When you think of the band Genesis, Steve Hackett probably isn't the the first person who comes to mind.
Musicians Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, and Tony Banks were the faces of Genesis during the band's peak in the 1980s. If you're well-versed in early '70s art-rock, you're probably familiar with founding member Peter Gabriel’s elaborate costumes and outlandish live theatrics. And if you listen to The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and Selling England By The Pound — two of the group’s most popular albums from those symphonic rock years — Hackett's the one behind the guitar that binds Genesis’ early concept albums together.
Legend has it that the young player placed an ad in a music magazine seeking like-minded musicians who wanted to shatter the norms of music. Gabriel answered the ad and asked Hackett to join Genesis in 1970. Collins, who joined the group around the same time, is rumored to have said that since they could not get legendary King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, it was nice to have the next best guy playing with them.
Hackett left Genesis in 1977 just as the band left their prog-rock roots for the pop sound that would make them one of the biggest bands in the world. Hackett continued to work, releasing numerous solo albums over five decades and forming the supergroup GTR, famous for the anthem “When The Heart Rules The Mind,” with Yes’ Steve Howe in 1986.
The guitarist frequently revisits his work with Genesis when he tours. Diving into that original prog-rock catalog can be a daunting task for prospective concert attendees. To prepare curious listeners for Hackett’s upcoming appearance at The Van Buren on Sunday, February 25, we've put together a beginner’s guide to his contributions to Genesis.
Genesis took their name from the first book in The Bible, so it seems appropriate that the song that best embodies their prog-rock beginnings would be inspired by The Good Book’s catastrophic ending: Revelation.
There are seven movements in this nearly 23-minute song, which makes up most of side two of Foxtrot. (Note: “Horizons,” which precedes “Supper’s Ready,” is not the song’s introduction. It does, however, feature a lovely Hackett solo inspired by Bach.) It begins with a trio of 12-string guitars being played by Hackett, Banks, and Rutherford as Gabriel sings of a young couple experiencing otherworldly occurrences straight out of a Left Behind novel, including melting human bodies and Winston Churchill dressed in drag.
If the lyrics aren’t enough to make your head spin, the song is chock-full of complex time signature changes that require dexterous hands. In the above clip, you will see the band's tremendous focus as Gabriel, dressed as a flower, prances around on stage singing about the Antichrist. Hackett keeps his head down and does his job well throughout. His fingers traverse the guitar strings, painting an apocalyptic picture with every beautiful note he plays.
The song culminates into the grandest of finales: Christ returning to Earth to build The New Jerusalem. Hackett’s playing washes over the listener warmly, approximating the feeling of God’s unconditional love. It’s so elegant, it might make you believe in something bigger than yourself.
Genesis Live, 1973
“The Knife” was originally on Genesis’ second album, Trespass. Hackett was not a member of the group when the studio album was released in 1970, but he left his mark on this live version of the protest song three years later. The album was originally recorded for the syndicated radio program The King Biscuit Flower Hour, but it was never broadcast. The track, which is about a grisly revolution that ends with a new tyrannical leader taking power, served as the band’s encore for early live performances.
“The Knife” could be considered the world’s first progressive metal song, with Hackett’s staccato playing ramping up the excitement as the song builds toward its bloody end. If you had only experienced Genesis’ studio work, “The Knife” proved how well the band's skills held up performing in a live setting.
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, 1974
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is a doozy of a concept record conceived largely by Gabriel, and it would be his last with Genesis. The double album follows the surreal and spiritual adventures of a New York-by-way-of-Puerto-Rico graffiti artist named Rael. The album bounces from one bizarre sequence to the next, but slows down toward the end of side two with “Carpet Crawlers.”
After witnessing the scene described in the song’s title, Rael enters a dreamlike world and experiences peril, sex, love, and castration. He has reached a room full of people kneeling on the floor in what many believe is a metaphor for a church. They are trying to reach the candlelit feast waiting behind the door of the other side of this red room. During the chorus, Hackett’s guitar pulls the vocals of Gabriel and Collins across this mysterious passageway as they hauntingly intone the phrase “We’ve got to get in to get out.” His understated work on “Carpet Crawlers” makes the song stand out on a record overflowing with symbolism and ideas.
“I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”
Selling England By The Pound, 1973
One of the reasons why “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” was Genesis’ first hit was because it is among the few songs in the band’s progressive repertoire that clocks in under four minutes. That is a feat of restraint considering that Selling England By The Pound was the follow-up to the epic Foxtrot and its monumental centerpiece “Supper’s Ready.”
There's nary a Biblical reference in this little psychedelic ditty. Rather, it is about a simple English lawnmower with no aspirations to move beyond his life’s station. According to Banks in a video interview that was conducted for the album’s reissue, the song was inspired by a Beatles-esque riff Hackett had been playing on stage.
While the studio version of “I Know What I Like” has a radio-friendly length, most renditions on Genesis’ live albums balloon the single to epic proportions, incorporating portions of other songs into an extended jam. For example, on Seconds Out, which captured the band performing after Gabriel’s departure, you can hear what sounds like a clash between Hackett’s guitar and Banks’ keys. Hackett left the band as this album was being mixed, so it would seem that while Hackett won the battle onstage, Banks won the war.
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“Firth of Fifth”
Selling England By The Pound, 1973
Though Selling England By The Pound gave Genesis a hit single, the album also had its share of lengthy tracks. Merging art with rock is what helped Genesis gain a proper following, and this song fits nicely in that wheelhouse with its lyrics about sirens and spirits.
“Firth of Fifth” was largely conceived by Banks, which is why keyboards feature so heavily on the track. It is also structured like a jazz number, with each member of the band getting a chance to shine. Nearly six minutes into the 10-minute track, Hackett gains the floor and steals the show, laying down one of the finest guitar solos of his career. It ascends and dives much like the rolling hills of the Scottish countryside described in the lyrics Gabriel sings (the song’s title is a pun on the name of the mouth of the River Forth in Scotland, which is known as the Firth of Forth). His stellar work on “Firth of Fifth” proved that the seemingly reserved Hackett had just as much to say as his more extroverted bandmates.
Steve Hackett is scheduled to perform Sunday, February 25, at The Van Buren. Tickets are $35 to $85 and can be purchased on the venue’s website.