On 3 October 1983, Genesis released their self-titled album Genesis.
Since the band had released Abacab two years before, Phil Collins had become a successful solo artist with his first two albums Face Value and Hello, I Must Be Going. So from their next album as a band, ‘the press expected a Genesis LP to be Face Value with louder keyboards’1. The group’s answer was the new album’s first single ‘Mama’, released in Britain in August 1983, not only uniquely Genesis in style and sound, but also new and innovative: Genesis biographers Bowler & Dray write that ‘in a chart filled with Culture Club, Wham, Spandau Ballett and similar pop stuff, it stood out a mile.’2
The song reached no. 4 in the UK charts. Starting with a distinctive drum machine pattern programmed by Mike Rutherford, the beat is then joined by Tony Banks’ synthesizer noises that remind of ‘the fluttering rotors of a probing helicopter’3. Music journalist Chris Welch thinks that ‘the song smokes and reeks with atmosphere’ and that Phil, as he starts singing ’emerges from a harsh, cruel soundscape to offer the plaintive cry of a lost soul wandering abroad in the city.’4 The picturesque lyrics about the protagonists’ addiction with a prostitute are accompanied by Phil’s ‘famous maniacal laugh and accompanying growl’5, inspired by Grandmaster Flash’s ‘The Message’, which producer/engineer Hugh Padgham had played in the studio. In ‘Mama’, the lyrics’ ‘hint of evil and despair is assuaged by Tony Banks’ spiritual chords’6 before the real, heavy drums set in and lead into the song’s finale.
After the release of what became a milestone in the Genesis catalogue, the album Genesis followed on 3 October 1983, taking the band onto another level of popularity and success. The album opens with ‘Mama’ and is followed by the albums’ next single ‘That’s All’, described by Tony Banks as ‘Beatle-ish’7. ‘That’s All’ was the first American Top Ten hit for Genesis.
Home By The Sea/Second Home By The Sea
The successful, but very different songs are followed by a typical long Genesis epic presented in two parts: ‘Home by the Sea’ and ‘Second Home By The Sea’, soon to become a fan favourite and a live classic.
Starting with a guitar riff by Mike, the lyrics of the song, written by Tony Banks, tell the story of a haunted house. Phil brilliantly delivers the tale ‘about images, memories, nostalgia and dreaming’ with the repeated call ‘Sit down!’ during the chorus. A short quiet passage with a melody by Tony interrupts the song, then they retell the ghostly tale once more. The quiet passage sets in again, before the song launches into ‘Second Home By The Sea’, a long instrumental song based on the heavy drum riff by Phil.
Just like on Abacab, Phil’s drums sound very prominent in the mix, this being a result of him and engineer Hugh Padgham working together. The two of them had developed Phil’s trademark drum sound of the 1980s during the sessions of Peter Gabriel’s third album Peter Gabriel from 1980 and then worked on Genesis and Phil’s solo albums together, with the drum sound becoming the basis for Phil’s first groundbreaking single ‘In The Air Tonight’.
‘Second Home By The Sea’ is a typical example of how the group worked and wrote music at that point. Phil started playing the iconic drum riff and the trio jammed on it. Tony remembers that ‘we listened back to it and clocked the parts we liked, learnt what it was we’d played and then repieced it back together’, which ‘was another new way of working, and something we couldn’t have done without the comfort of our own studio.’8 Before recording Abacab, the band had bought the Fisher Lane Farm in Surrey. Abacab was the first album to be recorded and produced in their new own studio. Having the time and space to work without pressure and jam together contributed to the musical evolution of the band.
The Farm and the method of putting together ‘Home by the Sea’ and its instrumental follow-up ‘Second Home by the Sea’ can be seen in the home video Making of the Mama Album:
The instrumental ‘Second Home by The Sea’ has, for biographers Bowler & Dray ‘all the hallmarks of the early Genesis’9 and music journalist Chris Welch compares it to ‘violent storms [that] seem to batter the home by the sea.’ He also points out ‘the pristine clarity of the production, the fury of the drums and magical mixture of keyboard and guitar effects.’10 In the end, Phil returns to the microphone and sings the haunting chorus one last time, before the first side of the self-titled LP ends. For many, this is one of the best A sides Genesis has ever produced.
During live performances of ‘Home By The Sea/Second Home By The Sea’, Phil often told ghost stories before the song and tried, together with the audience, try to reach the other world. This made him able to ‘deflate the hugeness of the arena with some humour, mocking the traditional rock poses’, something which he thinks is ‘very important […] if you have dramatic songs.’11
In comparison, side B of Genesis is not as brilliant as side A. It starts with another hit for the band, ‘Illegal Alien’, a rather embarrasing song that is nevertheless full of interesting sound effects like trumpets, telephone sounds or car motors. It is accompanied by a ‘light hearted, semi-comic video’12 and would probably be called ‘politically incorrect’ not only from today’s point of view.
Other highlights among the songs on the B side is ‘Silver Rainbow’, a weird song with Tony Banks’ handwriting all over it, that can only come from Genesis, and ‘It’s Gonna Get Better’, a song that starts ‘with an atmospheric Banks chord sequence – shades of Watcher of the Skies – under which a soulful bass line kicked in.’13
The album itself was called by Rolling Stone ‘their safest album to date’14. Phil Collins biographer Johnny Waller thinks that by this album, ‘the band had developed a unique style of blending together their own individual musical inputs to create a forever-shifting group sound.’15 Chris Welch sees the choice of the title as a hint for ‘an obvious pride and confidence in the project.’ He also calls it ‘one of the most impressive albums of the early Eighties.’16
Genesis on tour in 1983 and 1984
Following the album, the band went on tour in 1983 and 1984. The new songs were well received live, especially ‘Mama’, where Phil did the laugh over a green light, just like Peter Gabriel used to do it as Old Henry in performances from ‘The Musical Box’. On ‘Illegal Alien’, a choir of roadies joined the band onstage (everyone in sunglasses) and ‘Home By The Sea’/’Second Home By The Sea’ became even more grandiose live.
The concerts in Birmingham were filmed for a live video The Mama Tour. One of the Birmingham gigs got a royal touch when the Prince and Princess of Wales, fans of the group, attended the show. The concert film was also broadcast on the newly established music channel MTV.
MTV helped to spread the band’s success. There were so-called ‘Genesis MTV Video Weekends’, where Genesis and Phil Collins videos and concerts were broadcasted.
After the tour was finished, the three band members returned to their solo work. Their next two albums as a band, Invisible Touch and We Can’t Dance were to make them rock superstars. And MTV and the music videos had a great influence in that.
Banks, Tony; Collins, Phil; Gabriel, Peter; Hackett, Steve; Rutherford, Mike; Dodd, Philip (2007): Genesis. Chapter & verse. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Griffin.
Bowler, Dave; Dray, Bryan (1992): Genesis. A biography. London: Sidgwick & Jackson.
Platts, Robin (2007): Genesis. Behind the lines, 1967-2007. Burlington, Ont., Canada: Collectors Guide Pub.
Waller, Johnny (1985): The Phil Collins story. London, Port Chester, N.Y.: Zomba Books.
Welch, Chris (2005): Genesis. The complete guide to their music. London: Omnibus Press.