This was the album where Genesis turned the corner as songwriters. This would also be their finest album of the classic period: Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Steve Hackett.
By turning the corner, I mean they became very accomplished songwriters, beginning with this album through the end of the decade, Genesis could produce the best progressive-rock of the musical genre. Their earlier albums were hit and miss songs but often not very compelling songs. Genesis would produce one more studio album with Gabriel before he bolted for a solo career. The second best Genesis album during the 1970s was A Trick of the Tail, the first album after Gabriel left.
At the time, Genesis was still a mystery in the U.S., but the album did very well in their native England, and “I Know What I Like” was even a charting single. The U.S. distribution got better when the band landed on Atlantic Records, a heavyweight label, who also had Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes in the progressive rock genre.
After the previous Foxtrot album and long tour, the band took a few months to concentrate on new material. Foxtrot received a very positive review by critics, but outside of “Supper’s Ready,” it’s not that memorable of an album. Selling England By the Pound is still dense lyrically, but contains some amazing instrumental sections. This was an album constructed in the studio by combining pieces and riffs from a variety of band members. Gabriel wrote the lyrics and contributed the album’s title, which reflected the shift toward the more commercial American audience. Musical groups of the 1960s had already commented on the waning of England on the world stage and the disappearance of the traditional English way of life. Genesis was merely driving another nail into what many felt the decline of the English culture.
All songs were credited to the band. The album was produced by Genesis and John Burns. Engineered by Burns and Rhett Davies (Roxy Music).
No. Title Length
- “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” 8:02 “Can you tell me where my country lies.” The opening line of the album. The song has a predominant musical theme that repeats through various reincarnations. The song gives Gabriel a vocal spotlight before the big, robust sound, which follows. Eight minutes of supreme progressive rock. Every band member gets a moment in the spotlight on this song without the grandiose soloing.
- “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” 4:03 One of their most endearing songs and a concert favorite for thirty years. The chorus is one of the best in any Genesis songs, fans sing along to it in concert. Musically, it one of the best songs they produced of their early period.
- “Firth of Fifth” 9:36 A killer piano opening by Banks, it is a memorable piece of music. His classic training pays off. This is a mini symphony, with bright, imaginative sections. Normally, writing songs in a patchwork fashion doesn’t add up to much, here it does. The middle part sounds like it could be from King Crimson. This is very much Banks’ song, his piano is everywhere with vital sections, that evolve into synth and phased guitar solos. Somehow all of these brilliant sections tie together.
- “More Fool Me” 3:10 Written by Collins and Rutherford, and lead vocals by Collins. With bare instrumentation, mainly 12-string guitar, Collins sings a tender ballad. He regularly contributed backing vocals, but this was his second solo vocal performance. Collins showed that he was up to the task.
No. Title Length
- “The Battle of Epping Forest” 11:43 The song starts with a march, then builds. The story is of modern day rival gangs. This is a grand piece, probably my least favorite song, it is theater, which Genesis was moving away from.
- “After the Ordeal” (instrumental) 4:07 Brilliant piano and acoustic guitar duet. This is mainly Hackett and Banks. It is a superior melody, that transforms into electric guitar, piano, bass and drums, in a bluesier version.
- “The Cinema Show” 11:10 Another epic story song, soft playing over the intro, piano and guitar. This grand song has been a concert staple sine it debuted. The song shifts style at midpoint into a faster instrumental with keyboards taking the melody line, through variations of keyboard instruments, Banks has a grand time soloing, but he’s creative during the five minute instrumental end to the song. As it fades out…
- “Aisle of Plenty” 1:30 “The Cinema Show” segues into this song, an acoustic guitar and organ, with Gabriel singing softly, the song ends with a haunting choir-like background and multiple voices repeating in a frantic means. A lot of emotion in just 90 seconds of song.
The album only reached number 70 on the Billboard chart but achieved Gold status.
Steve Hackett, who left the band in 1978, celebrates this period more than any band member. He tours in support of the album, forty-six year later.
“Musically, the band went up a notch,” Hackett told the Arizona Republic. “I think the first track, ‘Dancing with the Moonlit Knight,’ is the best Genesis track of all time because it goes through so many changes. It’s prototype prog. We go through a Scottish plains song to something anthemic and Elgarian. You go through fusion. You get hints of Mozart, hints of Mahavishnu Orchestra. You get all sorts of stuff in there.”
If you enjoy prog-rock and like Genesis, give this album a listen.