Yup, either this or Genesis’ only reason for existence. Truly, if this one were not my first Genesis album, I doubt that I would ever think of getting deeper into the band. Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot might have been okay, but you have to work really hard in order to appreciate even some of the material, and a lot of it I still treat as absolute filler. Not so with this truly timeless effort. For once, the band seem to have resolved all of their problems. For once, the instrumental passages are suddenly not so boring or even not boring at all – and, quite often, they are downright beautiful.
For once, Steve Hackett gets quite a lot of chances to make good use of his instrument (even though he’s still exploiting that silly pedal of all things). For once, Tony Banks neglects his synths to play some fresh, exciting piano. For once, Gabriel puts a little bit of everything into his lyrics – from plain, good old-fashioned humour to ultra-bombastic, but still clever lyrics. And, for the first time, Phil Collins gets to shine with a self-penned song, and it doesn’t suck! Now that’s what I call an album.
Okay now, if we prefer to refer to exact track names, then this is what I’d say. The album opener, ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’, is my current bet for best Genesis song ever. To my mind, the hidden potential of Gabriel’s voice didn’t come to light until the opening, almost accappella lines, in which majesty alternates with irony and sarcasm with lamentation. The instrumental break is superb, with the synths propelling everything to a fast, butt-kicking groove and Hackett’s guitar catching up with the keyboards with gusto. And the closing section, with Mike Rutherford endlessly repeating the same acoustic four notes over and over with synth noises in the background, is simply beautiful, though it might be about thirty or forty seconds overlong.
Then comes another favourite – their ‘hit single’ (which I put in quotes because it wasn’t really a hit single, but it was the only thing close to a hit single in Gabriel’s epoch) ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’. It demonstrates one thing: that Gabriel has finally become able to come up with short, but still thoroughly enjoyable pop tunes. But the lyrics? ‘But I remember a voice from the past/Gambling only plays when you’re winning/Had to thank old Miss Mort for schooling a failure’. Groovy. I love this song, too. It has it all: complex, but catchy verses, a bombastic refrain, and, above all, Phil’s ingenious drumming (just listen to those rolls all over the place). Classic!
Next? ‘Firth Of Fifth’, yet another fan favourite. I expected to hate it because it was so pompous and self-indulgent, with lyrics ranking among the band’s most pretentious (I wasn’t even a bit surprised when I learned their author was Tony Banks and not Peter), but I can’t deny the melody. And the instrumental part strikes me as being one of the most intelligently written pieces of music I’ve ever heard among prog rock tunes. The way that the tearful flute part, the sorrowful piano part, the upbeat synth part and the lamenting guitar part all mesh with each other and participate in creating a complete ‘wall of tension’… wow, and then this ‘wall of tension’ suddenly comes crashing down with a ‘consolation’ synth part. Wow, now that’s really clever.
I can imagine that hearing this live might result in a catharsys. Classic, too. And then, after all this bombast, we suddenly go on into a three minute acoustic folkish ditty that introduces us to the songwriting and singing talents of Mr Phil Collins. Clever guy: actually, he can write a good song and knows how to sing it, too! Some might find ‘More Fool Me’ a bit too saccharin-ee for their tastes, but me, I’m just alright. I do agree that he was banally ripping off the Beatles, though, because sometimes it sounds like something John Lennon might have taped around as a demo, then thrown into the wastebin. That’s a compliment to Phil Collins, in case you haven’t understood.
Another epic – ‘The Battle Of Epping Forest’ – well, it might not be a fan favourite, but I’ve slowly grown addicted to it. For me, this is one fine damn jolly amusing song, with Gabriel just having lots of fun in the studio as well as, once again, demonstrating the unlimited capacity of his voice. Overlong? Hell, anything that’s eleven minutes long is overlong. But it rarely becomes boring, that’s for sure. There’s a lot of catchy hooks all over the place, melodical as well as lyrical, and the part about the ‘reverend’ falling into the jaws of sin is downright hilarious, even if it really has nothing to do with the ‘battle of Epping Forest’ by itself.
Unfortunately, this is where the album slowly starts to give in, because the final two songs (the instrumental ‘After The Ordeal’ and another lengthy suite, ‘The Cinema Show’) just don’t thrill me that much. Not that they’re bad: were they placed on, say, Nursery Cryme, they could have become the highlights there. On here, they just sound a little weak: ‘After The Ordeal’ is, let’s face it, hardly necessary with the far superior instrumental arrangements on ‘Firth Of Fifth’, while ‘The Cinema Show’ borrows its melody from the first parts of ‘Supper’s Ready’ and, even with that, displays very little energy. Because Selling England is, in its essence, an energetic album – the one that keeps your blood flowing most of the time. ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’ shakes you, ‘I Know What I Like’ kicks you, ‘Firth Of Fifth’ simply moves you and ‘Epping Forest’ plainly confuses you.
‘The Cinema Show’ is more like ‘Musical Box’: it might thrill you, but it sure don’t inspire you or rouse you. Not that everything needs to rouse you, of course, but still… but still, shucks! there’s five great songs in a row, resulting in thirty-five minutes worth of great music, plus two good songs. Not to mention that the last minute and a half of ‘Cinema Show’ is really an independent ditty called ‘Aisle Of Plenty’ which is actually a reprise of the best part on ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’. Good lads! If you dig intelligent British prog rock at all, you can’t live without this record. It’s great to the point of being my favourite prog rock album of the year. Which year? Why, this year, of course! What other year I’d be living in?
If this isn’t the greatest prog album of all time, then I don’t know what is. I must have heard it well over 100 times, and it continues to fascinate me. No other record in my collection or out of my collection (that I’m aware of) contains such a rich variety of arresting textures, hooky melodies, and pure emotion.
I can even say that I get excited about listening to this album in the first two seconds of its opening song, “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight.” That’s not because I’m particularly thrilled about Peter Gabriel singing a Medieval folk ballad a cappella, but I greatly anticipate the journey that it’s about to take me on. That song is a perfect example of how majestically well Gabriel-era Genesis were able to smoothly interweave a variety of constantly evolving textures and emotions. If I were to play snippets of it in random places, they would seem like they came from completely different songs, but as I’m actually listening to it from beginning to end, everything fits together flawlessly. It’s amazing sitting through that song, and it must be heard to be believed.
Genesis were not only on top of their game as songwriters, but also as instrumentalists. They are even more amazing than they were in Foxtrot! If you want proof of that, you needn’t look further than “Firth of Fifth.” There, you’ll find Peter Gabriel delivering a rather uneasy, somewhat paranoid flute solo, Tony Banks dazzling the crap out of us with a few chord-heavy keyboard solos, and Steve Hackett playing a guitar solo that sounds bigger than the universe. Not only do these solos have a distinct personality, but they’re just as melodic and memorable as one of Peter Gabriel’s vocal melodies, which are as memorable and melodic as Genesis has ever been or will ever be again.
Although not all these epic prog outings are quite so wildly developing. The 11-minute “Cinema Show” starts as one of the most sweetest, gentlest folk songs I’ve ever heard, and it very gradually turns into something more dramatic and thunderous. That’s quite a song, too; it must be the most warmest, nostalgic pieces of music I’ve ever listened to. I can’t help imagining Peter Gabriel singing its fairy tale lyrics to his children on a snowy day by the fireside. Of course he ends up scaring the children with its rather tense and scary ending, but that’s just like all the other fairy tales we were told as kids.
Phil Collins deserves a lot of the flack that he gets, but I don’t quite understand what so many people have against “More Fool Me,” a rather loose, three-minute folk ballad. Sure, it sounds like a demo and it’s not one of the grandiose progressive epics, but it has a catchy melody and Collins’ lead vocals seem genuine and sweet. Any song with those qualities would qualify as a great song in my book.
I am about as attached to this album as a pet owner is attached to a pet, and it’s impossible for me to try to imagine what my life would have been like without it. Whether I listened to it passively while driving in the car or listening to it intensely with my headphones, it have always greatly treasured its diversions as I soak up its rich variety of textures. Sometimes the album sweet and angelic and other times it’s tense and dramatic; through all its twists and turns, I’ve always manage to hold onto its every move.
I think you might have guessed it by this point, but Selling England By the Pound is one of my favorite albums of all time. I didn’t even get to talk about everything I wanted to in the main portion of this review! But instead of making this review twice as long as it already is, I figure I’d better shut up and give you a chance to experience it for yourselves. If you haven’t heard this album before, then don’t let another second go by. If you have heard it and you thought it was boring (which is a fairly common reaction), then I urge you to take another close and unhindered listen. If there’s even an inkling of a chance that you might come to see the treasures I see in this that I see, then your efforts would surely pay off.
Steady work, frequent album releases and almost permanent live performances paved Genesis’ way into the hearts of European and British fans. The band were slowly making the step from an insider band to a cult band with growing numbers of fans. This also meant that expectations grew as well as the pressure the band was under. The next album had to be nothing less than another masterpiece like Foxtrot. It became Selling England By The Pound, a records fans rank among the big classics to this day. During this period tensions in the band began to grow…
Relentless touring to make the band better-known brought them new fans but also had its disadvantages. When the band started writing the successor for Foxtrot they did not have many song ideas. Tony Stratton-Smith decided to close the gap between studio albums with the Live album – a solution the band felt was less than ideal. Between October 1972 and September 1973 Genesis released three albums: Foxtrot, Genesis Live (their first foray into the UK Top Ten) and Selling England By The Pound. Creatively they seemed to have backed into a corner, though. Steve Hackett tried to work his way out of there by disregarding full song structures and experimenting with riffs. One of those riffs he would play endlessly on soundchecks became the basis of I Know What I Like. Steve Hackett was very involved in the writing process, in part also because it allowed him to flee from his marriage problems. Steve’s input for Selling England became larger than for any album before or after, and he often called it his favourite Genesis album.
Phil Collins, on the other hand, found the band’s situation and the hard-going work on the new album frustrating. Mike Rutherford and Tony Stratton-Smith would later admit that they rather feared Phil would leave the band. Instead he found a musical outlet in the short-lived band Zox And The Radar Boys which involved, amongst others, former Yes guitarist Peter Banks. Genesis seemed to lose their spontaneity, their ability to achieve those magic moments when they jammed together. As tensions within the band grew two factions developed, and Steve and Phil frequently found themselves backed into a corner by the other three band members.
The album was finally written in a mere six weeks, with several roads leading to Rome: They had songs that were finished when introduced (e.g. Firth Of Fifth by Tony Banks), they put together songs that were brought by several band members (Dancing With The Moonlit Knight was based on piano pieces by Peter Gabriel and a guitar melody by Steve Hackett). Some songs also developed in jam sessions (Mike, Tony and Phil wrote the instrumental section of The Cinema Show that way). Genesis tried hard not to repeat themselves too much. The plan of merging Dancing With The Moonlit Knight and The Cinema Show into one long song was soon scrapped because the band wanted to avoid comparisons with Supper’s Ready.
The band’s continued cooperation with producer John Burns paid off and resulted in the Genesis record with their best sound so far. The formation had not changed for two years, and these two years of stage experience had finely attuned each musician to the other. It certainly showed on the record. Some even thought it sounded too polished, and the studio sessions for Selling England By The Pound were deemed a little sterile compared to its successors and predecessors; that, of course, would be different in the live performances. The record plays an important role in the history of Genesis. They borrowed the title from the Labour Party’s programme of the time, which pointed at the main theme of the album, i.e. the decline of traditional British culture and the crisis of the British middle class. I Know What I Like became their first pop single and chart success (#21 in the UK charts). The band declined a possible live performance in the British chart show Top Of The Pops. Charisma were shocked, and today the members of the band smilingly remember the youthful arrogance with which they made that decision. Genesis remained an album band, and Selling… is a collection of songs that either became huge classics or are almost forgotten today.
Dancing With The Moonlit Knight
Folky a-capella vocals by Peter Gabriel and soft, broken chords played on 12-string guitar, organ and piano form the remarkable beginning of the album. What begins as a tender acoustic song in the pastoral vein rapidly turns into a dramatic tour de force. This song is like a complete Genesis concert condensed – full of changes in dynamics, speed, rhythm, varied keyboard textures, driving drums and lyrics that are not always easy to understand. It mixes a number of different styles – near the end Genesis even venture into the jazz rock area. The end picks up the markedly pastoral lines from Trespass, but the tender ethereal outro seems like an afterthought tacked on to the rest of the song.
I Know What I Like
Swirling sounds introduce the most unlikely follow-up to these pastoral sounds. Phil Collins’ drumming oscillates between catchy rhythms and fill that could be in jazz rock or even world music pieces. The lyrics satirize the bourgeois British middle class life that comes to life in the narrator’s character of the “lawn mower”. Britishness is celebrated and ironized in a bizarre way. The chorus has sing-along quality but never descends into shallow pop. I Know What I Like impresses by its simplicity – and the chorus offers one of the best Rutherford bass lines ever.
Firth Of Fifth
Tony Banks never sound so classical before. His piano intro brings a new element into Genesis’ music and makes good use of his training on classical piano. The band comes in rather abruptly, but that makes it just all the more impressive. The big guitar and organ sounds and the powerful drumming make the verses sound massive – cinemascope gone music… The flute takes the lead in an instrumental part in Genesis’ pastoral vein which segues into a very prog synth reprise of the piano intro. Phil brings his predilection for jazz rock to bear in his drumming in this part. The drums turn into a marvellous percussive extension or support of the synthesizer melody that moves into Steve Hackett’s most memorable moment in Genesis: The legendary, unending guitar solo that picks up the flute melody and brings it to a whole new level. The music calms down before the melody returns to the verse so that we can listen to Peter’s aphorism, “The sands of time were eroded by the river of constant change”. A song with a perfect structure, the most symphonic piece in the Genesis catalogue, it remained in the live set until 2007, albeit in increasingly mutilated versions. Hackett himself would play it many times in its entirety.
More Fool Me
Another transition full of contrast. From the bombast of Fifth Of Fifth to Phil Collins’ second lead vocal performance in Genesis. More Fool Me is not quite as intimate as For Absent Friends on Nursery Cryme. The subject matter is quite unusual for a Genesis song from that period, because it is a lovesong. Not an infectious piece, but a celebrated solo spot on the tour – and a glimpse at the things Phil and Mike, the writers of this piece, would write later.
The Battle Of Epping Forest
This is probably one of the weakest Genesis songs from the era. The Battle Of Epping Forest attempts to have a go at a more realistic and modern topic, namely gang wars. Tony Banks remembers that they would keep tacking on new parts every day, and it sure sounds like that. Peter Gabriel admits that he lost himself in the story when he wrote the lyrics. In fact, it took Peter so long to write the lyrics that the others completed the backing tracks without melody and lyrics. This would, of course, happen again during the recordings of their next album. There are a number of fine moments such as the brief synthesizer solo or the honky-tonk piano, but the song as a whole is simply stuffed with too many ideas. The music and the lyrics do not really connect. Many passages are pleasant, but they do not leave an overall impression of a complete song.
After The Ordeal
Whether this piece should be included or not was one of the most controversial decisions the band had to make. Neither Tony nor Peter wanted this instrumental of Steve’s on the record. It still made the cut after a bizarre search for a compromise: Peter wanted to cut away the instrumental part of The Cinema Show, too, and to save that Tony voted for Steve’s composition. A wrong decision, it has to be said. The first half of this piece remains pale and pseudo-classic, and it does not become any more relevant when the band comes in for the second half. Not a special highlight of the Genesis discography.
The Cinema Show
A longer song follows those three weaker numbers. The Cinema Show begins in a familiar pastoral acoustic mood. Mike and Steve bring the wonderful pickings on the twelve-string guitar back again just like the early days of Genesis. The vocal melody is catchy without being shallow. A love story, classical epics and mythology meet in the lyrics. The piece moves away from the song and into an instrumental that moves from one glorious climax to another. Tony Banks plays a full-fledged synthesizer solo for the first time, but it is so well woven into Mike and Phil’s rhythm part that it does not become Emersonian bragging but remains an instrumental performed by the whole band (three of them, anyway).
Aisle Of Plenty
The end of The Cinema Show segues smoothly into Aisle Of Plenty, which is not really a song but a collage that reprises melodies from Dancing With The Moonlit Knight. One pun follows the other, but this bit is more of an appendage than a song in its own right.
Selling… was a moderate success for Genesis, but it is less balanced than, for example, Foxtrot. The songs one remembers best from this album are those that became medium classics (Dancing With The Moonlit Knight) or huge classics (I Know What I Like, Firth Of Fifth, The Cinema Show) in the band’s history. As an album, it was not a perfect selection: All longtracks have approximately the same length, while the other songs, with the exception of I Know What I Like, are fillers. Unlike Steve Phil and Tony do not consider the album particularly memorable – they like individual songs, but Tony in particular called the album “ridiculously long”. A playtime of 53:42 minutes is not impressive anymore in the CD age, but at the time it was very long. It became clear in the end that Selling England marked the end of a development that began with Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot. It was thererefore no surprise that Genesis wanted to go into a different direction after this record and the promotion tour. But before that happened Genesis reached #3 in the UK album charts. Genesis had reached a new degree of fame and popularity.
You might not have noticed it, but although I certainly have a healthy dose of respect and love for well-done progressive rock, not ONCE have I given a prog rock album a perfect score – atmosphere and cool instrumentation can take you to the top of the mountain overlooking the land, but they won’t let you into Canaan, so to speak. But this album is a different story entirely. NEVER before and never again in the history of progressive rock can one find such a perfect confluence of atmospherics, bombastic and yet clever lyrics, catchy melodies, complicated song structures, and in a wonderous first for Genesis, constantly entertaining and often GORGEOUS arrangements (this album is Genesis’ peak in both quality of keyboard playing AND quality of guitar playing, which should tell you something right away) as can be found in this incredible 53 minute piece of British lore.
The arrangements, in particular, are what ultimately set this album above Foxtrot and The Lamb. You may not believe it, but not only do I have absolutely no complaints about Tony’s playing on this album, on more than a few occasions I truly believe in the title of genius that many fans have foisted upon him. This is made all the more incredible by the fact that it is on this album that he uses synthesizers for the first time, and while they would be incredibly annoying within 5 years time, here his use of them is always, dare I say it, tasteful, not to mention that he achieves some incredible stretches of cathartic beauty with them. But even with his newfound toys, he still manages to incorporate more piano on this album than any other in Genesis’ catalogue, and those passages are usually even more entertaining than his synth playing – bombastic, but sounding like they deserve all their bombast.
Even with all that, though, the full emergence of Steve Hackett is what distinguishes this album the most, as this album is easily the most guitar-heavy in Genesis’ catalogue, and given my attitude of “more Hackett is better Hackett,” that’s so much the better. With very few exceptions, he is ALWAYS playing a major role in the sound, whether it be an incredibly intelligent solo or just plain old solid riffing.
And finally, we have Gabriel reaching the absolute pinnacle of his “medieval British herald” shtick – only 3 of the songs have lyrics by him (well, 4 if you count the closing reprise Aisle of Plenty, which brings back the best parts of the opening track), but as far as his mix of bombast, incredibly British humor and unfettered whackiness go, those three songs are certainly among his peaks. Not to mention that he takes full advantage of the chance to play up to them with his singing – if you thought he was taking on some strange roles and offering weird interpretations before, well, you’d be right, but somehow he managed to outdo even himself.
Another thing that strikes me about the album in general is that, as bombastic as it may be in most cases, it also does an incredible job of deflating itself at the proper intervals so that you never feel overwhelmed by the album. I mean, examine the track order by genre – prog, pop, prog, pop, prog, soothing instrumental, prog, reprise. It’s simple, really, yet utterly ingenious (not to mention that the reprise is of just the right themes so that you truly feel complete at album’s end).
Ok, NOW for the specific songs. In case you aren’t aware of it, the opening Dancing with the Moonlit Knight is probably Genesis’ finest song ever, as the lyrics and music mix in such a way that is incredible even for this group. Gabriel probably puts forth his best singing effort yet, and he even gets the chance to sing a capella at the very beginning as he begins the process of magically transporting you back to the England that never was. But other instruments are slowly added, layer upon layer – some keys here, a light touch of acoustic guitar, as we build to the bombastic “the captain leads his dance right on through the night” passage before he launches us into a fabulous instrumental break with the cry “knights of the green shield stamp and shout!” And oh what a passage it is, filled with speedy solos and triumphant calls from Steve’s guitar, eventually leading to Tony’s mellotron imitating a heavenly choir as Peter begins his “There’s a fat old lady outside the saloon” spiel.
Eventually, the sung passages come to an end, and this time, the instrumental parts are driven forward by an utterly brilliant combination of dissonant pounding from Tony and weird tones coming from Steve’s guitar that sound like synths the first 20 times you hear them (only seeing live footage of the band doing the song is enough to confirm it otherwise), before it gradually slows down into a peaceful section with Mike playing 4 notes on his acoustic again and again. Tony plays a beautiful sequence of chords while Steve plays his own ambient selection and Peter throws in some lines on the flute, and it fades out nothing like it began, but seeming all the better for it.
And, of course, it is then followed by one of the greatest pop songs of all time, I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe), about a crossdresser who mows lawns for a living. The lyrics are insane yet memorable, the melody is incredibly complex yet catchy, and there are even lawnmower imitations on the bass guitar. But what amazes me most of all, though, is the drumming. It’s not even that the part is necessarily very complex – it’s that TONE that Phil pulls out of thin air. Never ever ever have I heard a song where the drums sound even remotely like that – how did he DO THAT??!! Inquiriing minds want to know, so impart thy knowledge please. (PS: A year later, I’ve finally figured out that that the coolest parts of the drumming are actually Mike making that upwards *DOY* noise off of Phil’s strike. I feel like an idiot for not figuring that out earlier, but whatever.)
Now, what comes next, the epic Firth of Fifth, is a whee bit controversial for me. You see, from a purely musical perspective, I could have easily dubbed this song as Genesis’ best ever, and thus the best on the album. Unfortunately, Tony writes the lyrics here, and they’re some of his worst to date. Not enough to hurt the album as a whole, of course, but enough to remove a whee bit of shine that the song would otherwise have. No matter, though. As far as melody, arrangements, and especially structure go, it is practically the perfect progressive composition. Tony’s opening piano line is incredible both in its beauty and its difficulty, the main melody is terrific, and then we have the mid-section. Oh boy, DO we have the mid-section. Peter contributes a pretty flute passage, in comes a relaxing piano section, then a bouncy synth reprise of the opening piano line, and to top it all off, Steve comes in and plays his best known solo. It’s not fast at all, but that doesn’t hurt it in the least – it’s a slow, winding, meticulous passage, with repeated climaxes building up the piece until it all releases itself and the main melody shows up again, followed by a wonderful piano fadeout. Can you say “symmetry” boys and girls? I knew you could.
The next track is probably the biggest surprise of all, actually. More Fool Me is a Collins song (both in composition and singing), but the scary thing is that not only does it not suck, it is an incredibly pretty acoustic-driven ballad. The melody is distinct and memorable, the lyrics aren’t too saccharine, and it’s pretty much the perfect way to catch your breath after the bombast of Firth of Fifth. In other words, lay off of it people – even Phil could write a good song on occasion.
Side two rolls around, and we get Peter’s fictional take on a gang battle in the 12 minute The Battle of Epping Forest. As far as Peter the “psychotic theatrical weirdo” goes, this piece was never topped by Gabriel, as Gabriel pulls out a legion of gangster voices (especially funny is hearing him go, “I’m breaking the legs of the bastard that got me framed!”). And musically, it’s fabulous, and honestly never seems overlong to my ears. Tony and Steve are each playing interesting riffs in counterpoint to each other, and Tony comes up with a REALLY good idea with his little trick after each “here comes the cavalry” line, as he makes it easy to see a bunch of ‘reinforcments’ storming in on horseback to help out.
And don’t forget the mid-section, the hilarious nonsensical tale of a reverend who is forced to become a karmamechanic! If you thought there were lots of funny voices in the rest of the song, this passage will absolutely astound you, not to mention that the lyrics are the absolutely whackiest that Gabriel would ever come up with.
Following Forest is a nice instrumental called, appropriately, After The Ordeal. Tony’s piano parts in the first half are grand and gorgeous, while the second half relies mostly on various Hackett passages of his usual quality. Overall, while not spectacular by any means, it’s still a fully acceptable and even beautiful inclusion onto the album (although I swear that I can hear some quotes of Can-Utility and the Coastliners on there …). But no matter, because Cinema Show is up as the grand finale. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t disagree with those who point out that the opening passage is just a whee bit too similar to the opening of Supper’s Ready (in fact, when the band reaches the “na na na na” parts in the middle, it’s all I can do to not start singing “I know a farmer who looks after the farm …”). The lyrics also come from Mike and Tony, so they can’t help but be slightly inferior (though the idea of incorporating Romeo and Juliet rather than two incognitos came from Peter). Still, the melody is quite beautiful, and the beauty is sufficient to save the main part of the song on its own.
But that’s not the part that everybody adores, now is it? No, it’s the lengthy conclusion to the song, which doesn’t seem quite right as an end to the song as an individual track, but is DEFINITELY the perfect ending climax for the album as a whole. For the longest time, I was convinced that it was a duet between Tony and Steve, as several of the notes sounded as if they were *plucked* rather than just pressed, but further information has proved me wrong about that. No matter – all that means is that the final stretch of the album is easily Tony Banks’ finest moment with the band. EVERYTHING about these keyboard solos exudes a beauty from deep inside – the main theme is incredible, the tones are lovely, the counterpoint near the end is astounding, and, well, I can’t begin to express what a well-placed mellotron part does for me. And then the keys slowly fade into the background, as the acoustic line from Moonlit Knight rears its head again, before we say goodbye via Aisle of Plenty.
I don’t what else I can say. In writing this, I expended energy and time that probably should have been better used back in 2001 in studying for my Advanced Calculus final, or my Investment Analysis final, or cramming my brain full of 20th Century Russian history and literature (menya zovoot “Reniassance Man”!). But I don’t care. This album deserves my best, and while it may take a while to understand why (again, I was mostly unimpressed when I first heard this), you will someday understand as well.
In the early seventies Genesis played progressive rock and Peter Gabriel was lead vocalist. The earliest Genesis albums showed promise but were marred by poor production. The band had matured by the time they released Selling England By The Pound and this album is the best example of the early period of their long career.
In the middle of extended progressive rock pieces the album features a short and simple ballad sung by Phil Collins. ‘More Fool Me’ is a precursor of things to come.
The showpiece of the album is ‘Firth of Fifth.’ This song features great work on the flute by Gabriel and some beautiful sustained guitar lines with volume swells by Steve Hackett.
Selling England By The Pound is over 53 minutes long. This is not unusual on today’s CD format but was unusual in the days when albums were released on vinyl. The band debated whether to trim ‘After The Ordeal’ or ‘The Cinema Show.’ They couldn’t decide so they left it all in.
They should have applied the scissors to ‘The Battle of Epping Forest.’ This is a humourous theatrical song blown out to the proportions of a serious progressive rock epic. It would have worked much better as a short song.
Selling England By The Pound is notable for being one of the first albums to feature choir voices played on the Mellotron. This sound is sprinkled tastefully through the album, including the opening track.
The album ends with a brief reprise of part of the opening track. This is an effective unifying touch.
After Selling England By The Pound Genesis made the same mistake as many fellow prog rock bands and produced an overblown and self-indulgent double album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Unlike their fellow prog rock bands Genesis were able to reinvent themselves and they bounced back to enjoy even greater success.
Gabriel left the band to pursue a solo career. The critics speculated about whether the band could continue without their frontman but Collins stepped out from the shadows of the drum kit and ably took on the lead vocal duties. Then Hackett left the band. Once again the band drew upon their internal resources and Michael Rutherford, their bass guitarist, ably took on the guitar duties.
Genesis went on to enjoy enormous success and Collins simultaneously enjoyed enormous success as a solo artist. Gabriel has also had a successful solo career. As an example of their combined work you can’t do better than Selling England By The Pound.
Sound: “Selling England By The Pound”, is what I consider the best album Genesis ever made. Tony Banks discovers synthesizers and real soloing, Steve Hackett introduced sweep picking to progressive rock, and Peter Gabriel’s vocals were at their best. The album is started with the two radio hits, “Dancing With The Moonlit Night” and “I Know What I Like”, considered the greatest works in the Hackett/Gabriel era. The rest of the album fluidly runs with little error, with “Firth Of Fifth”, “After The Ordeal” and “The Cinema Show”, one of Banks’ greatest keyboard solos. // 9
Lyrics and Singing: Even after writing “Suppers Ready” for Foxtrot, Peter Gabriel was still full of amazing songs, and his vocals were just as good if not better. His reference to pop culture destroying Britain’s music in “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight” is genius, and his writing about mythology and classical Shakespear in “The Cinema Show” is especially good. Even Phil Collins’ vocals in “more fool me” is Beautiful. // 9
Impression: Compared to the sometimes more drawn out songs in previous albums, “Selling England By The Pound” is essential. “Firth Of Fifth” was the first song that got me into Genesis, with the piano intro, the amazing lyrics, synthesizer jam session showing off Phil Collins’ worth as a drummer, and the amazing guitar solo at the end, this song is my personal favorite song of any Genesis song. If there is anything on this album that’s not perfect, it’s “Battle Of Epping Forrest”, one of those songs where the band got a little carried away with their jamming. If someone stole this from me I would probably slit their wrists with a rusty fish hook! If you are not sure what Genesis album to get, “Selling England By The Pound” is a good start! // 10
Sound: Genesis (with Peter Gabriel) is commonly know as one of the greatest progressive rock bands out there. After you listen to this album, it will be difficult for you to disagree. “Selling England by the Pound” is Genesis’ fifth studio album, and was a large step forward for the band. Out of the eight tracks on the album (clocking just over 50 minutes), only one comes to mind that is a bit of a let down, being “The Battle of Epping Forest” (there is such a thing as TOO much jamming).
Each member of the band has grown as a musician, and the band itself has grown much tighter. You can really tell these guys know each others styles and easily make all of their parts fit wonderfully with each other. It’s very rare that you hear a band that is this close together in terms of sound.
This album has a ton of great songs, and many of them you will want to listen to again. The great thing about them is that they’re constantly moving. Often a song ends in an entirely different way then it started, and this constant change really makes the music interesting to listen to. From the flute solos, to the guitar solos, to the piano solos, this band really pulls off great music. The music is catchy, while at the same time being interesting and techinically complicated.
In terms of actual instrumentation, Genesis is no let down. Tony Banks, the pianist / synthist, begins to play a more dominant part in the band, having more complex solos and parts in the songs. His playing has definitely gotten even better from the last album, and even when his part isn’t as important he manages to make it sound amazing. Phil Collins does a fantastic job on drums, able to keep up with strange time signature while still keeping things interesting and moving. Steve Hackett’s guitar playing is also nearly flawless. He is able to acheive a very amazing tone, and while for the most part his guitar playing is not overly complicated, the feeling and emotion in it can really be heard. It may be strange to say, but I almost felt like there wasn’t enough guitar however.. Other than that though, the guitar is fantastic. Mike Rutherford’s bass is good.. when it’s there. When he plays, he plays beautifully, but there could definitely be a lot more of it. Many songs feel slightly lacking without a powerful bass part. Finally, Peter Gabriel’s flute parts are breathtaking. They fit in perfectly with the style of song and sound amazing.
So basically, this album is great. The band obviously consists of very talented musicians who know what they’re doing and do it well. There are a few downsides, including some of the extended jamming and lack of guitar solos and bass, but these are relatively minor when compared to all of the good parts. // 9
Lyrics and Singing: The lyrics on this album are really great. Catchy, but not too catchy. Deep, but not so deep you don’t understand what they’re talking about. Intelligent, but not so intelligent you need a new dictionary. The lyrics avoid the two extremes, and fall almost perfectly in the middle. The lyrics go along with the music too, and cover a variety of topics, making the album even more of an enjoyable experience.
On actual vocals, we have Peter Gabriel (and Phil Collins on “More Fool Me”). Peter Gabriel is obviously a professional at what he does and is clearly an amazing singer. His voice fits perfectly with the music, and it is outstanding the way his voice can really make the song. Phil Collins also does a great job on the one song he sings on the album.
The lyrics and vocals are a strong point of the album, and I think without Peter Gabriel, Genesis wouldn’t be the same (as is proven by Genesis turning into a lame pop band after his leave). // 9
Impression: This album is great. It is probably my absolute favourite Genesis album. It’s very progressive, but it’s not just limited to that. Some of my favourite songs from the album (and probably favourite Genesis songs ever) include the amazing “Firth of Fifth” with all of its solos and sheer awesomness, and the mellow instrumental “After the Ordeal”. “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” also deserves some honourable mention. So if you’re a fan of prog, rock in general, or Genesis, this is a great album. In my opinion it is the greatest Genesis album made, and although it is lacking in some parts, overall it’s fantastic. //9
The year is 1973; the progressive boom is already taking place. Pink Floyd release what many consider to be the best progressive album of all time, The Dark Side of the Moon. The cold reality of the lyrics and the use of the mysterious samples raises the bar; a major influence for upcoming progressive artists. Genesis previous efforts contain elements of theatricality, light humour and tales of colourful characters creating the perfect blend of reality and fantasy. With Dark Side of the moon taking the progressive reigns, would Genesis follow suit with their latest offering, Selling England by the Pound? The answer is a resounding no.
Selling England by the Pound’s success lies in its perfect album structure and the bands willingness to experiment with their own unique strengths. Peter Gabriel’s Acapella in the opening number “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” is a testament to the eccentric artists’ dynamic vocal talent; once again he lives and breathes the characters the band is trying to portray. Steve Hackett’s soft guitar section feels like it could be implemented within any contemporary R&B track (as a sample). The piece then explodes into a rock song not dissimilar from the Rush masterpiece “2112”. Gabriel leads the charge with his powerful voice whilst the band follows closely in suit; This is the most exhilarating section on the album. Phil Collins intense drumming combined with Hackett’s soaring guitar exemplifies the epic nature of this wonderful journey. The piece ends with Hackett’s soft guitar creating the effect of a ticking clock leading the song out. My friends: this is how you start an album.
Peter Gabriel’s outlandish stage performances helped Genesis stand out from the progressive crowd, “I know what I like (in your wardrobe)” is the kind of song where Gabriel is let loose. The song reminds me of a Saturday morning kids cartoon complete with colourful characters and a good dose of injected silliness. Gabriel takes the role of the lawnmower, his vocal performance alongside Phil Collins helps illustrate this crazy town as they chant like school boys and taunt lovers behind the garden wall. The song also contains one of the catchiest choruses progressive genesis has ever conceived. Mike Rutherford’s bouncy bass lines keep the song bobbing along at an incredibly fun pace. This number comes across as a band having a lot of fun; it would become a regular choice for live tours.
Every album masterpiece must have its iconic song. Pink Floyd had “Money”, and Rush had “Limelight” for moving Pictures; “Firth of Fifth is the Genesis answer to that classic. As I mentioned before, every band member is given space to showcase their individual talents and this is the song where it couldn’t be clearer. I ask you; what is better than an ego trip? The answer: 3 ego trips!
The song opens with a beautiful Tony Banks Piano Melody before Gabriel takes up vocal and flute duty. Gabriel’s flute solo provides the soft tone but it doesn’t take long before Banks adds his cartoonish keyboard successfully creating the effect of music that isn’t just progressing, it’s evolving and changing tones whilst still retaining it’s perfectly judged pace. In keeping with the songs evolving sound, Banks passes the musical baton to Hackett who in turn knocks the ball out of the park with his effective guitar tapping technique and general skill which would make David Gilmour blush. The song ends with the opening piano melody rounding out what I consider to be the perfect Genesis song.
The album pace and structure is something that deserves to be highlighted. The songs follow an epic, fun, epic, fun progressive formula which other bands should take note of. Instead of guitar solo wankery ala Dream theatre, Genesis show restraint; they know how to keep their audience listening. It could be argued that a song like “More Fool Me” doesn’t really fit into the progressive Genesis discography, but it allows the audience to breathe and prepare for the next eight minute epic.
Whilst this album does deserve recognition for being possibly the best and most accessible progressive Genesis album, there is a major negative which need to be addressed; this negative goes by the title “The battle of Epping Forrest”. Clocking in at the nine minutes, the song is a mess. Rutherford who had been remarkably consistent throughout the album thus far doesn’t know to support this convoluted tripe. The keyboard parts lack any semi decent hooks because they follow Gabriel’s fast, chaotic lyrics into nothingness. The only redeeming feature is Collins drumming, keeping busy and technically brilliant despite everything happening around him. This song is a blemish on an otherwise superb album.
Genesis’ greatest strength can also be seen as a curse, every band member loves their input maybe just a little too much. Selling England by the Pound benefits from its passionate members but it wouldn’t be too long before Gabriel and Hackett turn solo while Phil Collins discovers he really can sing, thus becoming the master of the love song. Overall the album is a dynamic collection of uplifting songs put together in such a way that it all comes together in the end. Aisle of Plenty brings the album full circle borrowing from the opening songs arrangements. For any music fans wanting to start their progressive journey, this is the album for you. Hell, I didn’t even mention “The Cinema Show”.
I am sticking my neck out on this one, potentially placing myself in line for a date with a pile of faggots, a fire and a pole (think about it – logically!). But the truth is, I never saw the attraction of Genesis. I kind of grew up in the early seventies surrounded by kids at school who thought that Genesis the epitome of musical genius. All I could hear whenever I listened to it was pretentious, public-school* wankery.
Let’s get the positives out-of-the-way first. In terms of musical ability, there is little anyone can do to fault a Genesis album. The arrangements are tight, the music is played with skill and precision and Peter Gabriel’s distinctive voice stands out and frames the content in exactly the way a voice should. Compare Gabriel’s voice with fellow prog-rocker Jon Anderson, and you’ll see what I mean. Anderson’s high pitched, almost falsetto whining tended to dominate the content rather than complement it. Then there is the drumming. I know that Phil Collins comes in for a good deal of criticism, but in his early career with Genesis he was able to display a mixture of competence and flair which, once again, complemented the music. Finally, the production is pretty much flawless. All in all, if you combine the good points this looks like it promises to be positive musical experience.
So why is it that I just do not like this, nor for that matter pretty much anything Genesis ever did? To answer that, it is necessary for me to explain what it is that makes me like or dislike a piece of music. First of all, I do not like music which tries to be clever or exclusive. Any music which says or implies, “allow me to let you in on a secret”, or “this is actually quite difficult to understand but if you listen hard enough you might get it” is really off putting. I much prefer, “come in, join the party”. Second, there has to be some oomph in it. I cannot define “oomph” except insofar as it is that ineffable quality which, when you are doing some task, any task, be it washing the car, doing a crossword or watching the TV, makes you stop what you are doing and listen. Oomph can come at any point in a piece of music and, while oomph can be something as banal as loudness, not all loudness (or changes in volume) qualifies as oomph.
Third, and most important, and this is something which stretches far back into my earliest music listening years, it absolutely must induce a change in state in me. That change can be physical or psychological. A piece of music which renders me incapable of sitting still fits the bill just as much as a piece of music which reduces me to tears or laughter or makes me want to punch someone. Music must reach out and connect to me to succeed. There are pieces of music I like which anyone would looking at my collection would think were the product of a temporary mental aberration, but that is missing the point. I may no longer remember why a particular piece of music connected to me, all I know is that it did.
Now, against those three criteria, it may be easier to understand why this album fares so poorly in my book. I find it exclusive and too clever for its own good at times – a typical product of a public school education which sets apart one group of people from ordinary mortals and (especially in the seventies) provided different sets of doors to open to lead to different opportunities. Second, there’s no oomph. At no point when listening to this do I stop and have a Microsoft Vista moment. Never, not once. And of course, there is no change in state in me. It does not connect with me on an emotional or physical level. It actually does nothing for me at all.
So, think about it. You are rating an album which tries to exclude you from the party and fails to make any impression on you as a listener. How are you going to rate it? I give it one and a half stars.
Everything before Selling England By The Pound was simply build-up, stepping stones if you will. While Genesis had indeed released some great albums that were unlike anything else being released at the time, it seemed as if they were inching closer and closer to perfection yet never actually reaching their goal. Their debut was a complete dud, with Trespass being pretty good, and Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot were great. The band’s fanbase was steadily growing larger and larger with each album, and their live shows were gaining increased attendance due to the elaborate and bombastic stageshow. It seemed that Genesis was on the verge of becoming one of the best acts in music, and with Selling England By The Pound, they reached their peak.
Selling England By The Pound more-or-less represents everything that was great about the art-rock/progressive rock movement of the early 70’s, combining all of the genres strongpoints into one album. It is filled with flash, bombast, and pomp, yet it never onces becomes pretentious – the lyrics are witty, filled with wordplay and commentary on the band’s homeland of England, and the music itself is incredibly tasteful. Whereas in the past the group would often go overboard with its playing style, dipping into the territories of “wankery,” on this album they play tastefully and even beautifully at times, yet still manage to reach new levels of complexity and a classical touch as well.
Steve Hackett proves himself as one of the best guitarist of all-time on this record. From his unique finger-tapping style, to his dulcet acoustics, to his solo on “Firth of Fifth,” he plays masterfully and always surpises. There are no repeated riffs or over-used techniques, as Hackett is always exciting. Mike Rutherford makes his presence very much known on this album, playing complex and great-sounding basslines all across the album. While on previous albums Rutherford’s bass was often something in the background, on tracks like “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight” and “The Battle of Epping Forest,” the bass is as audible and apparent as Banks’ previously dominating keyboards.
Banks’ keyboards are still one of the main components of Genesis’ music, often leading the songs, yet never dominating them like they had in the past. While other prog keyboardists like Keith Emerson were often too over-the-top and eclipsed the other members of the band, Tony Banks plays tastefully and tactfully, always giving other members a chance to shine, and considering the other musicians in the band are virtuosos of their instrument, this is a good thing. In fact, this tastefulness and style is what separates Banks from many other prog keyboardists – he’s obviously great at playing, but he doesn’t rub it in the listener’s face. Instead, his playing compliments the songs, as opposed to the often assaulting style of the aforementioned Emerson. Yet when time comes for solos, such as in “Firth of Fifth,” he knows how to play with the bombast of the genre’s other keyboardists.
Peter Gabriel’s voice is in top form on Selling England…. His range and distinct style separate him from other prog vocalists of the time, many of which did nothing but sound British. His voice was one of the most unique voices in rock at the time. He demonstrates how subtle and beautiful he can make his voice on tracks like “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” and “The Cinema Show,” yet he can burst into bouts of energy and bombast and make his voice as theatrical as he wants to. His stage persona is very much apparent in the recordings themselves, with his voice often being over-the-top, yet he changes tones and styles very quickly, and his vocals always fit the music.
Gabriel isn’t the only vocalist though – Phil Collins shows his talent on “More Fool Me,” and on each track he displays his drum prowess. By this point, he’d become one of the best drummers in rock, and his fills and rolls are complex and crazy, especially on the lengthier tracks.
Selling England By The Pound isn’t just one of the best albums of the progressive rock subgenre, but it transcends its label and ranks as one of the best as all-time. And when you listen to it, it’s not hard to see why. It’s unique, it has a great sound, it has catchy songs, (“I Know What I Like…” may be the band’s first well-written pop song) and it’s everything a band should strive for when it makes an album – it takes all of the strongpoints of each preceding album and expands upon them and perfects them. And that’s what makes Selling England By The Pound so great.