Gimme Five: Songs where Genesis, well, sucked

There was the Peter Gabriel era, the Phil Collins-led edition, and then that Ray Wilson album. We’re not getting into which one was better — only when Genesis didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Or, more particularly, when they didn’t even get close.These, friends, are the worst of the worst — and that’s all.

WHEN GOOD BANDS DO BAD THINGS
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Certain things within their established band narrative also went by the wayside: We didn’t ding the early albums for their sometimes cloying sense of very-British whimsy, nor their later albums when they settled for by-the-numbers reproductions of Collins’ solo ballad style. We wanted to delve into things far more egregious than those run-of-the-mill annoyances … the times when they didn’t seem to have an invisible touch. Whatever that means …

No. 5
I KNOW WHAT I LIKE (IN YOUR WARDROBE),” SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND (1973)

I know what I don’t like, too — and it’s this song, which finds a home here because so much of the Peter Gabriel/Steve Hackett era of Genesis music could be counted on, if for nothing else, to be strikingly inventive, winkingly droll, stunningly weird — or, as with “Return Of The Giant Hogweed,” all three at once. Not this one, a crushing disappointment on a terrific album. Just as plodding musically, “I Know What I Like” simply goes nowhere — and takes far too long to get there. Nevertheless, in a preamble to “Invisible Touch,” it became Genesis’ first charting single, going to No. 21 on the UK charts. Memorably, Collins used to pretend to beat himself silly with a tambourine during the lengthy instrumental segments added to this song in concert — though, regrettably, these exercises didn’t jar any epiphanies concerning its deletion from the set list.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Guitarist Steve Hackett discusses key contributions to Genesis, the short-lived supergroup GTR – and how he created the move that made Eddie Van Halen famous.]

No. 4
“INVISIBLE TOUCH,” INVISIBLE TOUCH, 1986

At the time, the knock on Invisible Touch was that it often sounded like left-over scraps from Collins’ earlier non-band smash No Jacket Required, and nowhere is that charge more successfully leveled than here — on the most empty-caloried, most popular song Genesis ever did. (The group had 17 Top 40 hits in the U.S., but this somehow became their lone No. 1.) Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks seem to be relegated to programmable sidemen, and even Collins’ drum parts sound mechanized. The results are something that, obviously, fail to approach the majesty and intrigue of classic Collins-era Genesis tracks like “Ripples” or “Trick of the Tail” — or, heck, even “Home by the Sea.” Worse, this makes nonsensical solo garbage like “Sussudio” (which at least had a passable groove) sound like genius-level stuff.

[FORGOTTEN SERIES: 'Face Value' serves as the turning point for Genesis, a rapidly metamorphosing prog band that was reborn after Gabriel's departure — even while it defines Collins as a solo artist.]

No. 3
“CONGO,” CALLING ALL STATIONS, 1997

It’s simply not a good idea to use slave imagery in a song ostensibly set in Africa. That alone not only gets you on this list, but nudges you past “Invisible Touch” — no small feat. Even setting aside that stunning lyrical misfire, however, this dud of a single sent Genesis out with a decided whimper. Some blame the absence of Collins on what apparently will become the group’s studio finale. But, actually, Ray Wilson’s lanquid, midnight-blue vocals worked well with the more traditionally prog-inspired moments here, recalling Genesis’ earliest days with Peter Gabriel. The problems arose when, as on this song, the band attempted to scale the pop charts. Calling All Stations wanted to have it both ways and, in so doing, Genesis (which now lacked Collins’ unerring sense for radio-friendly confections) ended up doing neither well. It’s a shame because, given more consistent material, Wilson might have worked out.

[GUILTY PLEASURES: If it didn’t have the “Genesis” legacy to live up to, would I have enjoyed 'Calling All Stations' anyway? I've decided that yes, I likely would have - and so I did.]

No. 2
“WHO DUNNIT?,” ABACAB, 1981

You’ll certainly be asking “who dunnit” by the time Collins descends into never-ending concentric circles of “weknowweknowweknowweknow” on this song. Yes, who indeed did it? As in, who wrote this? Who approved its inclusion on an official release by a band that would one day be counted amongst Rock and Roll Hall of Famers? Who agreed that it should be performed — ever — on stage? (And they did, often.) Who got fired over this? Because somebody should have been. Even if it was simply a fall guy like, say, Daryl Stuermer. We as fans need some kind of restitution, a show of good faith. After all, between its teeth-splintering cadences, you might in fact be moved to commit all manner of crimes before “Who Dunnit” finally, mercifully ends. Oh, and when it does, you’ll notice that everything slows to a grinding stop — as if the effort to sound so awful has completely drained everyone in Genesis. Us, too.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Guitarist Steve Hackett talks about his lasting passion for Genesis, collaborating with Chris Squire and the deep impact of Bach.]

No. 1
“ILLEGAL ALIEN,” (GENESIS, 1983):

There are some who might make an argument for one of those wearyingly omnipresent Collins soft-rock piffles in this spot, but tracks like “In Too Deep” and “Hold On My Heart” (as money-grabblingly absurd as they were, considering Collins already had a solo outlet for them) have nothing on this. It’s not just the unlistenably annoying melody. Not just the video’s jarringly racist, tequila-swilling, sombrero-wearing caricatures of Latinos — and that’s limiting the commentary to costumes worn by Banks, Collins and Rutherford, by the way. Not just the profoundly wrong-headed theme that makes light of the Faustian choices made every day in these situations. No, it’s kinda all of that. Then there’s a singalong! Much has been made of Genesis’ sharp turn away from prog in the 1980s. If you’re searching for that mythical jump-the-shark moment, look no further than Track 5 of Genesis.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.

14 Comments

  1. Wow, I haven’t heard “Who Dunnit” in years! The lyrics are pretty repetitive and irritating. “Invisible Touch” is a good call as well–talk about 80s overproduction! It’s not their finest songwriting attempt, either. But I have to disagree somewhat on “Illegal Alien”–yes, the video is totally racist (particularly by today’s standards); at the very least, it looks as though it was shot on the cheap. But I actually like the song itself–it does stick in the memory, and it’s overall pretty catchy. Obviously it’s not representative of their finest work, but I kind of like it in a guilty pleasure sort of way.

  2. Your ****ing kidding me. Invisible Touch is a great song!

  3. Your Own Special Way, More Fool Me and I Can’t Dance are all worse than any of these, except Illegal Alien.

    And Whodunnit is great: deliberately abrasive and minimalist, just like most of Abacab, an album which is more inventive than anything else Genesis did under Collins.

  4. I really enjoy this series of articles. Personally, I think that “Who Dunnit?” should be at the top of the list, and I think I would have stuck “I Can’t Dance” in place of “Invisible Touch” simply because the latter, in my opinion, has a theme that listeners might identify with and is listenable. And while “Illegal Alien” is an awful song, I find it so awful that it’s hilarious in that way that so many movies from the same period were. I mean, come on — the “hook” is “It’s no fun / being an illegal alien.” That doesn’t even rhyme and it’s almost like this was supposed to be a joke. Some of the other lyrics, unfortunately, make it seem pretty clear that Genesis wanted the song to be taken seriously as a comment on the sad plight of the undocumented Latin American in the U.S. in the early 1980s. Still, it’s pretty funny at times. And also pretty awful.

  5. Martin Wagner says:

    Invisible Touch and Illegal Alien, definitely. Congo is awkward but not among their worst. Who Dunnit has become a guilty pleasure over the years. And sorry, I Know What I Like is a classic.

    How you could have possibly missed Anything She Does and Just a Job to Do is beyond me. Those are far more deserving of inclusion on a list of Genesis flubs.

    • Though I like the horn lift from “Paperlate,” “Anything She Does” is, indeed, complete crap — and would certainly have made my next five. After all, the J. Geils Band had already released a go-to pop song about a pervy long-distance thing for a pinup, right?

      “Just a Job to Do,” on the other hand, sounds like “Firth of Fifth” compared to the unmitigated dreck that rounds out my list.

  6. Five? Only Five??
    I could name a hundred and fifty-five, and that is not all…

    …the headline should have been: Five songs where Genesis did NOT suck – this would be VERY hard to tell…

  7. simon janis says:

    I can go along with most of these except for ‘I know what I like’–but IMHO their worst ever was ‘silver rainbow’…geez!

  8. Well, i knew i was a big-time life-long die-hard “all-eras” Genesis fan, but i really gotta disagree with some of these..

    I like the *music* of “Silver Rainbow” but have to agree it’d be a better fit on this list than, say, “Who Dunnit?” IIRC, it was none other than Ahmet Ertegun who made the call that WD? should stay on Abacab, rather than, say “Do the Neurotic”, which is just a glorious little prog-pop instrumental.. And though i like to think i wouldn’t have made the same call, WD? fits in with the New Wave-like gist of the album.. Like Teaflax, i’d much rather listen to WD? than Your Own Special Way. (Sorry, Mike R.!)

    Martin, i agree that IKWIL is a classic, but how you can’t find anything to like in Anything She Does or Just a Job to Do is beyond me! There’s an energy to both that would work well on a “for the gym” type of mixtape…

    And i’ve always loved “Illegal Alien”… And when it came out i don’t remember anyone saying it was “racist” or whatever. As i recall it, people weren’t yet worried about being so Politically Correct just yet….

    I never noticed the difficulties with “Congo”. To this listener, “Dividing Line” is the relative highlight of CaS — but Congo and Shipwrecked ain’t all that shabby, either……

    LOL Haha, well, OK — i wouldn’t like *go out of my way* to listen to Shipwrecked, but if it came on at the dentist’s office i’d be all into it! ^_^

  9. Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records (spelling?) actually kind of pushed them to put on “Who Dunnit?” I like the song as a silly joke but they replaced “Evidence of Autumn” (I believe) with this tune! Huh.

    • Yes, Eric B — i’d seen that in a documentary as well. I think Tony or Phil was retelling the story, saying that Ahmet had told them “you have to keep *that* song on the album” — and by “that” song, they all knew he meant “Whodunnit?”. :)

    • (…would have been a much better album with EoA on there, though, IMO.)

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