Gimme Five: Songs where Genesis, well, sucked

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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.

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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 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

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

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

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

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.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, 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 U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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