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Selling England by the Pound: 50 Years Later

When you mention the name “Genesis” in a musical context, most people will think of one of two things. Most people will probably talk about the 80s pop hitmaker Genesis, led by Phill Collins, who scored such smashes as “We Can’t Dance,” “Invisible Touch,” and “Land of Confusion.” Some, however, may point to the earlier era, when they played progressive rock and were fronted by Peter Gabriel. image.png

Genesis were, at this point, almost unrecognizable compared to that of the more popular incarnation. The Genesis that got really popular in the 80s were far more subtle in attire, much more casual (as would be the same for Peter Gabriel with his solo career). The prog Genesis of the 70s was far removed from that. In fact, they boasted some of the most theatrical shows of their era. Peter Gabriel would frequently make use of costumes, his antics often the centerpiece of the show. Most famously, Gabriel would go through as many as four costume changes during the 23-minute Supper’s Ready. Songs like this were often the centerpieces of the set, such as earlier in the band’s career with the 10 minute “The Musical Box.” By the time Selling England by the Pound was released in 1973, Genesis had established themselves as significant figures in the burgeoning progressive rock scene along with contemporaries such as King Crimson and ELP. 

It’s easy to say that Selling England by the Pound is the band’s masterpiece of at least the first era. Starting off with “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight,” Peter Gabriel sings out over a quiet background, as if from the void. The song changes and evolves, going through changes from quiet folk-influenced acoustic to upbeat and jazzy. Steve Hackett, the guitarist of Genesis, has said that “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” is his favorite Genesis song, and for good reason; it’s absolutely incredible. The album moves forward through the psychedelic “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” and the stellar musical showcase, “Firth of Fifth.” Despite a majority of the songs being over ten minutes in length, many of them would be live staples in years to come. At their final ever concert at the O2 in 2022, Genesis played four songs from Selling England By the Pound, “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight,” “Firth of Fifth,” “I Know What I Like,” and “The Cinema Show” (albeit shortened due to most of these songs being almost or over ten minutes long). In an era where most people probably only associate the name Genesis with “Invisible Touch” or “I Can’t Dance,” it’s good to see that they are still acknowledging the older stuff. 

After 50 years, Selling England by the Pound still holds up really well. Peter Gabriel would leave after the following album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Genesis would begin their path to 80s hitmaker stardom. 

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Cash Vincent, Lion's Roar Staff

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