March 16th, 2015 By Jim Laugelli
I could have very easily chosen a number of other Genesis albums but I decided on this one simply because it features what is perhaps the most significant song in all of progressive rock: “Supper’s Ready.” My introduction to Genesis occurred 41 years ago and had one of the most profound impacts on my personal musical journey. On that night, in May of 1974, a friend asked if I wanted to see a concert. He had a few extra tickets for a Genesis show and no one to join him. I never heard of the band and for some reason thought they were probably some sort of acoustic act. As far as I recall, my friend knew little about the band as well. I believe someone just gave him the tickets. With nothing better to do I decided to check it out. When we arrived at the venue and had taken our seats I remember my curiosity ratcheting up when the pre-concert music over the P.A. was Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. This signaled to me that I was probably going to hear something unexpected. Sure enough, when the lights went down and the crowd quieted, the opening chords to “Watcher Of The Skies” begins. I immediately leaned forward in my seat totally consumed by the sound of the mellotron.
As that instrument eases, the staccato rhythm of the bass begins and in the darkness a pair eyes appear, they seem to be searching, radiating, only to reveal a figure in a cape with bat wings wrapped around his head. The vocals then begin and until the end of the show I remain completely and utterly captivated. My mind was officially blown. It was a revelation. I left that show a changed person. This was music that went beyond my imagination. It was presented like theater, it told stories. In fact, before many songs, Gabriel told surreal little tales as a way of introducing the tunes. The next day I bought Foxtrot, and then Selling England By The Pound, Nursery Cryme and Trespass all in short order. I immersed myself in their music.
Foxtrot begins the band’s high point of three consecutive outstanding albums. It was released in 1972, a banner year for progressive rock that also saw the release of Close To The Edge by Yes, Thick As A Brick from Jethro Tull, Trilogy by ELP, Three Friends from Gentle Giant and a slew of other incredible records. For Genesis, Foxtrot saw them tackle ideas they started with their two previous releases, Trespass and Nursery Cryme. The level of complexity in song structure, the emphasis on theatricality and drama, storytelling and extended song form all reached a new level of sophistication on Foxtrot.
The album opens with a track that would serve as the opener for many of their concerts and its easy to see why. “Watcher Of The Skies” begins with that powerful mellotron that rises and falls and keeps you on edge. The pulsating rhythm drives it, and Gabriel’s vocals serve as a dramatic warning to mankind. Lost romanticism provides the theme for “Time Table,” the following track. Here Tony Banks’ piano provides the gorgeous melody that dominates the song evoking lovely pastoral sentiment. On “Get’m Out By Friday,” Genesis take on greed by telling a futuristic tale where people are evicted and forced to live in ever-decreasing space. Here Gabriel’s vocals are highlighted as he uses his voice to act out different characters in the song. Even without the visuals of a live performance, his vocals effectively demonstrate the theatricality in the song. The mythologically themed “Can-Utility And The Coastliners” closes out side 1. It opens with a wonderful 12-string acoustic guitar that sets the tone of the song. As the tale unfolds, keyboards begin to dominate. A rich midsection of mellotron and the deep tones of bass pedals while the 12-string strums steadily beside it with the drums punching out a nice rhythm showcases the bands many attributes.
“Horizons” starts side 2. A lovely, albeit very brief (less than 2 minutes), acoustic guitar number showcasing Steve Hackett’s beautifully tasteful and melodic touch before giving way to what many fans of progressive rock consider the greatest song of the genre, “Supper’s Ready.” Clocking in at over 22 minutes this epic number is divided into seven sections utilizing multiple time signatures, variations on themes, and shifts in tempo and mood. These attributes are the reason why some refer to this music as symphonic rock. This is also where the band’s ambitions began to show a level of sophistication merely hinted at before. The interlocking pieces work so well together while often being musically miles apart. The strength of their ideas and musical prowess imbue the composition with tremendous power. Lyrically it is a surreal tale of good and evil, of love and loss, of war and and its consequences, and of hope and redemption. It is filled with biblical allusions as well as references to mythological, ancient and contemporary characters.
Genesis would continue to create many more fantastic albums, most especially the next two, Selling England By The Pound and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, but Foxtrot seems to me to be not just a defining album for the band, but for progressive rock as a genre as well. The days following that stunning concert where I first heard them was spent listening to Foxtrot over and over again. When I acquired their other albums I spent many months listening to those as well. Then, just six months after first hearing them, my Genesis immersion reached an additional highpoint as I got to see them once more on their The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway tour.