The Over/Under isn’t about the best and worst of Genesis. It’s the most overrated and underrated Genesis tracks, and the main theme here is that not everything from the Peter Gabriel era is genius and not everything from the Phil Collins era is crap. In fact, three of our five overrated songs date back to the Gabriel era, while four of the five underrated tracks are from the Collins era. And the one underrated track from the Gabriel era features Collins on vocals. So here we go with the most overrated and underrated songs in the vast Genesis catalog, as chosen by MAGNET’s Roob. Cue synth solo in 7/4.
Preface: If this were “the best and worst Genesis songs ever,” the lists would look completely different than these. The best? Come on, easy. From the Gabriel era, we’d pick “Musical Box,” “Cinema Show,” “Supper’s Ready,” “Return Of The Giants Hogweed,” “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight” and “Firth Of Fifth.” And with Collins on vox, “Dance On A Volcano,” “Trick Of The Tail,” “Home By The Sea,” “Mad Man Moon,” “Behind The Lines” and “Ripples.” The worst? Just as easy. “Illegal Alien,” “Ballad Of Big,” “Misunderstanding,” “Man On The Corner,” “Tonight Tonight Tonight,” “Invisible Freaking Touch,” “I Can’t Dance,” “Congo” and, of course, the hilariously wretched “Who Dunnit?” Going from “Supper’s Ready” to “Who Dunnit?” in nine years is like Bach releasing the “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone” EP nine years after the Brandenburg Concertos.
The Five Most Overrated Genesis Songs
1. “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” (1973)
“It’s one o’clock and time to be bored out of your mind.” How the meandering “I Know What I Like” evolved into one of Genesis’ signature tracks is a mystery. It’s a hopelessly mundane song with none of the ambition, none of the flash, none of the lyrical depth and none of the musical sense of adventure that makes the rest of Selling England By The Pound so powerful. But not only was it a staple of the Genesis live show long after Gabriel left the band, it often showed up as the encore. Imagine sitting there at a Genesis show hoping for ”Hogweed “ or “The Knife” or “Musical Box” or “Congo” for an encore and then having to sit through this painfully dull track about a lawnmower that wouldn’t be worthy of a Fairport Convention rarities boxed set. “I Know What I Like”? I know what I don’t like.
2. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (the album, not the song; 1974)
The final record with Gabriel is widely perceived as a classic, but it’s really not. It’s stuffed with too much filler, too many overly long tracks that start out with promise but go nowhere except into aimless wankerous synth territory, especially on side two. Don’t get me wrong, there are some tremendous moments on Lamb. The title track, the brilliant “Carpet Crawlers” and the whimsical “Counting Out Time” are terrific. “Riding The Scree” and “In The Cage” give keyboard whiz (and underrated songwriter) Tony Banks a chance to dazzle with his signature impossibly fast synth solos that change time signature every measure. The middle bit of “Colony Of Slipperman” rocks out. But this could so easily have been a great single album. By the middle of side two, the melodies and hooks have dried up, the story that seemed so fascinating now seems ridiculous, and you’re going bonkers waiting for the thing to end. Good record with some great bits. Not a great record.
“The Chamber Of 32 Doors”:
3. “Squonk” (1976)
“Squonk,” a Trick Of The Tail track and another hugely popular staple of the Genesis live show circa Collins, comes across as the band trying way too hard to incorporate some old-time Genesis elements into a non-Gabriel track. This was the first record without Gabriel, and although it’s mostly brilliant, “Squonk” (a tale of some poor ugly mythical creature that cries constantly, thus becoming easy prey for hunters who follow its trail of tears) just doesn’t work. It’s trite lyrically, with embarrassing lines like “Hasn’t a friend to play with, the ugly duckling,” “Mirror mirror on the wall” and “All the kings’ horses and all the kings’ men.” And it’s too long, with no real payoff. “Squonk” has some great drumming, but it otherwise sounds more like a new band trying to find its way without its singer than anything else.
4. “Watcher Of The Skies” (1972)
The Mellotron opening to “Watcher Of The Skies” is one of the most moving passages in prog. It can reduce even the most hardened Spock’s Beard fan to tears. (For those of you with a Mellotron in the house, play this: Bmaj7/F# C#/F# Bmaj7/F# C#/F# Bmaj7/F# C#/F# A# E#m C#/A# G C F# Amaj13sus4 C/E A#o G#m, and then find yourself a box of Kleenex. You’ll be sobbing in moments). The problem with “Watcher Of The Skies” is the rest of the song. Once you get past the brilliant opening, it really doesn’t go anywhere. There are some interesting instrumental passages and some decent Gabriel vocals, but nothing in the last seven minutes approaches the dramatic impact of that 40-second opening.
5. “Your Own Special Way” (1976)
How about your own special hell? With “Your Own Special Way,” an ill-advised attempt at a hit from Wind & Wuthering, bass player Mike Rutherford managed to create a song so boring and so utterly aimless that at times it actually ceases to be music and turns into a Sears Roebuck catalog in front of our eyes at about the 2:28 mark. As big a steaming pile of bat guano as the song is, the arrangement is even worse. Hard to believe that whiny synth that winds its way through the song like a toothache is the work of the genius who conjured up the “Supper’s Ready” organ solo in 9/8. “Your Own Special Way” is a song so treacly even Collins would be embarrassed to put it on one of his solo records. Then again, it was written by the guy who years later would have a solo hit with “Living Years,” one of the worst songs ever written. “Your Own Special Way” is so achingly dull you can actually hear the band sound bored while it plays it. Hell. I’m bored just writing about it. Don’t ever let go!
The Five Most Underrated Genesis Songs
1. “You Might Recall” (1981)
Sadly, Genesis itself underrated “You Might Recall” and inexplicably omitted it from Abacab, even though it’s far superior to just about everything on the actual record. “You Might Recall,” initially available only on the obscure “Paperlate” 45, is one of the few Phil Collins ballads (co-written with Rutherford and Banks) that isn’t sappy and actually has some life to it. It’s a wistfully melodic midtempo track, one of the few completely non-proggy moments in the Genesis catalog that doesn’t sound like the band was desperately trying for a hit. A great song.
2. “Inside And Out” (1977)
The Spot The Pigeon EP, never released in the U.S., actually includes three underrated tracks, all left off Wind & Wuthering. There’s “Pigeons,” which on one level is a catchy novelty song about pigeons sending poop missiles down on unsuspecting pedestrians; on another level, it’s a some sort of jab at British politics, but it’s most notable for having a Bb go through every chord in the song, whether it’s a Cbmaj7, a Db6, a Gm … a very cool device. And there’s the soccer-themed “Match Of The Day,” which the band hated so much it refused to include it on 2000’s Archive 2 boxed set. And finally, there’s “Inside And Out,” not to be confused with the similarly titled but completely different 1985 song Collins solo song, “Inside Out.” The Genesis track starts out as a quiet, acoustic tale of a prisoner about to be released, then turns into a completely different song, marked by the last great wild synth solo Banks recorded with Genesis and a signature Steve Hackett guitar solo. When the rest of the band decided to place Rutherford’s mushpile “Your Own Special Way” on Wind & Wuthering instead of “Inside And Out,” Hackett quit the band, beginning the gradual decline that ultimately led to some of the worst music in the history of the universe.
3. “Heathaze” (1980)
Duke was the last record in which Genesis still clung—albeit tenuously—to its progressive roots. By Abacab a year later, all vestiges of the “Supper’s Ready” band were gone, and Genesis had turned completely into a Collins turdball hitmaking machine. The direction Genesis was heading was obvious. The bouncy “Turn It On Again” off Duke was exactly the kind of track that left Genesis progheads feeling personally betrayed, as if Banks was Brutus and they were Caesar. But “Heathaze,” with some vintage Genesis dynamics, a juicy Banks electric piano and a powerful Collins vocal, managed to be that rarity: a song that appealed equally to the aging old-time prog fans who wore torn Starcastle T-shirts to their own wedding and the buttoned-down new-age Genesis followers who would soon turn this once cutting-edge band into champions of the banal.
4. “Afterglow” (1976)
It’s easy to dismiss “Afterglow,” the closer on Wind & Wuthering, as just another flimsy ballad, another precursor to the dreadful latter-day platinum-selling Genesis that bore no resemblance to the art-rock adventurers of another generation. It’s anything but. “Afterglow,” a Banks composition, is a mighty track with a simple-yet-powerful melody, a powerful chord progression and a strong spiritual feel. It’s right in Collins’ vocal wheelhouse, probably the strongest vocal of his life. And as good as the stu-stu-dio version is, “Afterglow” was monstrous live, with Chester Thompson’s powerhouse drumming in the coda turning a song about death into something thunderous, hopeful and uplifting.
5. “More Fool Me” (1973)
Years before anybody had any clue Collins was, his Genesis mates let the drummer sing vocals on one track on Selling England By The Pound. This was 13 years before Collins quit the band to find fame and fortune with a parade of lifeless AOR solo hits. He became an international superstar in the late ’80s/early ’90s with tripe like “Don’t Lose My Number,” “Take Me Home” and “One More Night,” but for a while there, Collins could really sing. And this lilting folky number, with its 12-string guitars, Strawbs-ish chorus and delicate lutes and lyres sound, remains one of Collins’ finest vocal performances. He wasn’t trying to sound like Gabriel, he wasn’t trying to sound like a hit single. He was just singing. And when the material was good enough, that was a pretty damn good thing.