Genesis – Sum of the Parts (Minus Two)

hackett_2The teaser for the new documentary “Genesis – Together and Apart” (in the states called “Sum of the Parts”) begins with a quote from Phil Collins: “We’re out entertaining people and if they’re entertained we’ve done our job properly” – later adding “We just got more and more popular – I won’t take the credit and I won’t take the blame.” This perfectly sums up the dichotomy that is Genesis – the older work in the 1970’s from Trespass (1970) to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) with Peter Gabriel up front, along with the three subsequent albums created after Phil Collins took over vocals, found the band playing an eclectic blend of classical, rock, and English folk – a complex, determined form of “progressive rock.” The latter half of the band’s career in the 1980’s and after brought them massive success as a skillful pop rock band.  The two incarnations have been at odds in the media for decades.

During the early years the group was subject to criticism from mainstream press as being too obtuse, too arty to be real “rock-n-roll.” But then the latter, more popular incarnation that embraced pop over prog was accused of having sold out – of cashing in. When you listen to the band members interviewed in the documentary, you still pick up on the impact of this contest between complex artistic music and the more simple pop form. In reality given a bit of distance and historical perspective, both phases of the bands career have incredible merit, and the debate is needless.

hackett_1Unfortunately, in editing the new documentary some the early Genesis story was cut a bit short, both in terms of coverage of their ‘70’s work and also more seriously with the exclusion of the long solo careers of founding guitarist Anthony Phillips and his replacement Steve Hackett. In addition, editorial as to the time when Steve joined and then later left Genesis, and two of the Genesis albums containing much of his best work with the band receive short shift. Steve complained of this in print, stating: “It’s certainly a biased account of Genesis history, and totally ignores my solo work.” The truth of this is immediately evident to any knowledgeable viewer.

Here’s my attempt to fill the missing segments related to Steve Hackett, and do so in the style of the film. Will save Anthony Phillips, who is also left out of the R-Kive box set, for a later date.  Here, I will cast my thoughts in roles of voiceover, pop music critic, Radio DJ, comedian, gardener and music journalist to provide the missing material, in documentary style (no relationship to actual or real persons is intended or implied):

Steve Hackett Joins the Band:

Editorial: The segment covering the difficult transition after Anthony Phillips left the group includes the impact of that change, along with Phil’s recruitment and history, but leaves Steve’s a bit light. To make this more inclusive we should insert the following in the timeline, circa 1971:

Voiceover: After Anthony Phillips departed Genesis, the search was on for a new guitar player. Steve Hackett had placed an ad in Melody Maker seeking a band “determined to strive beyond existing stagnant forms.” Indeed, Steve brought a definitive edge to the Genesis sound – he could in one turn play quiet 12 string guitars in harmony with Mike Rutherford, then cut to his electric guitar for searing riffs and power-chords. Never monopolizing the limelight, he seemed comfortable taking shorter leads and coloring the bands overall sound with intricate, detailed playing.

hackett_3Music Journalist: Steve’s tapping technique, an influence on so many guitar players including Eddie Van Halen deserves due credit as a key part of the early Genesis sound, as heard on tracks like “Return of the Giant Hogweed” or the tapping and sweep picking heard on “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight.” Steve hit fewer notes but invested them with feeling, precision and import.

Gardener: The plaintive sustained tones making up the melody in the center of “Firth of Fifth” is one of the most beautiful and compelling musical passages in their early work. The middle solo, even when played by touring guitarist Daryl Struermer, remained a highlight of their shows for years.

Editorial: After Steve’s intro, and some quality coverage of Nursery Crime (1971) and Foxtrot (1972) the masterpiece Selling England By the Pound (1973) is then given limited time in the documentary. The aforementioned tracks that feature Steve are stunning, while Tony’s playing on “Cinema Show” – Phil driving the long instrumental with his trademark skipping beat – is magical, becoming a major crowd pleaser in live shows with dual drummers after Gabriel’s departure. We would insert the following into the timeline, circa 1973:

Radio DJ: To be honest, Selling England By The Pound marks the point at which the band really sound fantastic in the studio and represents the best summary of that era’s very English, pastoral, classically tinged progressive rock.

Pop Music Critic: I don’t know what “progressive rock means” – unifauns? Twenty three minute, six second songs… really?

Editorial: While The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) receives just airtime, itself marking the time Peter Gabriel left the group, this would also have been the right moment to introduce the solo career of Steve Hackett:

hackettsolo_1

Voyage of the Acolyte
Released: October 1975
Chart Position: #26 in the UK (silver); #191 in the US

Voiceover: Steve recorded his first solo album just weeks after the last date on the Lamb Lies Down tour and at the same time the remaining members of Genesis were working on their first post-Gabriel recording. The album sounds quite a bit like Genesis, even sporting some material that the band had auditioned but rejected.

Music Journalist: The standout tracks are the rocking opener “Ace of Wands” and the closer – the beautiful, haunting “Shadow of the Hierophant” which ends in a doom-laden coda that would have perfectly fit Genesis. Though Mike and Phil both play on the record, Mike states in his autobiography that he felt a bit badly about the timing, since the real focus of the four remaining band members was to get the next Genesis album right.

Gardener: As it turned out, the next album A Trick of the Tail (1976) ended up doing quite well, and Steve seems as confident and vested in that work as anything.  Steve’s album also did a decent business… but it was also the first step towards leaving the band.

Editorial: The documentary skips this important moment on the band’s history (together or apart), and instead moves on to a decent segment on Trick of the Tail. However, the next, equally important release Wind & Wuthering (1976) is nearly left out:

Music Journalist: The Wind & Wuthering album and it’s companion EP Spot The Pigeon are outstanding, showcasing every member of the four piece band, and containing some of Steve’s best work – the opening siren call of “Eleventh Earl of Mar” with it’s quiet centerpiece – the gorgeous classical guitar featured on “Blood on the Rooftops” and the three part album closer that follows – still featured in Hackett’s concerts today.

Pop Music Critic: Steve left the band at the end of mixing for Seconds Out – the double-live album culled from their 1976-77 concerts, as it was clear his role was waning and they were moving in a more pop friendly direction.

Comedian: I’m into Genesis and I’m not going to apologize! Not too sure about “Squonk” though!

Editorial: In the film, Steve is shown (finally) in group interview explaining that he felt unable to get enough of his material included on the band’s records – ‘nuff said. I’ve always picked up that the rest of the band felt his method of departure was more awkward and acrimonious than has been shared – the “saw him on the street” story Phil tells just seems a bit light.

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Please Don’t Touch
Released: May 1978
Chart Position: #38 in the UK; #103 in the US

Voiceover: Steve’s first record after leaving Genesis is a bit of an experiment, with Hackett trying out several different styles including rock, prog, and jazz. Guest vocalist Steve Walsh (Kansas) lends his powerful pipes to two tracks, while Richie Havens and Randy Crawford lend softer, lovely tones to three others.

Gardener: The title track is a standout, apparently offered by Steve for inclusion on the Wind & Wuthering album, but rejected – it’s a tour de force highlighting his assertive playing, and ability to switch rapidly between keys and meters.

Music Journalist: The delicate instrumental played with just Steve on acoustic guitar and his brother John Hackett on flute, named for his then wife Kim Poor, is exquisite, and points the way to a later acoustic work Bay of Kings.

Radio DJ: Ultimately this second album is an amalgam of styles, unique in Hackett’s repertoire – the artist in search of a new sound.

Editorial: The first Genesis release without Steve, came the same year, appropriately titled And Then There Were Three (1978.) This was also an album where the remaining band members search for a new sound, trying to land somewhere between opener “Down and Out” and closing hit “Follow You, Follow Me.”

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Spectral Mornings
Released: May 1979
Chart Position: #22 in the UK; #138 in the US

Voiceover: Steve’s next album came as he built up a band to tour his solo work. His new group, including Peter Hicks (vocals), Nick Magnus (keys), Dik Cadbury (bass), John Shearer (drums) and brother John (flute/keys) joined to record this album, and undertook a tour to perform it and material from his first two solo efforts.

Music Journalist: This album and its follow up Defector is where Steve finds his footing as a solo artist. Vocal tracks including “Every Day” and “The Virgin and the Gypsy,” lend respectable lyrics to both progressive and popular structures. Instrumentals like “Clocks” and “Spectral Mornings” are fine displays of both his pastoral and ominous tendencies as composer.

Gardener: This is the album where Hackett truly finds his own voice – the band sound tight as a unit, Hicks delivers smooth vocals backed by Hackett and Cadbury, and the album is a cohesive collection of songs that have an identity apart from Genesis.

Editorial: A clear, high quality DVD of one of these early shows was released last year.

hackettsolo_4

Defector
Released: June 1980
Chart Position: #9 in the UK; #144 in the US

Voiceover: Defector found Steve continuing in the style of Spectral Mornings – the two can be taken as a pair representing his quintessential work.

Music Journalist: Standout track “Jacuzzi” is bright and airy, showcasing Steve’s versatility and John’s fantastic, intricate flute. The mid section veers into more minor tones and highlights Steve’s tapping technique. The whole band plays splendidly on this handsome instrumental.

Pop Music Critic: I really loved the song “The Show” when my parents used to play it for me.

Voiceover: Steve’s work continued with his last two releases for Charisma – Cured (1981) and Highly Strung (1983). He continues his solo career today, alternating between classical, jazz and progressive rock releases. Fans of early Genesis warmed to Steve’s solo work, which continued in more of a progressive rock tradition, albeit a bit updated, fresher sounding in the keys section, and even including a bit of pop structure for good measure.

Hackett Today

hackett_4_bandHackett is also the one ex-Genesis solo artist who consistently continues to perform work he originally recorded with Genesis. He’s released two albums titled “Genesis Revisited” and is currently on a two-year tour for the second, exclusively playing songs from their 1971-1976 output. Given the sold out show at London’s Royal Albert Hall in October 2013, it’s clear there is still strong interest in the classic era Genesis work.

While we can hope for a expanded documentary that truly shows all band members “together and apart”, here’s hoping this helps to round out the story. Another great way to hear the band members tell the tale of Genesis is to invest in the box sets, which include the remastered albums, and almost all available footage and videos of the group over the years. Each disc contains a documentary of the album, using direct quotes from each member of this seminal band, whether pop or prog.

One thought on “Genesis – Sum of the Parts (Minus Two)”

  1. Truly great post, Doug! A man after my own heart. Thanks for this blog and all the righteous tributes you pay to these extraordinary musicians. What a great idea it was to make up the segment on Hackett which was clearly committed from the revisionist documentary, presumably out of spite. The Genesis gang is a weird bunch: they seem to be bitter that they dissipated their creative street cred while they rode high and sold out. Yet, they should recognize that Hackett went through the wilderness for 25 years and paid dearly for his hard choices. Now, he stands (in the UK anyway) as the reining king of Prog-Rock — a well deserved honor! He stands to be remembered as the musical wizard of the group. It is worth noting that the fact that Hackett was invited to sit down as one of the “official five” original members of the group, and invited to pose on all the promotional photos, marks a significant change in his standing among the bitter three. Twenty years ago, they’d have wanted nothing to do with him, but now, they seem to understand that without him, they cannot hope to attract the attention of serious listeners who remember the group at its best. They seem to use Hackett as a bridge to attract lovers of prog, and to sell their usual propaganda: namely that “Mama is a good song too,” and that “the modern stuff is just as good as the old”. Of course, the more they insist, the less convincing it sounds. All the while, Peter Gabriel smiles like a fat Cheshire Cat.

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