Album Reviews

Genesis - Foxtrot

After the highly successful Counting Out Time series, we thought it was a good idea to pay attention to some more of the greatest albums in prog history now and then. This Milestones series is a continuation of Counting Out Time and a shift from DPRP's focus on new releases.

"When a flash of intuition is a gift
that helps you excel-sell-sell-sell"

Genesis - Publicity Shot

Band Members:  
Tony Banks - Organ, Mellotron, Piano, Electric Piano, 12 String, Voices;
Steve Hackett - Electric Guitar, 12 String and 6 String Solos;
Phil Collins - Drums, Voices, Assorted Percussion;
Peter Gabriel - Lead Voice, Flute, Bass Drum, Tambourine, Oboe;
Michael Rutherford - Bass, Bass Pedals, 12 String Guitar, Voices, Cello

Also starring: Guy and Paul [?!]

All titles composed, arranged and performed by Genesis

Producer: David Hitchcock
Engineer: John Burns
Sleeve Design: Paul Whitehead

[1] Watcher Of The Skies (7:19), [2] Time Table (4:40), [3] Get 'Em Out By Friday (8:35), [4] Can-Utility And The Coastliners(5:43), [5] Horizons (1:38), [6] Supper's Ready (22:58) ([i] Lover's Leap, [ii] The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man, [iii] Ikhnaton and Itsacon and Their Band of Merry Men, [iv] How Dare I Be So Beautiful?, [v] Willow Farm, [vi] Apocalypse in 9/8 (featuring the delicious talents of Gabble Ratchet), [vii] As Sure as Eggs is Eggs (Aching Men's Feet))

Foxtrot Album Cover - Front and Back

In 1972, there were only a few albums that stood out among the steady stream of (prog) releases. Yes released Close To The Edge, Jethro Tull Thick As A Brick and Genesis Foxtrot. Some may say that Genesis made more significant albums than Foxtrot, like Selling England By The Pound or The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, but Foxtrot was basically the reason why Peter Gabriel started dressing up in strange masks and costumes, something which earned the band just that little bit of extra attention they needed to be noticed by a larger audience. Since that extra attention was however largely focused on Gabriel, giving him a rock star status that he did not desire, it also caused him to leave Genesis a few years later. Still, Foxtrot is the album that contains one of the songs that people still talk about with a certain reverence and which inspired many other bands to write long (read: 15-minute-plus) songs; Supper's Ready.

To survive on the ocean of being

For Genesis, how the follow-up of Nursery Cryme would be received was very important. Charisma, their record label at that time, had not been very enthusiastic about the album and did therefore not put its utmost into its promotion. If that was also the reason why it did not enter the British charts is an interesting question. Still, they more or less demanded something better this time. The band were not 100% satisfied with Nursery Cryme either since it combined "very high highs" with "very low lows," as Mike Rutherford put it in an interview. And Tony Banks said about it that only The Musical Box and Fountain Of Salmacis really stood out for him.

By regularly playing in clubs and other smaller venues in England, Genesis had managed to build up a small following in their home country. Especially playing in the Friar's Club in Aylesbury felt like home games to the band. Strangely enough, though, the attention they got there was nothing compared to their popularity in countries like Belgium and Italy. Without ever having played there, Genesis scored a number one hit in Belgium with their second album Trespass and Nursery Cryme reached number four in the Italian charts. When they finally travelled these countries to play a few shows, the band was surprised to find that they were all but revered there. This experience sufficiently boosted their confidence when they subsequently went into the studio to record Foxtrot.

The fox on the rocks

Gabriel's stage persona had matured and developed from the moment he got appointed the role of lead singer. Being unable to afford more reliable equipment, an early Genesis show would normally contain quite a few extended breaks in which the instruments had to be retuned or even needed to be repaired (the mellotron, admired by many because of its special sound, being the instrument that was cursed most in that respect). Being a shy person by nature, Gabriel would just be standing behind his microphone during these breaks, hoping to become invisible. As he became more and more confident on stage, he started to develop stories that he could tell to make the breaks less embarrassing for everyone involved. Some of those stories were extensions of the song that they were about to play, but he also had some in his repertoire that were very bizarre.

A Belgian TV Photo of GenesisGenesis' stage act was rather static in the beginning. Sitting down in order to concentrate on their sometimes rather tricky parts, Steve Hackett, Rutherford and Banks were not exactly mobile, whereas Phil Collins was bound to one spot for more obvious reasons. On top of that, Rutherford, Hackett and Banks were not the kind of "stage animals" that some performers are; they preferred anonymity. Anything that meant deflecting the attention of the audience away from them suited them just fine. So when Gabriel felt relaxed enough on stage to let go of himself completely, thereby capturing the audience's attention, they were completely okay with that.

His first step on the way to his notorious masquerades was set when he decided that Genesis should get some extra attention during the Lincoln Festival in May 1972. To achieve that he appeared on stage with his face painted white, thick black eye make-up, a heavily jewelled Egyptian collar with matching cuffs and, most striking of all, the front of his head shaved. The audience was shocked, but the extra exposure this simple act got through the press was definitely rewarding.

Being on tour while waiting for the release of their upcoming album Foxtrot, Genesis wanted to do something extra to attract the attention of the audience to the album well in advance to its release. Paul Conroy at Charisma Records thought that it would be a good stunt to get someone on-stage dressed up in a red dress and a fox's head, the central image of the front side of the album. Gabriel said about that later in an interview: "I think he really fancied doing it himself. And I thought, 'Well, damn it, if we're going to do it, I want to do it! I want to be the centre of attention!'" And the Peter Gabriel on stage in his Red Dress and Fox's headrest is history, as they say. The first time that he tried it out was at a boxing ring in Dublin. Without any of the other band members knowing what he was planning to do, he walked off stage during the instrumental part of The Musical Box and returned to do the rest of the vocals of the song dressed in a red dress he had borrowed from his wife Jill and a fox's head. Gabriel later told about that moment: "I remember being very nervous as I walked onto the stage in the middle of a number. The audience was shocked by the weirdness of a man dressed up in woman's clothing and a fox mask - but I loved it! This performance gave me an unquestionable authority, and I thought, 'I must be on to something here.'"

Some of the other Genesis members were shocked when they saw their singer's attire, although they had to admire the fact that Gabriel had the guts to do such a thing. Still, the action was not without effect. Collins remembers: "When we played the Rainbow, there was a picture of Pete in his fox's head on the front page of the Melody Maker - which doubled our earnings straight away. We went from earning £300 a night to earning £600 a night, which was a lot of money in those days. Suddenly people had something to write about - you can't really write about the crashing cymbals, thudding drums and the swirling keyboards for very long. They needed some new angle, and suddenly Peter had given it them. The Rainbow concert was definitely the beginning of all that."

Peter GabrielGabriel felt encouraged by the success of the fox's head to develop the visual element of the Genesis shows further. The fact that the mask and the dress were only referring to the album cover of Foxtrot, but did not have anything to do with the subjects of the songs or the characters in them, Peter Gabrieldid not feel quite right to him though. He then went on to create a fitting costume for every song, or - in the case of the multilayered Supper's Ready - part of the song. Acting out the part of the alien, Gabriel would appear during Watcher Of The Skies with Day-Glo painted around his eyes, which glowed spookily in the ultraviolet light they were using for that song, while wearing batwings on his head and a brightly coloured cape around his shoulders. A crown of thorns illustrated the part of Supper's Ready called The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man. He wore a daisy headdress for the "A flower?" bit before the start of Willow Farm, and donned a black cape and a red geometric box headdress to act out tPeter with Wingshe antichrist in Apocalypse In 9/8. In the grand finale of Supper's Ready he would throw off the headdress and cape to reveal the angelic, sparkly white jumpsuit he wore underneath. On a few occasions he would amplify the effect even more by carrying an ultraviolet tube while singing the final lines.

Having been sceptical at first about Gabriel's expansion of his masquerades, the other band members began to see other merits apart from the raise of their incomes they caused. As Collins put it: "Our songs and words often had more to them than met the eye. They weren't regular rock and roll lyrics. So when Peter started coming in wearing these masks it was just an extension of the fantasy element."

Happy as fish, and gorgeous as geese

I have always felt that Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot were, in a way, two of a pair. The similar atmosphere that these two albums have, is mirrored in the similarity between their covers and even amplified by the fact that the cover of Nursery Cryme can be spotted on the back of Foxtrot's. Both are surrealistic paintings by Paul Whitehead, who was also responsible for the cover of Trespass, and both are painted in the same style. Still, the producers and engineers involved in the making of the two records are not the same, so it must have been the special chemistry between the band members that is responsible for that similar sound.

Nursery Cryme / Foxtrot / Trespass Covers

Genesis actually went through several producers before they ended up with David Hitchcock. They had wanted to continue working with John Anthony and David Hentschel, with whom they had recorded Nursery Cryme, but they were unavailable at the time. They then decided to produce themselves, while using only an engineer to take care of the technical side of recording the album, but that plan was vetoed by Charisma Records.

The first producer assigned to the band was Bob Potter, who had just worked with Bob Dylan and Bob Johnson, but he did not really like Genesis' music and left after a week. Tony Platt, an engineer with Island Records, was the second one to try, but the chemistry between band and producer did not really work out, causing him to leave rather soon as well. He was replaced by David Hitchcock and engineer John Burns (also from Island), the latter being a big fan of the group, while Genesis went on to co-produce the record. This combination did work out - both band and record company were pleased with the result - and according to Collins, Burns even managed to put some 'funk' into the album.

A flower?

All songs on Foxtrot are credited to all band members, although not everybody was equally involved in all of them. Watcher Of The Skies, for instance, was in essence written by Rutherford and Banks during a tour in Italy. The two had been staring out over the landscape at the back of a hotel in Naples. Banks talked about it in an interview: "It was totally deserted. It was incredible. We had the idea of an alien coming down to the planet and seeing this world where obviously there had once been life and yet there was not one human being to be seen." The track was road-tested before being recorded, after which the vocal line was changed considerably.

The scene for this tale about the alien visiting earth and observing how man has messed things up is set with delicious waves of mysterious mellotron strings (Banks bought his mellotron from King Crimson before the recording of Nursery Cryme). As the strings fade out in the background, a throbbing bass rhythm comes in, doubled by Hackett's typical, mean guitar sound, before they put down the main theme together with the organ. The song goes through some heavier and softer sections, which build up and release the tension in a great way, before ending with some mournful guitar wails and a thunderous drum roll. A great song!

Genesis Live Cover

The live rendition of this song actually made the alien theme even more tangible. Hackett said in an interview: "I remember at a gig in Italy, Tony started playing the mellotron introduction for Watcher Of The Skies. I was somewhere downstairs in a dressing-room when I heard this sound coming out which shook the foundations of this huge echoey stadium. It really sounded as if something was coming in to land."

Watcher of the Skies Single Watcher of the Skies Willow Farm

Watcher Of The Skies was released as a single a while after the release of Foxtrot. It came out in a different version than on the record in February 1973 and had Willow Farm as a B-side. The track had been made more radio-friendly by cutting away the entire intro and starting with the first verse right away. Also, the end was changed into a repetition of the line "Watcher of the skies" until it fades out. I believe that this version can be found on the third CD of the Genesis Archive 1967-1975 box set.

Tony BanksTime Table is built up around Banks's acoustic piano and is a lot gentler than Watcher Of The Skies, the verse ("Why?") being the most aggressive part of the track. The piano intro which seems to be doubling back upon itself is the most interesting part of the track, since the rest sounds a bit too "normal" for Genesis standards. Nice, but not that special. The lyrics are a somewhat philosophical reflection on the Middle Ages, but not really among the best Genesis have written, in my opinion. The song forms a bit of quiet before the storm that is Get 'Em Out By Friday.

Phil CollinsInspired by his own trouble with his landlord, Gabriel wrote Get 'Em Out By Friday as a protest song against the way landlords treated their tenants. It has the form of a radio play put to music and contains a range of different characters (one of which sounds suspiciously much like Collins doing a silly voice). The music of the track, going from aggressive, fast sections to calmly flowing ones and back again was largely a group effort. It contains some great bass, drums and organ playing and is among my favourite early-Genesis songs.

The largely underrated Can-Utility And The Coastliners was written in the rehearsal room and road-tested before it was recorded, just like Watcher Of The Skies. It is a story about King Canute, although I have read a theory that said that it is in fact about Gabriel himself; a singer wary of "flatterers" and of singing. The track contains some lovely bass pedal and mellotron sections. It also features one of the few guitar solos on the album. Great track!

Hackett had been suffering from a slight inferiority complex during the recording of the album as a result of his smaller contribution compared to the others when it came to writing music. Even though he did get more material onto Foxtrot than on the previous record, he was not feeling very content with myself as a fledgling song-writer. He thought he could do more than he did and was actually feeling that he should leave the band because of that. The others strongly disagreed, stating how much they appreciated his guitar work. The inclusion of his unaccompanied solo piece Horizons was, however, not just a concession to Hackett; it was a track all band members liked. Just like Time Table this classical guitar piece offers a nice resting point between the intensity of Can-Utility And The Coastliners and the "mammoth" Supper's Ready.

Not everybody in the band was that sure about whether the length of Supper's Ready would be appreciated by their audience. The fact that it was possibly as uncommercial (read: radio-unfriendly) as it got and might therefore be gunned down in reviews made some band members rather nervous, but since they were all very satisfied with the end result, they decided not to worry too much about that and just leave it as it was.

Tony Banks playing GuitarSome of the music of Supper's Ready was written at a doctor's house near Chessington, though most of it was written in the rehearsal room at Una Billing's School of Dancing in Shepherd's Bush with the banging of feet over their heads. It probably does not come as a complete surprise to hear that the track was a combination of a lot of different ideas. Willow Farm was originally a song that Gabriel had written that started off with a guitar piece of Banks's (Banks did also regularly play guitar at that time), which was turned into something that sounded a bit like The Musical Box. Banks thought it would be good to stop the song all of a sudden and then jump straight into Willow Farm because of its "great introduction." This sense of experimentation was used throughout the song; cutting and pasting all kinds of ideas together, not necessarily in a logical order, and jamming to fill in the gaps.

To me, Supper's Ready feels like a nightmarish dream - chaotic, patchy and in many respects a combination of reality, horror and fantasy - but the lyrics were actually based on a strange experience that Gabriel had had at some point. In an interview, he explained the background behind this strange song. "There was one particular incident which gave me the inspiration for 'Supper's Ready'. There was this room at the top of Jill's [Gabriel's wife] parents' house. This room was the coldest part of the house. I always used to get the shivers when I went in there. It was covered in strong purple and turquoise wallpaper. Everything was bright purple and turquoise. Anyway, we had this strange evening up there which ended with Jill feeling like she'd been possessed. It was extremely frightening. I don't know how to explain it - it was as if she had had a fit, or something. I experienced a sense of evil at that point - I saw another face in her face. I don't know how much of this was going on inside my head and how much was actually happening, but it was an experience I could not forget and was the starting point for a song about the struggle between good and evil."

While writing the lyrics, Gabriel had the feeling of being led by some force or other. He bases this assumption on the fact that there were a number of odd coincidences; unlikely facts suddenly coming to light, certain names suddenly leading to other things. He ended up reading the Book of Revelation in the Bible, which explains the presence of the apocalyptic part at the end of the track.

Lover's Leap, the first part of Supper's Ready, is a sparkling acoustic guitar piece about two lovers who get lost in each other's eyes. During a lovely, sensitive instrumental section, the song changes pace and subsequently flows into the more electrical The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man. This is a rather vague part in which a town is described which is dominated by two characters; one a benevolent farmer, the other (the Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man) the head of a highly disciplined scientific religion.

Ikhnaton and Itsacon and Their Band of Merry Men with its somewhat galloping pace, is about an army below the ground that is summoned to come to the surface by the Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man. This section contains a great guitar solo by Hackett, effectively visualising the following battle between good and evil. The enemy is slain and the army fades away in the distance until it cannot be heard any more.

Peter GabrielThe beginning of How Dare I Be So Beautiful? consists of waves of misty organ. Gabriel describes the deserted battle field where a solitary figure is sitting who is obsessed by his own image and spontaneously turns into a flower.

Willow Farm, on the other hand, is full of silly word play and has the sense of some psychedelic dream. The whole scene changes into a faster but no less strange interlude before this part of the song returns to its original theme.

Steve HackettHackett's electric guitar wails in the distance after which a very sensitive instrumental enfolds, born by a quivering flute solo, which erupts into the great Apocalypse in 9/8 (Co-Starring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchet). On the breath of the lovely organ solo by Banks, the song is directed towards various more and more inescapable climaxes. After the introduction of Gabble Ratchet (apparently the sound of wild geese that heralds the arrival of archangels, or something in that vein), the song comes to a grand, bombastic climax with Gabriel singing as if his life depends on it (which is exactly how he described it felt).

Gabriel actually recorded his vocals for the Apocalypse in 9/8 part in secret, since he knew that Banks had a very particular idea about how this part of Supper's Ready should sound.
"I made sure there was no-one else around when I recorded my part, because I knew that (a) I couldn't do some of the vocals very well and also I would be rather self-conscious, and (b) I was trying stuff that I knew some of the others wouldn't like. I knew that the keyboard solo was too long for the number. It was distracting. There was a great solo in there, but it needed editing. I thought that the only way that I could keep this number working was to get a vocal in. I worked for a long time to get it right. When the band came in - and they came in together, thank God, I made sure of that! - and I played them the tape, sure enough, Tony was outraged that I'd gone over his sacred solo. However the rest of the band were really excited by what I'd done and popular vote was always the deciding factor. There were the absurd manipulating tactics which we were all guilty of - but probably me, more than any other!" Banks had to admit that "[t]he vocals added drama, and I felt that, as a result, the song reached an incredible peak."

Mike Rutherford

In As Sure as Eggs is Eggs (Aching Mens' Feet) the tension is released in a huge sounding finale, with Hackett's guitar soaring majestically above it all, until everything fades away. We have returned to the lovers, who awake from their strange nightmare and feel their love for each other. Everything is back to normal.

There's an angel standing in the sun

Genesis Band PhotoCharisma boss Tony Stratton-Smith, after having heard the album for the first time, reputedly said "This is the one that makes their career," and he was right. Foxtrot reached a number 12 in the British charts and the subsequent tour took the band to America, where Gabriel's extravagant presentation caused Genesis' star to rise as well. The next two albums only helped to expand their following. However, the seeds for Gabriel's departure from the band after The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway tour had already been sown. The press had a large hand in this event. Banks expressed his discomfort with the inevitability of the situation in an interview. "There was a tendency to put the credit for things like Supper's Ready at Peter's door, which was just ridiculous because it was a group-written piece. It contained a lot of stuff that I wrote in university, so I was just really pissed off. That sort of thing made you feel antagonistic towards the guy himself, which was a shame, because we still got on very well as friends." Obviously, that proved to be insufficient.

Gonna blow right down inside your soul

If there would ever come a time in which it would be possible to freely use a time machine, I do not think that I would be the only one who would want to travel back to the early seventies in order to watch a Genesis concert. It would be quite an experience just to hear classics like The Musical Box, Watcher Of The Skies, Firth Of Fifth and Supper's Ready played by the people who originally recorded them and to see Gabriel's weird outfits and stage performance! Until that time, if it ever comes, I guess we will just have to make do with what we have got; a collection of LPs and/or CDs, some photographs and the few films that exist from their concerts. With that material, we can try to imagine what the Foxtrot tour must have been like and dream away once more on the waves of the intro to Watcher Of The Skies...

Written by Hester Stasse, September 2002

Sources (photographs and text):
The Book of Genesis - Hugh Fielder, 1984
Genesis - Janis Schacht, 1984
Peter Gabriel: an authorized biography - Spencer Bright, 1988
Genesis: a biography - Dave Bowler and Bryan Dray, 1992
Genesis - Petra Zeitz, 1992
The Complete Guide To The Music of Genesis - Chris Welch, 1995
The Official Genesis site
The Genesis Museum
Genesis FAQ

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