Why Genesis's Lyrics Were Great -- or Awful

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Phil Collins recently announced he'd be open to touring with his former Genesis bandmates again, and those of us who love the band rejoiced. No matter the lineup, the English prog-pop group always possessed some of rock music's most skilled musicians. The extended instrumental breaks alone on some Genesis songs are breathtaking.

But one thing always bothered me about them: the lyrical content. Genesis wasn't known for writing challenging lyrics. Maybe not a problem on modern-day radio, but at a time when Rush, the Police and Talking Heads were writing thoughtful and evocative songs, this shortcoming was sometimes painfully obvious.

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But thankfully, not always. Rocks Off boasts at least two Genesis fans, the other being Corey Deiterman.

We decided to team up to point-counterpoint our best and worst examples of Genesis lyrics. I play the baddie here, with many and profuse apologies to my pal Warren Najarian, who is still the biggest Genesis fan I know, Corey notwithstanding. Just know my harsh words are only tough love for a band of beloved brothers I'm eager to see onstage once more.


"DODO/LURKER"
One thing about Genesis' lyrics: they create good Internet fodder. I Googled this one and songmeanings dot com or some such site had a "Dodo/Lurker" thread. People who are apparently a good degree smarter than I am explained the song was about a) a submarine; b) bullets; c) "anthropocentric arrogance toward non-human life."

For my part, I was just amazed to learn Collins is singing the words "Dog-baiter, agitator" at the song's opening. All these years I've been singing "Darth Vader, agitator." J.S.J.


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FLY ON A WINDSHIELD
Many of Genesis' earlier compositions were so much prog-rock fluff lyrically that they were either incomprehensible or utterly ridiculous, to the point where even the band later expressed embarrassment about them. It was on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway when front man Peter Gabriel changed all that and came into his own as a storyteller and lyricist.

Gabriel is well-known in his solo career for his deeply intelligent and introspective lyrical content. While Lamb shows him still deep into the fantastical aspects of fiction, it has some real shining moments like "Fly on a Windshield," which paints the perfect picture of someone arriving in New York for the first time and being captivated by the sights and sounds of the city.

In the story of the album, this person is Rael, but it's well-known that the story is at least semi-autobiographical and it's not hard to imagine it's what the English-born Gabriel felt the first time he touched down in NYC. C.D.


INVISIBLE TOUCH
Invisible Touch, the album, was released in June 1986, a month after Peter Gabriel's So. Each has at least one song describing a lover. Lyrically, "Invisible Touch" is to "In Your Eyes" as Hop on Pop is to "Ode to a Nightingale." In one, someone's heart is touched. In the other, the doorway to a thousand churches is opened in someone's eyes. Pretty sure you could guess which is Keats and which is Seuss. J.S.J.


ANYWAY
You could really tell on The Lamb where Peter Gabriel was headed as a lyricist, as the story often took detours to wax poetic on philosophical subjects. "Anyway" is a perfect example of where the plot stalls so Gabriel can reflect a little bit.

"How wonderful to be so profound," Gabriel says in sprechgesang, "when everything you are is dying underground." It relates to the plot, but also to Gabriel himself. He's trying to make a statement with this record, but for all his profound statements, he isn't reaching the people. It's one of the deeper lyrical endeavors of Gabriel's career and it comes accompanied by the perfect musical representation. C.D.


I CAN'T DANCE
This song makes no sense to me unless I am watching the video made for it. Which begs the question: which came first, the song or the video? I mean, obviously the song was written and recorded first, but were the lyrics written specifically to one day be taken as literally as they are in the video?

At best, its a series of vignettes about a guy with self-esteem issues roaming from the Australian outback (where else you gonna find a gator in the dry heat?) to the beach and the pool hall. At worst, it was the script to a video in waiting. J.S.J.


The battle continues on the next page.

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3 comments
ann71902
ann71902

I must be as big a fan of Genesis and Phil Collins as your pal Warren. While you rooted around for the biggest Genesis klunkers (I agree Whodunnit and Illegal Alien are among their worst), they otherwise have amazing lyrics. Just a few examples:

Follow You, Follow Me - so simple and yet not cheesy. Hard to do.

In the Cage - "I got sunshine in my stomach." Need I say more.

Afterglow - "Like the dust that settles all around me, I must find a new home." One of the most beautiful songs ever written.

Ripples. In fact, almost all of theĀ "A Trick of the Tail" album.

Duke. Entirely pure genious lyrically and musically. (Including "Guide Vocal" the best shortest song ever written.)

"Throwing It All Away" - Both a lovely, simple break up song (but with a little eff you subtext - "who will light up the darkness, who will hold your hand, who will find you the answers when you don't understand" being the eff you component.) Fabulous little bitterness mixed in with the sweet.

Me and Sarah Jane

I could go on but won't. Genesis are kings.

CoryGarcia
CoryGarcia moderator

Can we all agree that "The Knife" rules?

tishsendejas
tishsendejas

Those are all great examples, Ann. I agree, Trick of the Tail has some of Genesis' best lyrics and music..Dance on a Volcano, Squonk and Ripples are all some of my favorites. (Warren's got a good Ripples story, ask him about it if you ever meet him :) Good point on In the Cage. I had to go listen to The Knife, Cory, LOL. I like it, but my tune frim that Genesis era is Harold the Barrel. That song kills me everytime. And, full disclosure, since i trashed "Whodunnit" ive listened to it six or eight times since then. Lyrics be damned, its catchy as hell.

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