Gosh, where do I start? A dozen won’t cover it. Twenty? They have released 15 studio albums, so a lot of choices.
Let’s see. Below you will not see a lot of the hit singles, for two reasons. When the band started hitting the pop charts with “Follow You Follow Me” I was fearful the essence of Genesis would change. After that, they wrote quite a few songs that become singles as they hit on a formula that was ideal for radio and MTV. While I enjoyed some of these songs, they were played to death. Genesis was a band with a great sense of musicianship. Even when they were theatrical (Peter Gabriel) and pop (Phil Collins), these were skilled musicians, who at one time, were adventurous. The band changed when lead singer Gabriel left, and then when guitarist Steve Hackett departed.
I have attempted to provide a bit of commentary for each choice. Just my opinion, but you should know why I chose the songs.
“Watcher of the Skies” Foxtrot (1972) I’ve always liked the heaviness of this song, the big Mellotron sound. The live version is pretty cool. The band was finding its sound. The songs would get even better.
“I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” Selling England By the Pound (1973) Another song that would stick in the live set for years. It is a great singalong song.
“The Firth of Fifth” Selling England By the Pound (1973) This song has more change of directions than Lombard Street in San Francisco. The wondrous part of this song is the super-long guitar solo by Hackett. Genesis would miss Hackett when he left. This solo is exquisite, it is very organic, not showy or contrived.
“More Fool Me” Selling England By the Pound (1973) This is the second Collins’ solo vocal performance with Genesis. It is a soulful acoustic song, not the usual Genesis type of song.
“After the Ordeal” Selling England By the Pound (1973) The piano and nylon string guitar interplay is magical. This album is full of such treasures that show off the musicianship of Banks and Hackett.
“The Cinema Show” / “Aisle of Plenty” Selling England By the Pound (1973) These songs flow together, but they are not connected, so you have to listen to two separate files. “The Cinema Show” remains one of staples of their live show.
“The Carpet Crawlers” The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) This is good version, but the live version is best. I am not sure of the context in the album’s context, but the easygoing melody and vocals are quite attractive.
“It” The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) The last song on what many feel is the all-time great Genesis album. I disagree. “It” is a big, soaring rock song. I’ve always loved this song. Genesis could rock when they were done being artsy or weepy.
“Ripples” A Trick of the Tail (1976) A lot of people overlook this song, which was the first Genesis song I remember. I liked the different sections of this song, particularly the 12-string guitars and the long instrumental second half of the song. This was a type of song that immediately appealed to me: progressive rock.
“A Trick of the Tail” A Trick of the Tail (1976) I have always loved the simple rhythm of this song with the guitar, bass and piano working together. The long fade-out uses synthesizers in a clever way to evoke middle earth type beings.
“Blood on the Rooftops” Wind and Wuthering (1976) This was more difficult than I imagined, as “One For the Vine” runs a close second on the album. Wind and Wuthering is not one of my favorite Genesis albums, it is fine, but not a spectacular one. Steve Hackett was nearing the end of his time with the band as his fingerprints on this and the previous album were light. The two songs I have noted are melodic without being sappy, retaining strong instrumental cores. “Blood on the Rooftops” was co-written by Hackett and Collins.
“Down in the Motherlode” And Then There Were Three (1978) The first album as a trio. The progressive side of the band was starting to give way to shorter, more mainstream rock tunes. They were reaching for a larger audience. This a soaring, pounding keyboard song, go west young man. Adventure and reward awaits you. The has a big sound, the bass is prominent as Rutherford wrote the song.
“The Lady Lies” And then There Were Three (1978) Written by Banks and Rutherford, the song feels as if sections were assembled. This song soars, it is thunderous at times, and the one minute extro is glorious. Banks’ keyboard playing is amazing, especially the piano fills.
“Behind the Lines” Duke (1980) Credited to all three members of Genesis, it’s an uptempo song that is more R&B than rock. That might be the reason Collins re-recorded the song for his first solo album and funked it up wit horns. Both versions are good.
“Please Don’t Ask” Duke (1980) A lush ballad, a preview of what the world would hear from Collins over the next two decades. Phil can dial-up the romantic sorrow without getting too sappy. Genesis was getting good at the rock ballads. Duke is full of of good songs, this is really a keyboard symphonic album.
“Keep It Dark” Abacab (1981) This album was a bit of a shift, Rutherford’s guitar was rougher and more front and center in the mix on several songs, but Genesis was now a synth and drum echo band that would drive the 1980s.
“That’s All” Genesis (1983) The opening piano and drum beat create a nice hook. This is a fast and slow song, Genesis covers a lot of ground.
“Silver Rainbow”/“It’s Gonna Get Better” Genesis (1983) The sound effects that start the song set you up for something different, a pounding industrial song. These two songs flow together through a number of time and style changes. Unfortunately, I cannot find one video file that contains both songs, so you get two films. These songs are about as close to progressive rock as it gets without sounding like a caricature. A great way to end a very successful album.
“Throwing it All Away” Invisible Touch (1986) Finally, a little guitar on a Genesis song. This is the one song on this multi-platinum album that does not sound like a Phil Collins solo record. This song stands on its own, not a weepy ballad or an echo chamber.
“Hold On My Heart” We Can’t Dance (1991) The kind of song Collins was expert, the brooding, romantic ballad. Rutherford and Banks excel with the melodic fills. It is hard to believe that it has been 30 years since these three guys made new music together. The We Can’t Dance album was not quite the slick and predictable set of songs, it had a harder edge and seemed less “hit” oriented.
“Driving the Last Spike” We Can’t Dance (1991) Clocking in at over ten minutes, this is quite an epic. It is really two songs in one. A gentle guitar-drive opening, then it shifts gears, bouncing back and forth between the quiet introspective and the bashing up-tempo segments.