genesis - selling england by the pound

Genesis: Selling England By The Pound (1973)

Day 22 of the #mayvinylchallenge has me back on track, and demands albums from the year of my birth. I don’t want to be one of those ancient dudes who constantly harp about how much better it was in the “good ol’ days” but DAMN 1973 was a killer year. Lots of options to choose from, but in the end I decided to talk about a band and album I only got seriously into once I started collecting vinyl. I may have come to Genesis via hits like “That’s All” and “No Reply At All” from the cassettes in the back of my father’s car, but diving deeper I was overjoyed to find so much more weirdness and rocking tunes in their back catalog. Few albums mix the two so well as Peter Gabriel’s penultimate album with the group, the brilliant Selling England By The Pound.

I’ll not add fire to the debate over whether Gabriel or Collins was the better leader – I love both sides equally. But there was an artistic fire when Gabriel was singing, and paired with Steve Hackett’s incendiary guitar playing the band could be unstoppable. Opener “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” shows off just how progressive and rocking the band could be, seamlessly moving from folk to prog to straight up hard rock. It’s a barnburner of an opening track, one of their best which is high praise when you think about some of their other openers, from the title track off of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway to “Watchers of the Skies” from the 1972’s Foxtrot.

I’ll also go out on a limb here and state that I’ll take Selling England by the Pound over The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway any day of the Week. There’s a sense of excess on Lamb… that has nothing to do with its length that drives me away from listening to it most days. It feels more like Gabriel stretching in ways that didn’t really sync with the band, while each song on Selling… feels tight and cohesive; even when it goes a little wonky on tracks like “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” I still feel the band having a great sense of fun and telepathy in the playing. The Tony Banks highlight “Firth of Fifth” provides another example of how the band could quickly jump styles in a song without losing the thread of the piece, and again shows why Steve Hackett should be talked about more as one of the great guitarists in rock history.

We have to talk about Phil Collins for a moment. “More Fool Me” is the second time he took lead vocals on a Genesis track prior to him officially taking the spot with 1976’s A Trick of the Tail (my personal favorite genesis album). It’s funny that the song here is more indicative of the kind of balladry he would take on years later in his solo ventures, but you can already hear his distinctive style, though it’s hard to hear how he would come to own the band’s sound on future releases. As a drummer though, he’s simply on fire throughout all of Selling England by the Pound (he was supposedly inspired by the Mahavishnu Orchestra to push further into odd time signatures for this album). “The Battle of Epping Forest” is another epic prog assembly, incredible percussive riffs and syncopation pushing the band beyond the lazy comparisons to bigger acts like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, and Emerson Lake and Palmer. Push past the more sedate instrumental “After the Ordeal” and we’re back to robust epic territory with “The Cinema Show” before circling back to the themes of the first song with the closing outro of “Aisle of Plenty.”

At this point if you’re not on the Genesis bus, or you still only think of them as the guys who sing “Invisible Touch” (a fine song, IMHO), maybe jumping backwards into something like Selling England by the Pound will change your mind.

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