But it was just time -- and frankly, Rutherford and Banks were fortunate that Collins stayed as long as he did, given his massive success as a solo artist. But “Fading Lights” was a perfect send off and a moving final bow: it has a lot of elements of what made the band great. It starts off with a drum machine, and sounds like another sweet ballad, before evolving into a powerful jam that sees Collins, Rutherford and Banks stretching out one last time.
The opening song that sets the scene on the band’s final album with Peter Gabriel. Co-written by Gabriel and Tony Banks, it features some of Mike Rutherford’s best bass playing. The guy is just underrated at both of his instruments: guitar and bass.
A reggae-tinged jam propelled by a great Mike Rutherford guitar riff. Rutherford also wrote the lyrics, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that Phil Collins did. Hey, it’s a breakup jam! And even the band’s cranky prog-rock fans might identify with the song, provided they’d ever had a girlfriend or boyfriend and split up with them: “We cannot live together/We cannot live apart/And that's the situation/I've known it from the start/Everytime that I look at you, I can see the future/Cause you know I know baby that I don't wanna go.” In some ways, it’s the saddest kind of breakup. It’s not your fault, it’s not mine, I still have feelings for you… but this thing is never going to work out.
The song opens the first Genesis live album. It started in uber prog rock style, with Tony Banks’ lengthy mellotron intro (almost as if he was taunting Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman). If that’s not prog enough for you, the title was a reference to John Keats' 1817 poem "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer.” The lyrics, however, were inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s sci-fi novel “Childhood’s End” (which also inspired Pink Floyd’s song “Childhood’s End” from ‘Obscured By Clouds’). This might be the band’s proggiest moment, and -- fun fact -- this was one of the two songs that Phish performed at Genesis’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
One of the band’s most intense songs, and a reminder that Phil Collins could be as weird as Peter Gabriel when he wanted to. The song was influenced by the then-new art form known as hip-hop. It’s true: Phil’s “HA HA ha!” was inspired by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” (“Ah ha ha ha: It's like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder/How I keep from going under!”) What’s the song about? Collins revealed in an interview that “[It] is just about a young teenager that's got a mother fixation with a prostitute that he's just happened to have met in passing and he has such a strong feeling for her and doesn't understand why she isn't interested in him.” Not the stuff that dominates adult contemporary radio, and indeed, this one was a jam for the more rock-based quadrant of their fanbase.
It took five albums for Genesis to get a hit single in the U.K. (their first U.S. hit was still a few years away). “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” hit #21 on the U.K. singles chart, not bad for a song about a happy guy who mows lawns for a living.
You could argue that Genesis oversimplified the complexities of the world’s issues in this song (and video), but on the other hand these lyrics are not a bad mantra to keep in mind: “This is the world we live in/And these are the hands we're given/Use them and let's start trying/To make it a place worth living in.” The video won a Grammy (but lost an MTV Video Music Award to Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”). And imagine how it would dominate the news cycle if it was released today: it lampooned the sitting President (Ronald Reagan), as well as other major players on the world stage, including Ayatollah Khomeini, Mikhail Gorbachev and Muammar Gaddafi, and took shots at celebrities including Prince, Sting, Tammy Faye Bakker, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Princess Diana and Hulk Hogan.
Genesis’s records were pretty pristine in the ‘80s, and they weren’t really a jam band, so live versions of their songs tended to stay pretty close to the studio versions. But this live take of “Abacab” adds nearly two minutes of intensity, giving it the edge over the excellent studio version. It was always a blast to watch Phil Collins and touring drummer Chester Thompson go beat for beat at the end of this jam.
Like many of the songs on ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,’ the lyrics won’t make much sense if not familiar with Rael’s story, but “The Carpet Crawlers” has such a bittersweet melancholy sound, and it’s catchy as hell: “The carpet crawlers heed their callers, you gotta get in to get out.” The song clearly means a lot to Genesis: this lineup (Gabriel, Hackett, Rutherford, Banks, Collins) reunited for a new version of the song in 1999 featuring lead vocals by both Peter and Phil. And it was the closing song on the last Genesis reunion tour.
Is it a rock song? Funk? R&B? Pop? It didn’t matter: “No Reply at All” is straight up one of the band’s catchiest songs, and one of the few to incorporate outside musicians (like “Paperlate,” it uses Earth Wind & Fire’s horn section). The video gave a glimpse of the band’s sense of humor. It was a performance video, but Phil, Mike and Tony also mimed the horn playing. It’s funnier than it sounds.
Apparently a response to critics complaining that Genesis were trying too hard to appeal to American fans, Peter Gabriel wrote lyrics that were very U.K.-specific for the ‘Selling England By The Pound’ album. Whatever his inspiration was, this song kicks off the best album of the Gabriel era (and depending on how you feel about Phil Collins, maybe the best Genesis album ever). Oddly enough, this song inspired their R&B-flavored hit “Paperlate,” nearly a decade later. The band was jamming on the song during soundcheck and Collins was singing variations on the term “paperlate”... from the lyric “‘Paper late!’ cried a voice in the crowd.” And that led to an entirely new and very different song.
Like “Abacab,” the studio version is great. But the live version adds over a minute, including the extended intro. Mike Rutherford and Daryl Stuermer’s pulsing guitars give the crowd a brief warm up before Tony Banks comes in with his best keyboard riff ever. One of the great things about this band, particularly in the ‘80s was: for all of their virtuosity, they always recognized the beauty in simplicity. They could definitely flex, but they also knew when to stay out of their own way. This is another live recording where Phil’s charisma as a frontman explodes out of your speakers. And ultimately, it was Phil’s abilities as a frontman and songwriter that made this band the behemoth that it became… and why, 30 years after their last album together, they’ve returned to sell out arenas across America, one more time.