Once upon a time, Genesis used to be a progressive rock band. For those who think the band began with their 1986 crossover album, 'Invisible Touch', let's take a trip back in the way back machine to 1971. Back in the days of bell-bottom pants and when FM Radio actually meant something, Genesis was a progressive rock band. The band, which consisted of founding members Peter Gabriel (vocals), Tony Banks (keyboards) and Mike Rutheford (bass) had just released their third album, 'Nursery Cryme' with new members Steve Hackett (guitar) and Phil Collins (drums). 'Nursery Cryme' had given the band a bit of success in their native England and abroad (it reached #5 in the 1971 Italian album charts). The band was keen on maintaining their newly-found success.
The inspiration for songs that made up the band's fourth release, 'Foxtrot', came from everywhere. The opening track, "Watcher Of The Skies," was written during the 'Nursery Cryme' tour by Banks and Rutherford. According to Banks, the lyrics to the song were written "...in Naples at the back of a hotel, staring out over this landscape. It was totally deserted. It was incredible. We had the idea of an alien coming down to the planet and seeing this world where obviously there once had been life yet there was not one human being to be seen." "Can-Utility And The Coastliners", written primarily by Hackett, is based on the legend of King Canute, who supposedly ordered the seas to retreat to mock the servile flattery of his followers.
The album's signature track, the 23 minute epic "Supper's Ready", came from an experience that Gabriel had with his wife. "There was one particular incident that gave me the inspiration for Supper's Ready," Gabriel says, "There was this room at the top of Jill's (his wife) parents' house. The room was the coldest part of the house. I always used to get the shivers when I went in there. It was covered in strong purple and turquoise wallpaper. Everything was bright purple and turquoise. Anyway, we had this strange evening up there which ended with Jill feeling like she'd been possessed. It was extremely frightening. I don't know how to explain it - it was as if she had a fit, or something. I experienced a sense of evil at that point - I saw another face in her face. I don't know how much of this was going on inside my head and how much was actually happening, but it was an experience I could not forget and was the starting point for a song about the struggle between good and evil."
Musically, the album features each of the band members at their very best. Banks, the instrumental star of the Genesis show, shines with his odd-chord progressions and keyboard mastery. Rutherford is content to stay in the background and Hackett is still finding his way through the massive wall of keyboards. The "rising star" of the band at this point is Collins, with his drumming style matching perfectly to the landscape around him. Gabriel's lyrics are perfect for the "art rock" style that the band was firmly entrenched in, and his singing style is one that even today is unique and cannot be duplicated. The songs on 'Foxtrot are both "art" and "rock" in the purest sense of the word. The band can rock out when the song requires them to do so, but, thankfully, they've lost none of the English whimsey that made them so unique.
With artwork done by Paul Whitehead (his third and last one done for the group) based on the "Supper's Ready" lyrics, 'Foxtrot' was the band's first top 20 release in their native England, reaching #12. The album was also a big hit in Italy, as 'Foxtrot' reached #8 on their album charts as well. The album's place in progressive rock history, however, has been cemented as one of the best that the genre has to offer. Neither self-indulgent nor completely pretentious, 'Foxtrot' has stood the test of time to the point that, for many, 'Foxtrot' is not only the greatest Genesis album written, but the greatest progressive rock album ever made.