Not Fade Away: Genesis’ 1983 Album Splits The Difference Between Prog And Pop
In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we focus on Genesis’ self-titled album from 1983, which just turned 30.
Genesis started out as an experimental progressive rock group. Over the years, after drummer Phil Collins took over for founding member Peter Gabriel as the band’s singer, they became a prog-rock band with pop hits.
On 1983’s Genesis, however, they kind of split the difference, and for the first time, the pop hits seemed to be the rule more than the exception. While the opening track, “Mama,” got a bit of MTV play, it was “That’s All” that became the album’s breakthrough hit, reaching No. 6 on the Billboard charts, their first entry into the Top Ten in this country. And “Illegal Alien” just missed the Top 40 (at No. 44), but the video got lots of play on MTV, exposing the band to a new and younger audience (it also showed them taking themselves a lot less seriously than they had in the past).
A big part of their success, of course, was Phil Collins. By the time of Genesis, he’d had two hit solo albums, both produced by Hugh Padgham (who worked as an engineer on Genesis’ prior album, Abacab). Oddly enough, Collins met Padgham while working on Peter Gabriel’s self-titled 1980 album.
Padgham tells Radio.com that Collins decided to work with him because of the drum sound they’d gotten on Gabriel’s “Intruder.”
“‘Intruder’ inspired the drum sound of ‘In The Air Tonight,'” Padgham says.
After producing Collins’ 1981 solo debut, Face Value, Padgham engineered Genesis’s self-produced 1981 Abacab and then produced Collins’ second album, 1982’s Hello, I Must Be Going!. The album Genesis then marked the first time he produced a Genesis album.
Was he hired to bring Genesis more of Collins’ Top 40 appeal? “I never remember it being discussed that way,” he recalls. “I don’t remember any discussions of ‘Let’s be more commercial here.'”
Still, with “That’s All,” “Illegal Alien” and “Taking It All Too Hard” in the mix, at least one member wanted to keep one foot firmly planted in the band’s roots. “[Keyboardist] Tony [Banks] was very instrumental in that. He was a bit wary of me being ‘Phil’s guy.'”
Indeed, side one of the album had three pretty uncommercial, experimental songs. It kicked off with one of the band’s creepiest songs, “Mama.” The song’s intense buildup starts with a sampled drum pattern; after that, Mike Rutherford’s guitar, Banks’ keyboards, and Collins’ vocals join in, before the live drums and bass guitar push the song over the top. But it’s Collins’ scary vocals that really sell the song.
This was something of a surprise. By the time he released Hello, I Must Be Going!–the lead single of which was a cover of the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love”–Collins was becoming an adult contemporary hit maker (although to be fair, that album had some much edgier songs, including “I Don’t Care Anymore” and “Do You Know Do You Care”). His performance on “Mama,” however, was downright sinister, with his “ha ha HA!” giving the song an evil vibe.
Padgham says that the inspiration for that vocal segment came from an unlikely source: Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s early hip-hop classic “The Message,” where vocalist Melle Mel did a similar stuttering laugh (“huh huh huh HUH!”).
The 11-minute “Home By The Sea/Second Home By The Sea” was the favorite track on the album for most prog-rock die-hards. At the same time, the song likely confused newer fans who were more accustomed to the band’s hit singles. Although Padgham would become associated with the band’s (and Collins’) more pop sound (he also produced the Police, Sting and later on, Melissa Etheridge), he was a longtime fan of progressive rock.
“I did enjoy working on ‘Home By The Sea,’ because being a fan of Genesis from when they started with Peter, I just loved that sort of thing, that’s how I knew them, as a progressive rock band. But I never imagined in a million years that I would work with them, because they were my heroes when I was at school. I grew up on the original Genesis albums. So I thought it was weird when they did shorter songs like ‘Turn It On Again.'”
But the shorter songs elevated Genesis to being a multi-platinum, multi-format smash: “That’s All” became their biggest U.S. hit to date.
And then there was “Illegal Alien.”
Collins’ “Speedy Gonzalez”-type vocals are a product of a less politically correct time; today, such a song by a major band would dominate the 24-hour news networks for days. (Imagine Maroon 5‘s Adam Levine or matchbox twenty’s Rob Thomas copping an accent like that for a song!) Padgham says it’s not his favorite track on the album: “I had a quick listen to that earlier, I hadn’t listened to it in years. Notwithstanding the politically incorrect lyrics, it’s kind of a lightweight song.”
After Genesis, Padgham worked with Collins on his hugely successful 1985 album No Jacket Required, and then he did Genesis’ massive 1986 effort, Invisible Touch. It seemed to follow the template of Genesis: each of those Genesis albums had a creepy atmospheric hit (“Mama,” “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”), a vaguely political hit (“Illegal Alien,” “Land Of Confusion”), a two-part prog-rock epic (“Home By The Sea,” “Domino”), and a sadly beautiful ballad (“Taking It All Too Hard,” “Throwing It All Away”).
Was that a conscious choice? Padgham pauses a bit before answering: “I suppose there was maybe a bit of that.”
Padgham’s last Genesis album was Invisible Touch, and he last worked with Phil on 1996’s Dance Into The Light. Since then, he’s had only sporadic contact with the bandmembers.
“I speak to Mike quite a lot, I see him probably three or four times a year.” Padgham says. “I don’t speak to Phil much, he lives in Switzerland, and he’s just sort of gone into his shell a bit. I don’t really know what he’s doing. I didn’t love that Motown album he did [2010’s Going Back]. I hate to say it, but the last time I saw him was in New York when we went to a memorial service for [legendary producer/arranger] Arif Mardin. So we hung out a bit. I never really saw Tony socially. I might see him at a function and we’ll chat a bit.”
Collins’ retreat from music, and the limelight, has been something of a mystery, to say the least. For starters, he appears to have taken rock critics and non-fans a bit too seriously. As Colins told Rolling Stone, “I sometimes think, ‘I’m going to write this Phil Collins character out of the story…Phil Collins will just disappear or be murdered in some hotel bedroom, and people will say, ‘What happened to Phil?’ And the answer will be, ‘He got murdered, but, yeah, anyway, let’s carry on.'” In other interviews, Collins has simply said that he’s leaving music and that “No one will miss me.”
So what is Padgham’s take on all this? “I don’t really get it either, I find it, it’s quite depressing. He [Collins] was always kind of super critical of everything, a real workaholic. The last time I did an album with him was Dance Into The Light, which my god, that was more than 15 years ago, and I didn’t really enjoy it, because there wasn’t….”
He pauses. “In the old days we had fun making records, and on that one, it didn’t seem like we were having that much fun. My problem with Phil was, increasingly, after the first four albums, he became more and more poppy or he wanted to do his big band thing. And I didn’t like his brand of pop, and I didn’t like big bands particularly. So he was just sort of growing apart from me musically, or I was growing apart from him.”
“I wanted every album to be like the first one,” he says, laughing at the thought. Then he continues: “Phil is like many comedians. On the face of it, he was always funny, but behind the scenes he could get quite morose and depressed. I thought it was silly for him to take the criticism of the press so seriously, but if he wanted to make more and more of what I call crappy pop records, then he should not have taken any notice of the criticism, because when you make those kind of records, you know that’s what you’re gonna get!”
In fairness, Collins posted a message to fans on his website regarding his retirement. “I’m not stopping because of dodgy reviews or bad treatment in the press,” he wrote. “I’m not stopping because I don’t feel loved, I know I still have a very large fanbase that loves what I do. Thank you.”
The last time the members of Genesis were in public – Collins, Banks, Rutherford, and former guitarist Steve Hackett – was at their somewhat surprising induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2010.
They didn’t perform (jam band Phish performed two of their songs instead), but it may prove to be the group’s last public appearance. If it was, it’s a nice last page in the book of one of the great misunderstood bands of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
Padgham says of the band’s induction: “I was dead chuffed, I was really pleased. I really do think they deserve it. They were very instrumental–excuse the pun–in that genre of music.”
– Brian Ives, Radio.com