Duke (1980) – Genesis

On 28 March 1980, Duke* was released. On this album, Genesis went back to jamming together instead of bringing in individual songs. Let’s take a look back on the album that produced the instant classic “Turn It On Again”.

Phil Collins became a songwriter

Genesis’ tour in 1978 had lasted a whole year. Because they were always on the road, Phil Collins’ marriage had fallen apart. So he wanted a break to save his marriage. Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford agreed and both of them released their first solo records. Phil Collins went to Canada, where his wife had moved to with their children. But he could not save his marriage and came back to England and sat alone in his home in Surrey. He spent the time by writing songs, something which he had never done before.

The band started jamming again

So when Genesis came together to write a new album in 1979, they had not worked together for a year. Tony and Mike came to Phil’s house and they started playing and writing new music. They were surprised to find that Phil had become more of a songwriter himself. So they all brought in songs individually, but more importantly, they went back to the process of just rehearsing and improvising. They had stopped doing that since Peter Gabriel’s departure. The new songs that came out of these sessions were very strong. They were modern and still typically Genesis.

Turn It On Again

Fans could get a taste when “Turn It on Again” was released as a single in early March 1980. The song became a classic Genesis song for the fans and for the band itself. “Turn It On Again” is central to Genesis’ history. It shows how good the three were getting at incorporating complex and challenging musical ideas into pop songs that would be played on the radio. Based on a riff of Mike’s, the song has an odd 13/8 time signature, but listeners do not realize until they start to clap along or tap their toes to it.

The song was played on every tour since its release. It became an instant classic and grew on every tour. It was mostly played as an encore and from 1983 onwards, the band turned it into a medley that incorporated various rock and roll cover songs. They also named a a hit collection after the song (Turn it on again: The Hits*) and when they announced their reunion tour in 2007 they titled it “Turn It on Again – The Tour.”*

On an album with outstanding songs, this weird, driving number had a special place. The single reached #8 in the U.K. charts and allowed the group to appear on Top of the Pops in person for the first time. The album itself was called Duke. It was released in late March 1980 and it was the band’s first number one album in the U.K.

“This is the story of Albert”

There is some kind of story behind the album, with its main protagonist Albert (who can also be seen on the album cover). The album opens with “Behind The Lines”, a grand musical odyssey. It starts with an euphoric instrumental passage and then turns into a soulful song. With an opener like this, Genesis showed proudly who they were in 1980. The trio showed again that they were (and are) the musical core of Genesis. They had created the most important passages of “Supper’s Ready”, the closing section of “The Cinema Show” and the main bulk of the album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.*

“Misunderstanding” was a hit in the US

But as mentioned, the three of them did also bring in individual songs on Duke. Phil’s songs were the very personal “Please don’t ask” and “Misunderstanding”, which was one of the first songs for Genesis he had ever written all alone. It is a sophisitcated pop song with direct, simple lyrics and a great swinging groove. The band sound like they enjoy the new influence. Funnily enough it was this song that became a Top Twenty hit in the US – a hint on Phil’s solo success in the future.

Tony Banks often named Duke one of his favourite Genesis albums and points out the song “Duchess”, which for him combines all the best elements of modern Genesis. It was their first song to feature a drum machine (many more would follow) and the song’s story can be seen similar to the band’s own story. It is one of Tony’s favourite Genesis songs and although it sounds very simple, for him it has as much emotion as “Supper’s Ready”.

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Face Value (1981) – Phil Collins

In February 1981, Phil Collins’ first solo album “Face Value” was released. It went straight to number 1 in the UK charts and to number 7 in the US. His debut was his gateway into superstardom and with “In The Air Tonight” it includes his signature track. So let’s take a closer look at the album that turned Phil Collins from Genesis front man into one of the biggest solo artists of the 1980’s.

Genesis touring life

By the time Phil Collins wrote the songs for what would become “Face Value“*, he was a broken man. The drummer of Genesis had become the singer of Genesis in 1976. In 1978, the group released the album “…And Then There Were Three“*, which included their first big hit single “Follow You Follow Me”. The group had become a trio: Tony Banks on keyboards, Mike Rutherford on guitar and bass and Phil Collins on drums and vocals. On “…And Then There Were Three” they had moved towards shorter, simpler songs with direct lyrics.

Following the album, the band went on a massive tour that also took them to Japan. Banks, Collins and Rutherford were joined by drummer Chester Thompson, who had played with them on the previous tour, and for the first time by Daryl Stuermer, who became their live guitarist and bassist after Steve Hackett had left the band. This five-piece group would be the Genesis (live) line-up until 2007 (with a short interruption in the 1990’s, but that is another story).

Phil’s wife Andrea told him that if he went on that tour, she and the kids would not be home when he returned. He went and she made her promise come true. In an attempt to save his marriage, Phil followed his family to Canada in 1979, but things did not work out and he returned to England alone.

A broken marriage

Phil spent his time alone in his house in Surrey and started to write songs to express his feelings. He sat down at the piano and played along to the drum machine while improvising lyrics. He had not really been a songwriter in Genesis up to that point. So when Tony, Mike and Phil got back together to record their 1980 album “Duke“*, Phil brought in some demos. Tony and Mike were surprised and liked his simpler, more direct approach. They chose two of his songs for Duke: The swinging “Misunderstanding” (which turned out to be a big hit in America) and the very personal, heartbreaking ballad “Please Don’t Ask”.

When band manager Tony Smith came to visit Phil and listened to the other demos, he suggested to put them out as a solo record. Mike and Tony had already released solo albums during his time in Canada in 1979. So Phil took his demos to producer Hugh Padgham, whom he knew from working together on a solo record of his old Genesis mate Peter Gabriel, and they turned them into an album. The album became hugely successful and is considered one of Phil’s best (or maybe THE best).

In The Air Tonight

The standout track is of course the opening track “In The Air Tonight”. Its dark, eery chords set the mood for the song and the whole album. The song builds up tension over an interesting drum machine rhythm that finally bursts when the real drums come in with the famous fill-in. The lyrics were mostly improvised and the drum fill was pure coincidence. Had they used another take, maybe another drum fill would be have been considered the most famous drum fill of all time. The song went to no. 2 in the UK charts and is a rock classic today. Live it has been celebrated even more and is presented even more powerful. It reaches another dimension and has always been the highlight in every Phil Collins show.

The Phenix Horns

But the album does not only consist of “In The Air Tonight”. The next single, “I Missed Again” is a funky, up-beat song that features a brass section: The Phenix Horns, who played with Earth, Wind And Fire. The horn sections would become a trademark of many of Phil’s solo hits over the decade. And it all started here on “Face Value”. The album was therefore his gateway to becoming a huge pop star.

Apart from the hits, the album shows Phil playing with different styles. The ballad “You Know What I Mean” is only him on piano and vocals. You couldn’t show your heart on your sleeve much more. And the instrumental “Hand In Hand” plays with influences from jazz and black music and was a great show opener in later years as it showcased the talent of every musician involved.

Everything that would define the solo artist Phil Collins was born on “Face Value” and is presented here in its purest and rawest form. Maybe that’s why many fans consider it one of Phil’s best albums. And unlike some of his other works, it definitely stands the test of time.

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