Friday, June 27, 2008

ALBUM REVIEW: Genesis - Selling England by the Pound

Classic Rock Albums Revisited - Genesis by Charlie Beers

In late 1972, as Genesis set about making its sixth album, Selling England by the Pound, Steve Hackett was becoming fed up with his role as the group's guitarist. He had already recorded two albums with the English prog-rock act-Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot-for which most of his compositions had been rejected. What's more, the group's keyboard-dominated music was providing him with few opportunities to stretch out as a guitarist. "At times, playing guitar in Genesis was very difficult," acknowledges Hackett. "You'd often have a very busy keyboard part, and the guitar had to be wedged in."

The band's lineup at the time certainly left little room for the guitar pyrotechnics for which Genesis would later be celebrated. The five-piece act consisted of Hackett and bassist Mike Rutherford, keyboardist Tony Banks, drummer Phil Collins and vocalist Peter Gabriel. Successfully integrating the artists' distinctive styles required a delicate balance. "You couldn't come in like Hendrix with the whammy bar and do a 'Star-Spangled banner' on too much of the stuff. It wasn't tolerated," says Hackett. "I had to try very hard to find guitar tones that would be subtle."

Hackett was about to be surprised, however. Not only would his compositional abilities be in demand for the making of Selling England by the Pound but his guitar talents would come to dominate the album, making it the most guitar-centric record of the group's oeuvre. Selling England by the Pound marked the rare occasion in which room was made for Hackett and Rutherford to assert themselves, both on lengthy, extended solos and at the forefront of the mix.

Although the sessions for Selling began auspiciously, it soon became clear that the band was in short supply of musical inspiration. Anticipating that most of his contributions would be rejected once again, Hackett had brought with him only "a number of little riffs that might go into people's songs," and an instrumental called "After the Ordeal."

"It was a hard album to write," says Rutherford. "We went in, and the first couple of days were fantastic. We just steamed off with ideas. The next month to six weeks we had to work a little harder."

One winner, however, was "Dancing with the Moonlit," and eight-minute, medieval-themed piece with politically pointed lyrics, which supplied the album's title. Beyond its provocative imagery, the song gave the band the opportunity to stretch out musically during a high-speed interlude that features some of the hottest soloing ever committed to record by Genesis.

"Once the song portion ran out, it caught fire musically, 'cause everyone was kind of willing to go with it-certainly Phil and I were," recalls Hackett. Collins was also supportive of Hackett's desire to employ two-handed tapping for some of the jam's swifter runs. "I think some of the group thought that it was a bit too 'muso' for the band and too technical," says Hackett. "There was a sense of wanting to play down technique and for everyone to be accompanists. But I wanted to be a soloist at that point and felt it needed to go up a gear."

There were other opportunities for the musicians to stretch out on Selling, however. Rutherford says that the lengthy instrumental passage in "The Cinema Show" was "a product of Phil, Tony and myself taking off on our own." However, Rutherford admits that, 25 years after recording the song, he'd be hard pressed to reconstruct the song's chiming introduction.

"I was going through my weird tuning era," he says, "which definitely made for strange harmonics. But I've forgotten the tuning! I could never play the start of 'Cinema Show' again. It was very weird."

Selling also gave Genesis its first single, the gently rolling "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)." Short enough to court airplay, the song hit the Top 30 in the U.K. and helped Selling become Genesis' first charting album in the U.S.

While "Wardrobe" was hardly a guitar opus, it did provide Hackett with some satisfaction. Just the previous year, when Genesis was working on Foxtrot, he had introduced it to the group as "a little guitar ditty," only to have it rejected.

"Phil and I were playing the riff, and some guys in the band thought it sounded too much like the Beatles, so we didn't do it," Hackett says. "When it came time to do Selling England by the Pound, Phil and I started playing the same riff, and everybody joined in. And it became our first hit Single. "I think the lesson was, if something sounds too much like the Beatles, you're probably on the right track."

Charlie is the owner of Gear-Vault a Used Music Equipment online auction site. And Gear-Monkey Musicians online Talk forum Both sites reflect his love for music and geared toward the music community.

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