London 1980: Genesis Bootlegs


Genesis, 1980 — and this time it’s personal.

By the time I was discovering rock music as a young lad in the late-‘70s, the ‘classic’ era was already over and its surviving big beasts were fast mutating into something altogether cuddlier and more house-trained. Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door featured as much piano as guitar and even a flirtation with synth-pop. Tormato by Yes offered up nine songs (and an awful album cover), only three fewer than the total number of tracks on their previous three releases, one of which was a double. Perhaps oddest of all was Pink Floyd — plus schoolchildren — with the Christmas number one single in 1979.

I got into Genesis sometime in 1978 — or possibly 1979 — via And Then There Were Three. Within a few months I had caught up with their back catalogue. Duke, released in March 1980, was the first Genesis album that came out in ‘real time’, as it were.

Their approach to writing some of the tracks that ended up on Duke has echoes of the pre-Trespass days, this time with Phil’s home substituting for Richard Macphail’s parents’ cottage in Surrey where much early writing and rehearsing had been done. It was collaborative and spontaneous, and came about in part, perhaps, because of the lack of individual material to hand. With Phil away trying to rescue his marriage, Tony and Mike had both released solo albums. On his return Phil, too, had begun writing and recording material that eventually became Face Value.

The Armando Gallo book, my Genesis bible at the time, ends in 1979 with talk of an extended piece of music, which this young fan — who was playing Seconds Out to death at this point — naively interpreted as a return to musical adventures à la Supper’s Ready and The Cinema Show. Alas, it was not to be. The piece was broken up into its component parts, the radio-friendly Turn It On Again and Misunderstanding became successful singles, and a ‘new’ Genesis-for-the-eighties came into being.

Forty years on I look back on these years — 1978 to 1980 — as a time of transition, a staging post on the journey to the brave new world of commercial success. Duke continues along the more accessible path mapped out by And Then There Were Three. But both albums also contain more than a few moments for even the most diehard fan of ‘old’ Genesis to savour — extended instrumental passages, soaring choruses, lyrical references to maidens fair and foul. An alluring mixture of familiar fragrance and flavours strange, you might say.

But it didn’t feel like that at the time — at least, not to this young fan. It actually felt like a huge and hugely unwelcome change of direction. It was as if they were forsaking their roots. Selling out.

Even the artwork — the cartoon figures, the childlike scrawl of the lyrics — reinforced these thoughts. It was all a bit too lightweight, too direct, too commercial. I avoided the new single (Turn It On Again), unlike my friend and fellow compulsive record-buyer Dave. Also a Genesis fan, he was generally more open-minded about chart music than I was. I probably picked up Duke, belatedly and grudgingly, a few weeks after its release.

And then, as Genesis transformed themselves during the early-‘80s, I took refuge in Foxtrot, Wind and Wuthering and the rest, leaving my doubts about Duke to fester and grow. To this day Duke strikes me as the weaker of the two ‘transition’ albums, a judgement more to do with the overall sound than with the quality of particular songs. Where Tony’s lush keyboards on And Then There Were Three wrap the listener in a warm embrace, Duke tracks such as Alone Tonight, Cul-de-sac and Heathaze sound colder and thinner to this (untrained) ear.

On this I am doubtless in a small minority. Genesis fans generally seem to regard Duke with huge affection. It was certainly a big seller at the time. Tony himself describes it in Chapter and Verse as his favourite album. Only relatively recently — perhaps after finally buying a copy of Tony’s A Curious Feeling five or so years ago, perhaps a little earlier — have I really made an effort to listen to Duke with fresh ears.


And so we come to the live shows, lengthy tours of Britain and North America. In addition to audio bootlegs — including high-quality recordings from Sheffield (broadcast on FM radio) and London — there is also a visual record of the tour. The London Lyceum shows on 6–7 May were filmed by the BBC. A very watchable video of the entire show is in wide circulation, though only a 40-minute edit was ever broadcast, initially as an Old Grey Whistle Test special.

Genesis had played only one British date on their 1978 world tour — at Knebworth. Phil ended the show with the promise of an extensive British tour the following year. Actually it ran from March to May 1980. And in the manner of Queen’s Crazy Tour a few months earlier, the focus was very much on a return to smaller venues, the likes of Exeter University and the Hexagon at Reading.

After the radical restructuring of the set list in 1978, its core remained in place for the 1980 tour. It ran roughly as follows:

Deep in the Motherlode / Dancing with the Moonlit Knight [excerpt] / Carpet Crawlers / Squonk / One for the Vine / Behind the Lines / Duchess / Guide Vocal / Turn It On Again / Duke’s Travels / Duke’s End / Say It’s Alright Joe / The Lady Lies / Ripples / In the Cage / The Colony of Slippermen [excerpt] / Afterglow / Follow You Follow Me / Dance on a Volcano / Los Endos / I Know What I Like / The Knife [shortened]

Genesis opening songs have been somewhat hit and miss over the years. The brooding intensity of Watcher of the Skies was perfect in its day. On the other hand, as I have written elsewhere, Squonk (used in ’77) isn’t one of their strongest songs, and it’s frankly a mystery why they chose to go with Land of Confusion on the final (1992) tour. For the first few shows on the Duke tour they appear to have opened with the muscular Back in NYC from the Lamb album. It’s not an obvious choice, the song not having featured in the set since the Lamb tour; it’s also a throat shredder for Phil. It was quickly replaced by Deep in the Motherlode, one of their very best openers, with its dramatic keyboard riff and Phil’s emphatic call to “Go west, young man!”

“We’re going to play some old songs, and a few new songs, and some songs you won’t have heard for a long time,” announces Phil in Sheffield, almost word for word the formula that he had used on the previous tour, a formula that he was to continue using to the end. After Deep in the Motherlode comes a trio of well-established songs — a snippet of Dancing with the Moonlit Knight segueing into Carpet Crawlers, followed by the aforementioned Squonk (still in the set!) and then One for the Vine. All designed, one assumes, to placate longstanding fans. All cheered to the rafters.

The Cinema Show has gone … again … but will return … again. Gone, too, are Eleventh Earl of Mar and The Fountain of Salmacis, the early classic resurrected for the previous tour. Burning Rope and Ballad of Big from the previous album have also been dropped. For the North American leg, Carpet Crawlers and Say It’s Alright Joe are replaced by Misunderstanding, out as a single in the USA by that point.

The most eye-catching feature of the set is the placement of the new songs. Unlike on most tours, when new material is sprinkled liberally throughout the evening — on the previous tour it was done with almost mathematical precision — Duke is represented by a single block of songs.

Behind the Lines / Duchess / Guide Vocal / Turn It On Again / Duke’s Travels / Duke’s End

It is, in effect, the extended suite that was envisaged way back at the start of the Duke recording process when, according to Chapter and Verse, what became Turn It On Again was little more than a riff, a bridge between the two main blocks of ‘Duke’ music.

It is fascinating — and a joy — to hear it played in its entirety, particularly Duke’s Travels / Duke’s End, which didn’t feature on the following tour and was only resurrected (in part) for the 2007 Turn It On Again comeback tour, minus the vocals.


“Evening, chaps. Good to have you aboard,” says Wing Commander Collins to the Lyceum crowd. To watch Phil’s performance is to appreciate what an outstanding front man he had become by this point, as well as reinforcing how important he was to the Genesis live experience. It is not just that his voice, particularly his falsetto on the likes of One for the Vine, is now much stronger. Tony and Mike are relatively static and undemonstrative on stage; Daryl and Chester, as ‘extras’, are never going to claim the limelight. It is to Phil that our attention continually turns.

He is on sparkling form. This is still likeable Phil. Funny Phil. Hairy Phil. Not Armani Phil. We are up close and personal. To watch the video is also to appreciate the meaning of ‘intimate venue’. We see every gesture, every facial expression, every bead of sweat. At a time when his personal life is crumbling around him, it is an assured and compelling performance.

Storytelling remains a part of the Genesis show, as it has been since the early days. Phil’s one-liners are only marginally less humorous with the knowledge that much of it is scripted. We meet the character of Sidney, the drunk from Say It’s Alright Joe, complete with Columbo-style raincoat, whisky bottle and even a small table lamp perched on Tony’s keyboard. The routine comes across well enough in a smaller venue, but it is hard to envisage it working in somewhere like Madison Square Garden (hence the reason why it was dropped for the US tour, presumably). And, as on the last tour, The Lady Lies is another opportunity for some playful interaction with the crowd around a hero/villain narrative.

Laddish humour abounds (though in interviews Mike has commented more than once that as the hit singles increased so did the number of females in the audience). There is Roland the bisexual drum machine who plays with anybody. Juliet is no longer tied to the steering wheel; now it is Albert having sex with a television set. And there are silly puns aplenty referencing Albert’s cultural achievements: Romeo and Albert, Albert in Wonderland, Albert vs Kramer. ‘Albatross’ is a great shout from the audience, the heckler either exceptionally quick-witted or (perhaps more likely) someone seeing the show not for the first time.

Back to the music. Ripples is outstanding. Two tours in and Daryl is starting to capture Steve Hackett’s distinctively delicate and haunting sound, though it’s noticeable that the audience cheers for Chester are louder than those for Daryl. The interplay between guitar and keyboards is gorgeous, and there’s a deafening chorus of “Sail away, away” as the crowd join in. Next comes a breathless In the Cage, now segueing into the Slippermen keyboard solo, which is making its first appearance as part of an embryonic medley that ends with the glorious, soaring Afterglow.

After playing their biggest hit to date, Follow You Follow Me, proceedings conclude with the Dance on a Volcano / drum duet / Los Endos medley, followed by an encore of I Know What I Like (and occasionally The Knife — “This is the only other song we know”). It is a familiar way to close the show, complete with landing lights. But that’s fine. In fact, it is more than fine. It is magnificent. It is classic Genesis. The big commercial hits — the likes of Abacab, Mama and Invisible Touch — are in the future. No, the band were no longer writing songs like Supper’s Ready and The Cinema Show, but nor had they abandoned their roots.

Essential listening — and a great watch too.


As mentioned in the main article, there are some great recordings from this tour, principally Sheffield on 17 April and the London Lyceum on 6–7 May (and it seems that the Drury Lane show on 5 May was also recorded). The Lyceum shows were filmed by the BBC. A very watchable video of the entire show is in wide circulation, though only a 40-minute edit was ever broadcast, initially as an Old Grey Whistle Test special. The 6-CD/6-DVD box set Genesis 1976–1982 that was released in 2007 includes this footage.

There is a very listenable recording of the Madison Square Garden show on 29 June at the tail end of the US tour. It includes Back in NYC, which they played there as an additional encore.

The Genesis Archive 2 box set includes great-sounding live versions of Deep in the Motherlode (Drury Lane, 5 May), Ripples (Lyceum, 6 May), Duke’s Travels (Lyceum, 7 May) and The Lady Lies (Lyceum, 6 May). Duke’s Travels also includes Duke’s End, though this isn’t credited on the sleeve. One for the Vine, recorded at Drury Lane, was featured on the UK version of Three Sides Live.


More about Genesis


1976

London’s Hammersmith Odeon: it’s Phil’s first tour as Genesis front man

1977

A selection of classic Genesis concerts on the Wind and Wuthering tour

1978

And then there were three … plus two: the first tour without Steve Hackett


Dijon 1978: Genesis Bootlegs


Follow You Follow Me, released in February 1978, was the lead-off single for the And Then There Were Three album. The song was essentially a quick and spontaneous studio creation. There are no references to mallet-wielding schoolboys and rampaging hogweed or to ‘Slippermen’ and even more slippery Lamia. It wasn’t their first simple love song — think Your Own Special Way — or even their first catchy, radio-friendly single — they don’t come much catchier or more radio-friendly than Match of the Day — but it was their best and it became the biggest hit of their career thus far.

Behind the cliché about this or that artist or band providing the ‘soundtrack of our lives’ is the fact that listening to music is an intensely personal experience: it stirs old memories and emotions. And Then There Were Three was the first Genesis album that I got into, probably in 1979 and certainly before the release of Duke in March 1980, and it remains a favourite to this day.

Genesis had first appeared on my radar via a school friend, who was obsessed with The Knife. It was a bit beyond me at first — I was about 12 years old — but I was drawn to the more accessible sound of And Then There Were Three. Within a few months I was listening to the entire back catalogue (well, from Trespass onwards).

The album’s title is of course a reference to Steve Hackett’s departure, actually during the mixing of Seconds Out in the summer of 1977. As with Peter Gabriel in 1975, the band filled the vacancy from within, Mike Rutherford assuming responsibility for all guitars.

This was the heyday of punk and new wave. ‘Dinosaur’ was a popular music-press label for bands of the early seventies — ancient, out of time and place, doomed to extinction.  And Then There Were Three was released in the same month that This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello and the Attractions and Plastic Letters by Blondie were in the top ten. Songs — like hair — were shorter, fashions sharper, and the mood and music uglier. It is one of their least-liked albums, at least judging by comments on an online fan forum — comments echoed by the band themselves:

Of all our albums And Then There Were Three was the weakest, without a doubt.

Mike Rutherford, quoted in Chapter and Verse (2007)

It is a difficult album to categorise — is it the first of a new Genesis era or the last of the old era? For all the tentative first steps towards a more commercial sound, it also has many of the hallmarks of the immediate post-Gabriel period. It is clearly not a return to Genesis à la Foxtrot, but nor is it some radical departure either. With Mike Rutherford very much finding his feet and Phil Collins not yet the prolific songwriter of the 80s, Tony Banks remains the dominant musical influence, as he had been since Peter’s departure. His lush keyboards cover the album like a warm and reassuring blanket.

Songs like Burning Rope, The Lady Lies and Many Too Many would be at home on A Trick of the Tail or Wind and Wuthering, as would other highlights such as Mike’s Snowbound. If pushed to choose a personal highlight, it would perhaps be Undertow, which — like Afterglow — soars defiantly:

Let me live again, let life come find me wanting
Spring must strike again against the shield of winter

Undertow (Banks)

The band’s most recent release had been a live double album, over half of which consisted of music from the Gabriel era. This tension between past and future presented itself in even starker form in the live setting, with a significant proportion of any audience obviously made up of long-time followers of the band. Phil’s standard opening remarks to the crowd about playing some old songs and some new songs date from this tour; he was still saying exactly the same thing on what became the final tour in 1992.

Set lists usually evolve over time: new songs are introduced and older material eased into retirement. The new set list, on the other hand, involved more than just a little reshaping and reshuffling. The running-order for the Dijon show on 3 June was as follows:

Eleventh Earl of Mar / In the Cage / Burning Rope / Ripples / Deep in the Motherlode / The Fountain of Salmacis / Ballad of Big / One for the Vine / Squonk / Say It’s Alright Joe / The Lady Lies / The Cinema Show / Afterglow / Follow You Follow Me / Dance on a Volcano / Los Endos / I Know What I Like

The new songs are indeed there — six of them at Dijon — sprinkled at regular intervals throughout the set. Down and Out was also played at some early shows. Squonk, One for the Vine and Afterglow all remain from the previous tour but have been moved around. I Know What I Like is now the encore. Gone are classics such as The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Carpet Crawlers. Firth of Fifth — Steve’s set piece— has also been dropped.

Also missing is Supper’s Ready, which at nearly 25 minutes’ duration made up a hefty chunk of the performance: a big song in every respect and so a big decision to leave it out. To maintain the balance between old and new, several Gabriel-era songs make a welcome return: the magnificent The Cinema Show, a rollercoaster In the Cage, and — perhaps the biggest surprise — The Fountain of Salmacis from the Nursery Cryme album, released in 1971. Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, segueing into The Musical Box, was played at Chicago in October. Although it may only have been played at this one show, it became a regular part of the set on the Duke tour.

Beginning at the end of March, the huge world tour that followed the album’s release lasted most of the year and involved three separate tours of the USA, two European tours and a short tour of Japan. The single British show took place at Knebworth Park on 24 June in front of a crowd of about 60,000 people. Chester Thompson was retained on drums for the live shows and a fellow American, Daryl Stuermer, was brought in to replace Steve Hackett.

And then there were three … plus two.

Classic opening songs are usually some combination of punchy, immediate and dramatic — Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll, Deep Purple’s Highway Star, Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak. The lengthy Eleventh Earl of Mar therefore seems a bit of an odd choice. It had (very) briefly been used on the Wind and Wuthering tour before Squonk took its place. By the Duke tour Deep in the Motherlode was opening the show, with its far more dramatic keyboard opening and Phil’s emphatic call — “Go west, young man!”

In the official Chapter and Verse book, Tony waxes lyrical about Daryl Stuermer’s talent — “probably even greater technical ability and fluency than Steve” — and cites Stuermer’s ability to play fast as the reason why In the Cage, a Lamb highlight, was reintroduced. Stuermer’s playing does indeed seem to be note-perfect throughout, at least to this amateur’s ears, though it is hard not to miss Steve’s unique and subtle style on songs such as The Fountain of Salmacis and Ripples.

The ‘narrative’ songs from the new album all translate well to the stage. Indeed, it is not immediately obvious why one of them, Ballad of Big, was dropped mid-tour. Less successful, perhaps, is Say It’s Alright Joe, in which Phil adopts the persona of a drunk in a bar. All shows need to vary their pace, but the verses are ponderous and the long outro seems to meander nowhere in particular. But perhaps that was the point.

It is probably no coincidence that The Lady Lies follows, building to a frenzied climax as the naive knight in shining armour succumbs to the charms of the evil lady in her lair. Cue a spot of audience interaction, as Phil invites the crowd to loudly boo the wicked temptress — “wait for it, wait for it”. Freddie Mercury’s call-and-response routine, which developed into the well-known ‘Day-O’, also started in 1978.

The hit single Follow You Follow Me is given a prime slot just before the grand finale, even though something of the warmth and intimacy of the studio version is inevitably lost in a huge auditorium. Despite their soaring choruses, there is no space for some of those excellent new songs mentioned above — Undertow, Snowblind and Many Too Many. It is left to Afterglow to supply the emotional punch. If the Seconds Out version is a little too finely polished, then these bootlegs offer raw and visceral — perhaps definitive — performances of the song. Phil’s slightly off-kilter wail at Dijon, surely never to see the official light of day, is somehow perfect.

Phil has now taken over all the between-song chatter, sticking fairly closely to a basic script from one night to the next. There are introductions for Chester and Daryl, naturally. He invites us to a late-night barroom ahead of Say It’s Alright Joe and educates us about hermaphrodites before The Fountain of Salmacis. The young nymphomaniacs, Romeo and Juliet, are again up to their Carry On-style antics involving steering wheels and the like, once more (as in Gabriel days) an introduction to The Cinema Show.

We hear him reaching out across the language barrier in Dijon. He reads from a prepared sheet. It’s obviously a hastily prepared sheet and not one done with the assistance of a fluent French speaker — though, to be fair, “And Then There Were Trois” made me chuckle. He starts with the best of intentions but, as the show progresses, his attempt at French quickly dissolves into what the writer Miles Kington called ‘Franglais’ or just plain old English in a dodgy French accent. Thus, he introduces us to “Big Jim Cool-ie” (“Jim” pronounced with a soft ‘j’ sound), and by the end of the Romeo and Juliet monologue he is delivering lines like “Juliet (soft ‘j’ again), you cannot leave me like zis” and “Stark naked mate … nue”.

The Dance on a Volcano/Los Endos medley brings the show to a now familiar close and the band return for an encore of I Know What I Like. As on the previous tour, it is an extended version, complete with tambourine gymnastics from Phil and a semi-improvised section that references Stagnation from the Trespass album. Placed mid-show (and on side two of Seconds Out) it seemed to drag. It works much better as an encore, the band taking their time to say farewell after the formal part of the show is over.

In 1978 Genesis spent eight months on the road in Europe, the USA and the Far East. The album and tour were both a huge commercial success but it came at great personal cost: Phil’s marriage disintegrated, setting off a chain of events — for him and for the band — that were of huge significance.

Armando Gallo’s book I Know What I Like was written in 1979. If memory serves, a final picture shows Mike, Tony and Phil in a field outside Phil’s home in Surrey, starting the process of writing and recording their next album. There was talk of an extended side-long piece of music. It was not to be. As Gallo’s book closes, so does the era of classic Genesis. Despite all the comings and goings of personnel over the years, this was perhaps the big turning-point of all.


There are a number of excellent audio recordings of the And Then There Were Three tour. The best are Dijon on 3 June and Chicago on 13 October. Both are essentially complete and the sound is outstanding. The Knebworth show was broadcast on the BBC on the Alan Freeman Show shortly after the concert itself, apparently in quadraphonic sound. Alas, some songs are missing and for some reason Squonk was used as the opening song, even though the standard running-order was used during the concert itself. An edited version of the Houston show on 22 October was broadcast on the US radio programme King Biscuit Flower Hour and is widely available.

Alas, there is no visual material of comparable quality. The highlight is a 50-minute BBC documentary called Three Dates with Genesis, which includes clips of the band performing in Germany and England.


More about Genesis


1976

London’s Hammersmith Odeon: it’s Phil’s first tour as Genesis front man

1977

A selection of classic Genesis concerts on the Wind and Wuthering tour

1980

Phil is on particularly sparkling form during the Duke tour of smaller venues


Montreal 1974: Genesis Bootlegs


It is 1974. In Britain and parts of Europe, notably Italy — though not yet North America — Genesis have broken through to the big time: top-ten albums, decent-sized venues such as the London Rainbow, front-cover status in Melody Maker. This bootleg — an FM radio broadcast — captures the band in Montreal on 21 April. For many longtime fans, this is ‘classic’ Genesis: the Tony Banks / Phil Collins / Peter Gabriel / Steve Hackett / Mike Rutherford line-up. It is the era of the Mellotron and twelve-string guitars, of fox heads and old-man masks, of hermaphrodites and hogweed.

As on the previous tour, Watcher of the Skies opens proceedings — the eerie, doom-laden sound of the Mellotron familiar to fans from the Foxtrot and Genesis Live albums, a foretaste of the drama and (imagined) theatrics to come. Prog rock à la Genesis delights in long, complex pieces with repeated changes of mood and tempo. The set-list draws from three classic albums of the genre — Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot and the then-current Selling England by the Pound:

Watcher of the Skies / Dancing with the Moonlit Knight / The Cinema Show / I Know What I Like / Firth of Fifth / The Musical Box / Horizons / The Battle of Epping Forest / Supper’s Ready

The first ‘proper’ Genesis album, Trespass, is here unrepresented. The Knife, the standout Trespass track, was only very occasionally played on the tour as an encore, it seems. Indeed, on most nights they appear to have ditched an encore altogether.

Lacking the studio polish of the official releases to balance the sound and smooth away the rough edges, several passages here sound pleasingly urgent and aggressive, and it is interesting to compare the songs that also feature on the official Genesis Live album, released a year or so earlier. The bass (or bass pedal) during the Watcher of the Skies opening is more apparent, for example, adding to the sense of drama and foreboding, and during the heavier Musical Box sections it is as if Steve is battling to control his volume pedal.

One of many examples of amateurish cover art for this much-copied radio broadcast: at least part of the image (Mike Rutherford) is reversed and it is actually from the later Lamb Lies Down tour.

This recording is by no means perfect — radio interference leaks into the sound during quieter passages — but one of the pleasures of bootlegs for fans is the chance to hear their favourite bands in the raw, as it were: the mistakes and mishaps on stage, the experiments that didn’t work and were subsequently dropped, the early performances of songs before further reworking.

Firth of Fifth is a case in point. An undoubted Genesis masterpiece, it is hard to believe (see the Chapter and Verse book) that it almost wasn’t recorded. Here it is played in full, complete with Tony’s opening solo, dropped for subsequent tours. Played on keyboard rather than grand piano, it lacks the majesty of the original recording — in other words, it’s easy to see why it was dropped in favour of the powerful “The path is clear…” opening. Steve’s playing also seems at times to be a little less fluent than on the later Seconds Out version, for example.

Other than the opening and closing drone sound, I Know What I Like is less drawn-out than in later years — and better for it. Bootlegs capture Peter weaving his elaborate between-song stories — here delivered in schoolboy-though-passable French to the Quebecois French-Canadian audience. They are also the only way — at the time of writing, at least — to hear live versions of The Battle of Epping Forest. Only Steve’s Horizons, played here on electric guitar, seems a little out of place. It appears to have been alternated on this tour with another slight song, More Feel Me, sung by Phil, which features on the Genesis Archive #1 release, recorded at the Rainbow in October ‘73.

Searching for images of the band to accompany this article, I was struck by how bare the visual record of the Gabriel period appears to be. For more thoughts on Genesis as a visual spectacle at this time, see below.

Much of the sense of drama came from Peter’s on-stage antics, inevitably all but lost in audio-only recordings. To the already established costume-changes — bat wings, fox’s head and the rest — he has now added the character of Britannia, who introduces Dancing with the Moonlit Knight. Its closing section evokes a pastoral feel; Steve’s lilting guitar combines with the soft tones of the Mellotron, Peter’s flute, the sound of church bells ringing and even the call of the cuckoo.

It serves to further accentuate a strain of eccentric Englishness that lies at the heart of early Genesis, with lyrical themes and references ranging from King Canute and Kew Gardens to fox hunting and evocations of quiet country villages. The lyrics — and Peter’s vocal delivery more generally — are also a source of much of the quietly eccentric humour. As well as bringing to life a rich cast of characters, he has developed a number of peculiar vocal mannerisms, enunciating particular words and phrases in a singular style — “has life again destroyed life?” during Watcher of the Skies, to take one example. Elsewhere, with the band still not quite ready to begin after Peter’s ‘Britannia’ monologue setting up Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, he utters a single word — “Interlude” — as if he were part of a Monty Python continuity sketch.

This quaint and quirky and distinctly English sense of the absurd is further explored in I Know What I Like and The Battle of Epping Forest, each with its cast of characters, whose eccentricities are played out on stage by Peter. The latter, in particular, features whimsical wordplay — “a robbing hood”, “a karmamechanic with overall charms” — and there’s an amusingly down-to-earth little interchange involving Phil on backing vocals: “What’s the trouble, then?” It’s easy to picture Peter shuffling across the stage as the lecherous old man in The Musical Box, as he wheezes lines like “Brush back your hair and let me feel your flesh”.

The climax of the show is the epic Supper’s Ready, perhaps the quintessential prog-rock piece. The closing section of the song, As Sure as Eggs Is Eggs, is soaring, magnificent, glorious. Yet, watching the official Shepperton Studios live footage, shot the previous October, the song’s visual power comes principally from the use of simple fluorescent effects. Indeed, watching the film as a whole, the viewer is struck by its amateurish feel: the set is extremely basic, the lighting is poor and Peter’s costumes look home-made. The dramatic energy comes from the music and, in particular, from Peter’s extraordinary on-stage performance. In this sense, too, the ‘Selling England’ tour represents a crossroads for Genesis.

Genesis at Headley Grange recording the Lamb album, a few months after the Montreal concert. This photo was by Richard Haines. You can see more of his work at genesisfan.net

In a radical departure, the band played The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in its entirety on the following tour, with only The Musical Box and sometimes Watcher of the Skies surviving as encores. Peter then left the band. This bootleg is valuable, therefore, in capturing the end of a Genesis era, with the band at their prog-rock peak. By 1976, they were back with Phil on vocals, a much more expensive and professional-looking stage show, much — though by no means all — of this classic material retired, and a warmer, less edgy sound.


Note: Officially released live recordings at the time of writing are Genesis Live, and the Genesis Archive #1 recordings from the Rainbow (October 1973) and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The official but as-yet-unreleased film of the band recorded at Shepperton Studios in late-October 1973 is widely available online, as is a longer version of the Genesis Live recordings, including more between-song audio and Supper’s Ready, and a longer version of the Rainbow show.


More about Genesis


1976

London’s Hammersmith Odeon: it’s Phil’s first tour as Genesis front man

1977

A selection of classic Genesis concerts on the Wind and Wuthering tour

1978

And then there were three … plus two: the first tour without Steve Hackett


Calling All Stations: Not The Worst Genesis Album


Setting to one side From Genesis to Revelation, essentially a pre-Genesis album written and recorded by schoolboys — literally so: they were still pupils at Charterhouse when the first demos were put down — Calling All Stations is almost certainly most fans’ least favourite Genesis album. It’s the embarrassing uncle, the black sheep of the family, the unloved one, the one that nobody mentions.

It was released in 1997, five or so years after We Can’t Dance and one year after the official announcement that Phil Collins — drummer, lead vocalist and one-man 80s hit machine — was leaving the band. And then there were two.

Enter Ray Wilson on vocals, ex-singer with a minor-league outfit called Stiltskin, whose fifteen minutes in the spotlight — a number-one single — came courtesy of a Levi’s advert. And then there were three … again. It was a distinctly odd choice, with age and musical experience only two of the glaring differences between, on the one hand, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford — ex-public school, softly-spoken practitioners of traditional English reserve, home-counties chaps to the marrow — and, on the other, Wilson, a brash working-class lad from Scotland.

In relative terms — relative, that is, to previous Genesis record sales — the album bombed, as did the subsequent tour: the US leg was cancelled due to poor ticket sales. Plans for a second album were scrapped out of concern for the Genesis name. And then there were none.

Looking back, Tony and Mike damned the album with the faintest of praise:

I felt that the … album was OK (Mike Rutherford)

I … thought the album turned out pretty well (Tony Banks)

Quotes from Genesis — Chapter and Verse (2007)

I remember checking out the lead-off single, Congo, a couple of times and taking an immediate dislike to it, not least the cringeworthy attempt at an arty, politically on-message video. Middle-aged men desperately trying to look cool didn’t work for me (aged 30 at the time). On the back of Congo, I gave the album one highly sceptical and cursory listen, decided it was crap and duly parked it for the best part of twenty years.

Out of curiosity, I dusted it off — literally — just a couple of years ago and gave it a spin. Only two or three tracks stood out on first listen, but I persisted and the whole album soon started to grow on me.

Eleven tracks, 67 minutes of music — and no out-and-out fillers or obvious padding. It certainly starts strongly, the title track a moody and dramatic guitar-driven affair with BIG Collins-esque drums and a soaring chorus. Congo isn’t as poor as I remember, though the inclusion of African rhythms to bookend the song invites inevitable comparisons — and not flattering ones — with Peter Gabriel’s epic Biko.

Even the more run-of-the-mill efforts — Small Talk, If That’s What You Need, There Must Be Some Other Way — are listenable and certainly no weaker than the selection of songs on side two of their self-titled 1983 album (the one that starts with Mama, a song that isn’t as strong as people say it is). The Abacab album, to make another comparison, runs for 47 minutes and includes two of the weakest songs in the entire Genesis canon — Who Dunnit? and Another Record.

Calling All Stations isn’t classic Genesis, of course, but it sounds good, there are some great hooks and instrumental passages dotted around, and Ray can certainly sing — a husky voice, deeper and less warm than Phil’s, closer in fact to Peter Gabriel’s.

Tony and Mike are in charge, of course. Drafted in after much of the music had already been written, Ray’s creative input was apparently minimal — a musical idea here, some lyrics there. I have recently bought Banks Vaults, a box set of Tony’s solo albums. A Curious Feeling apart, I am hearing his solo stuff for the first time and currently playing it non-stop. Much of it is great; some of it is outstanding. There are echoes of his solo work, particularly from Still and Strictly Inc, all through Calling All Stations. Other than The Living Years, I am unfamiliar with the back catalogue of Mike and the Mechanics — Mike’s extra-curricular project — but If That’s What You Need is what I imagine a typical Mechanics song sounds like.

When Calling All Stations is good, it’s very good. Shipwrecked, for example, has a great chorus. Anyone familiar with Morrissey’s work might note a similarity between the main keyboard riff and a fairly obscure Morrissey b-side called Lost (released, coincidentally, in the same year).

As on the previous We Can’t Dance album, the inclusion of longer songs allows the band to break free from the verse-chorus-bridge straitjacket. The Dividing Line runs to eight minutes and features some terrific keyboard lines, reminding me of Tony’s excellent The Serpent Said from his 1995 album Strictly Inc.

It also sounds like they enticed Phil back to play drums on the track. In fact, the drumming throughout the album is strikingly good, especially considering that Genesis were without a permanent drummer. The stool at the back was occupied by two guest musicians, one of whom — Nir Zidkyahu — was then invited on the subsequent tour.

The lyrics of One Man’s Fool (among other songs) may be distinctly uninspired at times — “One man’s hot is another man’s cold” — but its overall message about the dangers of (religious) fanaticism, written pre-9/11, of course, resonates now more than ever. This, the closing song, was the first to really hold my attention. At nine minutes, it’s the longest of the album’s eleven tracks, shifting gear midway through to conclude the album in style. Tony — the writer, presumably — sees it differently. Speaking about writing music with Phil’s voice (and creative input) in mind, he is quoted thus:

The first half of the song was good, but the second half suffered. If Phil had been there I just know it would have just taken off and gone somewhere else.

Tony Banks, quoted in Genesis — Chapter and Verse (2007)

Alien Afternoon is the quirkiest song on the album. It quickly settles into a fairly unremarkable groove: a humdrum tune with humdrum lyrics about a humdrum existence. Something seems to happen to our narrator mid-song — a paranormal episode or extra-terrestrial experience of some kind. Ghostly voices ring out like an angelic choir — “We are home / We are your home / We are all your home” — with suitably unsettling and other-worldly mood music from Tony and Mike. A close encounter of the Genesis kind. Great stuff.

Again, it very much reminds me of another song — probably my favourite by Simon and Garfunkel, The Only Living Boy in New York. Paul is fed up, stuck at home writing songs for the new album while Art is away in Mexico pursuing a film career. Then we hear Art’s heavily treated vocal calling from the ether — “Here I am” — as if he’s hearing Paul from afar.

Genesis excel at songs dealing with despair, pain and loss — the live version of Afterglow on Seconds Out towers above everything. Not About Us sounds like classic Mike writing. It is not unlike his Snowbound, a favourite from And Then There Were Three. Along the same lines, Uncertain Weather is probably the best song on the album. The ease with which the listener can project his or her own experiences onto lines about fading photographs and fading memories gives the song added power:

All gone long ago
Leaving no trace
Disappearing like smoke in the wind

Uncertain Weather

Goosebumps-good. Alas, the spell is broken by the inclusion of awful half-spoken lines midway through the song.

Overall, then, Calling All Stations is not bad at all: it’s time to bring the uncle in from the cold. For readers who know their Genesis history, it’s nowhere near as good as anything from the 70s but, especially if shortened to about 50 minutes (the length of a typical first-released-on-vinyl Genesis album), it would certainly stand comparison with anything released post-Duke (1980). It is better than Abacab (1981) and Genesis (1983), and probably on a par with Invisible Touch (1986) and We Can’t Dance (1991).


More about Genesis


1974

Bonsoir. We visit Montreal as part of the Selling England by the Pound tour

1976

London’s Hammersmith Odeon: it’s Phil’s first tour as Genesis front man

1977

A selection of classic Genesis concerts on the Wind and Wuthering tour


Queen On Fire — Live at the Bowl: Reviewing the Review


Introduction

I was interested to see what, if anything, had changed — my knowledge of Queen, my thoughts and opinions, other contextual information — in the fifteen years since I wrote my review of the Queen On Fire – Live at the Bowl DVD. At the time, I titled the review ‘A Crown Jewel’ and awarded the DVD five stars out of five. It was published on Amazon in November 2004, a week or so after the DVD’s release.

As I write now (July 2019), the DVD is not available from the official online shop, though the audio is available for download. It was never officially released on Blu-ray.

The original review text is shown in italics.


For Queen obsessives, the advent of remastered CD and DVD has served to keep the – ahem – ‘magic’ alive long after the demise of the band itself as a creative unit. The latest release is this long-awaited Milton Keynes Bowl concert, recorded June 1982, on the European leg of the Hot Space tour. A heavily-edited film of the show was first used, improbably enough, on Channel 4’s alternative music show The Tube in 1983; that edit has since featured regularly on VH1. Individual songs have also appeared in video montages and compilations. Now, after the success of the Live at Wembley Stadium DVD, this is the MK show in its entirety – warts ‘n’ all – and very welcome it is too.

The opening sentence was obviously written in the resigned belief that the days of Queen as a going concern were over. Though purists would doubtless question the whole notion that Queen are again a creative unit, the ‘Queen’ brand is certainly very much alive and kicking. The beginnings of the Queen/Paul Rodgers collaboration were in 2004, leading to major tours in 2005 and 2008 and to the The Cosmos Rocks album. Even more successful has been the Queen/Adam Lambert collaboration. That’s not to mention the longevity of the We Will Rock You stage musical and the phenomenal success of the Bohemian Rhapsody film.

Alas, contrary to my remark in the last sentence, not quite every wart was in fact included in the DVD. Check out the clip below [at roughly 2:22] which was left in the original Channel 4 broadcast but polished out of the Live at the Bowl release.

Previous ‘live’ offerings from Queen too often suffered from heavy handed editing, remixing and general interference, sometimes due to the limitations of technology at the time but more often in a mistaken attempt at quality assurance. The nadir is 1986’s Live Magic which employs a ghastly mixture of omission and (unbelievably) song editing to fit a two-hour show onto LP. A close second is the video of 1985’s Rock in Rio triumph: Brian May’s guitar is hopelessly buried in the mix and the overall band sound is dull and blunted. Now, as this DVD demonstrates, even on basic home equipment, digital remastering brings a raw freshness to the sound as well as sharpness and colour to the picture.

I think this paragraph generally holds true, though whether the freshness and sharpness I applauded at the time is simply the result of digital mastering I now realise I am not expert enough to say. I have written elsewhere about the failure of official releases to capture and authentically convey the live Queen sound. The release of the Live at the Rainbow ’74 box set in 2014 set a new benchmark. Despite the “limitations of technology at the time” [my words], both of the 1974 concerts sound superb, particularly the 31 March gig. I still regard the Procession/Father to Son opening as probably the most powerful beginning to a live album that I am aware of, though to be fair the Milton Keynes opener (Flash/The Hero) is great too.


After the pomp and grandeur of two world tours between 1977 and 1979, their stage show by 1982 had adopted a pared-down, ‘hot and spacey’ feel to match their changing musical direction. The grandiose ‘Crown’ lighting rig in 1977-78 and the ‘Pizza Oven’ roof of lights that spectacularly adorns the Live Killers sleeve were replaced by relatively modest, moving banks of lights and powerful spots. Musically, while the new songs from the sharply criticised Hot Space album undoubtedly benefit from a live work-out, this viewer well remembers their muted greeting by the crowd at the previous week’s Elland Road concert.

Absolutely. Back Chat and Staying Power both sound superb. It baffles me why one of these two songs was not released as the lead-off single for the Hot Space album. For the subsequent US and Japanese tours, other Hot Space tracks were given a workout, notably Put Out the Fire and Calling All Girls. Even Body Language didn’t sound completely awful played live. As it happens, I have recently been listening to Genesis bootlegs from roughly the same period: the muted crowd reaction to the newer Abacab material is similar to what I describe here. It was a tough time to be a fan of ’70s rock giants!


However, Queen always delivered onstage and this DVD magnificently captures the power of Queen live. Freddie is in particularly mischievous form, teasing and energising the crowd (“are you ready…are you ready brothers and sisters?”). The consummate showman bounds across the stage and athletically utilises gangways incorporated into the stage set to project the band in larger venues. Though Freddie did not personally write a Queen blockbuster after 1979’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love, he was still fit and lithe, aged 35 in 1982, the singing voice strong and assured. Only later did a combination of wear and tear, age and smoking lead to difficulties at the end of long shows and tours. Before AIDS (first identified in 1983), it is also interesting to note the overtly sexual nature of much of his onstage banter, strutting and posing.

The obvious error in the above paragraph is the one relating to Freddie’s voice. When I wrote those words, I hadn’t really heard many bootlegs of Queen shows, so I only had official releases and what I remember actually hearing live to go on — neither of which is (sad to say) a reliable guide. Having listened to a lot of bootlegs since 2004, I now realise how inaccurate the statement is. In reality, from the later-1970s at the very latest, Freddie was regularly struggling with his voice on stage, especially towards the end of long tours and particularly towards the end of shows.

Japan definitely got the shortest of short straws in this respect – unfortunate, as they were particularly keen to film the band’s concerts. With the exception of the February ’81 Budokan shows, all of the band’s tours to Japan followed on from extensive touring in other parts of the world. Listen, to take just one example, to how Freddie struggles to sing Bohemian Rhapsody during the 1979 Japanese dates. You can point to lots of similar examples from the ’82 and ’85 tours. We Are the Champions always presented problems — Roger to the rescue! — as did (from 1984 onwards) Radio Ga Ga.

Now think about the official releases. Montreal ’81 — voice superb — came after a month-long break. Milton Keynes ’82 — voice superb — came after a three-day break on a mini-British tour of just four shows. Live Aid too — voice superb — came after a very lengthy break. Hammersmith ’79 — not an official release (yet, but we live in hope!) but generally acknowledged to be a superb vocal performance — came after a four-day break (and Christmas dinner).

Jumping ahead to Wembley ’86, there were relatively long breaks between most shows on the Magic Tour. But Freddie was older, the stage was enormous and the filmed Saturday show followed on from the additional Friday concert. It’s not too bad vocally, but there’s lots of stuff sung in — what is it called? — the lower register, masked by the impressive-sounding cod-operatic delivery. True, Budapest was a stronger vocal performance than Wembley, but it came on the back of a five-day break.


The performance – and the filming – is not quite as polished as 1986 and casual buyers might begin their collection with the aforementioned Live at Wembley Stadium DVD. It was 1985’s Live Aid that truly elevated Queen to superstar status. In 1982, the set list still contained obligatory new-album material and hard-rocking (but relatively uncommercial) stage favourites like We Will Rock You (fast) and Sheer Heart Attack. For the Queen connoisseur, however, there is much to enjoy. Particular highlights include Somebody to Love: a singalong favourite and live staple from 1976, it was inexplicably left off the Live Killers LP and finally dropped in 1986. If Queen’s finest hour (or, rather, 17 minutes) at Live Aid can be criticised, it is surely the inclusion of Hammer to Fall at the expense of Somebody to Love.

Absolutely. The whole show sounds great, and the performance of Somebody to Love is indeed a highlight, as is The Hero opening, Fat Bottomed Girls — “You made an asshole outta me!” — and Save Me, to choose just three. I also still think I am correct about the Live Aid set.

One criticism I don’t mention is that the final twenty minutes or so feel a touch predictable. Once Freddie plays the opening bars of Bohemian Rhapsody, you can guess how things are going to pan out. The close of the show could have done with some refreshing by this point, I think. After all, albeit with some moving things around on occasion (and the introduction along the way of Another One Bites the Dust), Tie Your Mother Down / Sheer Heart Attack / We Will Rock You / We Are the Champions had been the basis of the latter part of the show since late-1977.

We now know that earlier in the Hot Space tour they appear to have mixed things up a bit — Tie Your Mother Down and Sheer Heart Attack were both tried out at the beginning of the set after The Hero, for example, and Liar was even played in its entirety on a couple of occasions — but by the time of the British shows they had reverted to the ‘usual’ ending. It’s just a thought, but one wonders whether they were nervous at the reaction to their new material and tacking to safer waters.


Another fine Milton Keynes moment is the gloriously un-PC Fat Bottomed Girls. Unfortunately, a raucously out-of-tune scream by Freddie has been polished out – but at least problems with Brian May’s lead during his earlier solo spot have been left in; anoraks truly treasure such moments! This tour is also noteworthy for fans as the first to feature additional (off-stage) keyboards to supplement the band’s sound. Brian’s ‘chat’ before Love of My Life is also somewhat unusual. Dedicating the song to people “who have given up their lives for what they believe”, it is a reference to the Falklands War that dominated the headlines that spring and summer: Queen were in an acutely difficult position as they had played in Argentina the previous year, were selling phenomenally well over there and had just released a single in English and Spanish – Las Palabras de Amor.

Overall, Live At Milton Keynes Bowl is another top quality Queen DVD. What delights await next Christmas? Paris 1979? Houston or Earl’s Court 1977? Hyde Park 1976, please.

As it happens, none of the above suggestions have yet seen the official light of day in full. Oddly enough, I didn’t mention Hammersmith 1979. I had high hopes that footage from 1979 might be released this year — there is plenty of it — to tie in with the fortieth anniversary of the release of Live Killers. Alas, nothing has appeared as yet.

Footage of Sweet Lady from Hyde Park has appeared as a DVD extra, and some of the Houston footage was used in the Old Grey Whistle Test documentary released in 2017. My Melancholy Blues and We Will Rock You (fast) from the same gig have also appeared officially, as have Fat Bottomed Girls and Sheer Heart Attack from Paris.

I neglected in the original review to mention the bonus material in the original review. It’s decidely patchy. There are some tour interviews, a photo gallery backed with a live version of Calling All Girls, some backstage Milton Keynes material, and some footage from Austria earlier in the tour. The highlight is about thirty minutes’ worth of footage from Japan from November 1982, the very final show of the world tour. It has long been available as a Japan-only VHS release. As suggested above, with Freddie’s voice cracking in places, the show is unlikely ever to be given a full release.


More about Queen


185–161

Queen songs ranked — plus an explanation of the rationale and ground rules I adopted

Live Killers

Reflections on Queen’s first live album, forty-ish years after its release

Queen Memories

Growing up as a Queen fan: teenage tales told through 10 Queen-related objects


Seconds Out — The Greatest Live Album?


Reflections on Seconds Out and Genesis live on the 1977 Wind and Wuthering tour

I probably bought Seconds Out in 1979 aged twelve or thirteen, having discovered the band via And Then There Were Three. As luck would have it, my local library stocked Armando Gallo’s lavishly illustrated book, I Know What I Like, so I soon had a good sense of how Seconds Out fitted into the Genesis story. Recorded in Paris in June 1977 towards the end of six months on the road promoting the Wind and Wuthering album, it captures ‘old’ Genesis and features almost the very last performances of the four-plus-one line-up: Steve Hackett’s absence from mixing-desk duties over the summer effectively signalled his departure from the band. If memory serves, Gallo refers in his book to this being his favourite tour, the band, he says, performing almost flawlessly night after night.

The original October 1977 release featured twelve tracks spread across four sides of vinyl:

Side 1: Squonk / Carpet Crawlers / Robbery, Assault and Battery / Afterglow
Side 2: Firth of Fifth / I Know What I Like / The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway / The Musical Box (excerpt)
Side 3: Supper’s Ready
Side 4: The Cinema Show / Dance on a Volcano / Los Endos

With Peter Gabriel’s departure in 1975, the harshness and aggression noticeable in their earlier material — the likes of The Return of the Giant Hogweed — has given way to a softer and more polished sound. In part, this comes from Phil Collins – his vocal more soothing and melodic than Peter’s husky voice. Tony Banks, meanwhile, is the dominant musical presence, his lush keyboard sound leading the way in song after song and smoothing away the rough edges of the original recordings. With Steve Hackett’s guitar often an elusive, spectral presence floating free in the air, it falls to Mike Rutherford’s bass to provide counterpoint to Tony, such as during the exquisite keyboard solo starting at roughly 2:25 of Robbery, Assault and Battery.

I found this list when I was going through some old papers. It’s called ‘Top 50 Albums’ and dated 14 August 1983. I’m more than a little surprised that I put Simon and Garfunkel at number one; I think I’d just bought the album and was blown away with it. However, pretty much everything listed here would still be in my top 40 (though not necessarily in the same order) and much of it in my top 20.

Carpet Crawlers — an unlikely staple of the live show over the years — builds gently but insistently from its delicate opening. Robbery, Assault and Battery bounces with cockney swagger, allowing Phil to dust off his boyhood Artful Dodger character. The Dance on a Volcano / Los Endos medley closes the main set in thrilling fashion, as the 747 landing lights and dry ice depicted in the spectacular front-cover photo bathe the stage in ghostly white.

It gets better. Ahead of us lie perhaps the four finest Genesis moments on record.

A Genesis diehard will more than likely argue that Supper’s Ready, which dominates the third quarter of the set, is the band’s signature song – their Stairway to Heaven, their Smoke on the Water. It is epic, ambitious, daring — and on Seconds Out it is magnificent. The delightful sound mix helps, of course, but so does Phil’s front-man masterclass — by turns quirky and playful, soaring and majestic — offering his own interpretation of the song and more than doing justice to Peter’s original vocal.

The finale, As Sure as Eggs Is Eggs, is heady stuff indeed:

The lord of lords
King of kings
Has returned to lead his children home
To take them to the New Jerusalem

Supper’s Ready

Turn it up to 11, sit back and try not to shed a tear or two.

Two songs from arguably their best album — Selling England by the Pound — are a particular joy. The Cinema Show is a patchwork quilt of musical ideas — a succession of miniature keyboard flourishes and dazzling drum fills from the Bruford–Collins combination at the back, building to a show-stopping bass run from Mike at approximately 9:52. Though it is primarily a Tony Banks song, Firth of Fifth is Steve’s moment in the limelight. Often a peripheral presence, here is a chance for guitar to take centre stage.

And then there is Afterglow — an as-good-as-it-gets, goosebumps Genesis moment.

Now I’ve lost everything I give to you my soul
The meaning of all that I believed before escapes me in this world of none
I miss you more

Afterglow

Written in minutes (says Tony) and set lyrically in the immediate aftermath of some cataclysm or other, it builds from a hypnotic guitar riff to a spine-tingling climax, complete with angelic choir1, an effect he uses elsewhere on the album with equally dramatic results.

Ironically, Squonk is, for this fan at least, one of the weaker tracks – ironic in the sense that, for obvious reasons, the set opener is usually exceptionally strong. I Know What I Like, their first hit single, is also a dip of sorts. Performed live, it stretches out over eight minutes and more, a space for Phil’s on-stage antics with a tambourine. It’s an interlude of musical light relief, though the improvised middle section drags somewhat.

Everything I thought I knew about Genesis live in the seventies came from three sources: the Gabriel-era Genesis Live album, Gallo’s book and Seconds Out. Times change. Today the Genesis fan has an abundance of source material – the lengthy interviews making up the official Chapter and Verse book, for example, are a mine of useful detail, anecdote and context.

Armando Gallo had privileged behind-the-scenes access, but we can all now follow in his footsteps and check out the tour at various stops along the way. These reflections are based on seven excellent bootlegs from the Wind and Wuthering tour, all readily available for download completely free of charge: the London Rainbow and Southampton (January), Dallas and San Francisco (March), Sao Paolo (May), Earls Court, London (June) and Zurich (July). Listening to them offers us a far more complete picture of Genesis live in 1977 than the one presented by Seconds Out.

A cover of one of several excellent Genesis bootlegs from 1977. Sadly the Viva Les Bootlegs website is no longer updated, but there are other sites where bootlegs can be downloaded free of charge.

The actual running-order of the live show varied considerably from the Seconds Out track-listing. After some experimentation during the initial British dates (including, it seems, the short-lived inclusion of Lilywhite Lilith and Wot Gorilla), the set list eventually settled down to this:

Squonk / One for the Vine / Robbery, Assault and Battery / Your Own Special Way / Firth of Fifth / Carpet Crawlers / In That Quiet Earth / Afterglow / Eleventh Earl of Mar / Supper’s Ready / Dance on a Volcano / Los Endos / The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway / The Musical Box (excerpt)

Songs that were played live but don’t appear on Seconds Out are shown struck through

Eleventh Earl of Mar occasionally opened the set, and The Knife was included as an additional encore towards the very end of the tour, featuring on the Earls Court bootleg. All in a Mouse’s Night was played in the first few shows and then dropped relatively quickly for no obvious reason. Your Own Special Way was probably included as the then-current single. On stage, it falls rather flat despite some gorgeous additional piano from Tony. With the release of the Spot the Pigeon EP later in the year, the lesser-known but excellent b-side Inside and Out, another showcase for Steve’s guitar, took its place.

The Cinema Show was recorded on the band’s previous tour, having been dropped from the set by 1977. The reason for its inclusion here is not immediately obvious — a courtesy to Bill Bruford, perhaps (the band’s first fill-in drummer on stage: Chester Thompson took over drumming duties for the Wind and Wuthering tour and features on the rest of the album), or a discreet admission that leaving it out of the set had been an error (it was back for the next tour).

The decision to include The Cinema Show on Seconds Out and to omit several songs from Wind and Wuthering has a significant impact on the overall musical balance of the album. Unlike the live show, it is dominated by Gabriel-era music — in total, something like two-thirds, including the entirety of sides two and three — whereas at Dallas on 19 March, to choose one gig at random, Gabriel-era music comprises less than half the set. Five songs from Wind and Wuthering are performed (it was six in the early shows when All in a Mouse’s Night was played), of which only Afterglow eventually made it onto Seconds Out.

A cutting from the excellent The Genesis Archive fan site

The words ‘supper’s ready’ are spoken by Phil to introduce, well, Supper’s Ready. They are the only words spoken on the album (except for a brief, breathless “merci, Paris” and “merci, bonsoir”). It is all deeply serious. Except, in reality, it wasn’t. Seconds Out omits all the between-song chatter — and there’s a lot of it — and with it much of the humour that was integral to a Genesis show.

Phil is at the centre of it all, naturally. He’s following a tradition started by Peter, filling space to allow time for retuning and assorted tweaking and twiddling. So we miss out on the dodgy exploits of Harry the bank robber and the saucy goings-on of two virgins, Romeo and Juliet, the detail more or less titillating from one night to the next, presumably depending on whether the show was being broadcast live on radio. Mike joins in the fun. Your Own Special Way — about “Myrtle the Mermaid” — is apparently “racing up the Venezualan charts”. The story of Eleventh Earl of Mar, meanwhile, is set in Scotland, “a small country just north of England”. This levity is all perhaps a bit too much for Steve, who politely informs the audience that Firth of Fifth is “a song about a river”.

When the audience heard Phil announce at, say, Southampton Gaumont Theatre on 20 January 1977 that “this next one is from our new record”, did they already have an inkling that what they were hearing was one of a collection of songs that would stand the test of time — songs that are as fresh and exhilarating to hear in 2019 as they were when first released over forty years earlier?

Bootlegs offer us a more rounded picture than official releases — rough edges and raw mixes, mistakes and miscues — and as such they are essential listening for any fan. But Seconds Out provides something more. Beautifully mixed (to this amateur’s ears, at least), it captures a band at the peak of their game, playing many of their finest songs and sounding exquisite throughout. It is a classic album – classic in the sense of ‘the best, the highest quality’, but classic also in its timelessness. It deserves a place on the shortest of shortlists of the greatest live albums of all time.


More about Genesis


1974

Bonsoir. We visit Montreal as part of the Selling England by the Pound tour

1976

London’s Hammersmith Odeon: it’s Phil’s first tour as Genesis front man

1978

And then there were three … plus two: the first tour without Steve Hackett


Queen Songs Ranked 20–01


At last — cue the opening drum roll from Innuendo — we arrive at what this fan considers to be the twenty greatest Queen songs. The best of the best. It is surprisingly difficult to write anything about these twenty gems — especially the singles — as so much has already been said, not least about Bohemian Rhapsody, which — major spoiler alert! — did make my final twenty. The list is heavily weighted in favour of the ’70s, with five of the tracks coming from Queen II and five from A Night at the Opera. I have written elsewhere about the problems of choosing a ‘best’ album: the four albums from Queen II to A Day at the Races are all quite exceptional. There is a fairly even spread of Freddie and Brian songs here (with one contribution from Roger), though Brian wrote all of the songs in my top three and sang two of the songs in my top ten. Enjoy.

Click here for details about how I compiled the list and to start from the beginning (number 185).


20. Killer Queen (Mercury), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

Freddie’s song about a high-end prostitute has a lighter feel after the dense sound and full-on fury of much of Queen II. The penchant for witty lyrics and camp, theatrical delivery was typical of Freddie in the ’70s — think of Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon, Seaside Rendezvous and Bicycle Race. Their first big hit single, it’s often forgotten that it was actually a double-A-side with Flick of the Wrist (the one you won’t have heard on Tony Blackburn’s show, as Brian said at the Rainbow). Best moment: the guitar solo — one of Brian’s favourites, so he has indicated.

19. Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together) (May), A Day at the Races, 1976

After Brian’s billet doux to America (Now I’m Here) came this paean to Japan, written after two incredibly successful tours there. Utterly gorgeous from start to finish, the song starts conventionally enough (albeit with a chorus partly sung in Japanese), until Brian reaches for the power chords and Freddie delivers a sensational middle eight (“When I’m gone / They’ll say we’re all fools and we don’t understand”). The climax is an exquisite multi-tracked choir effect, emphasising the inclusive message of the song. The HD mix featured on the 2011 remasters is sublime.

18. Nevermore (Mercury), Queen II, 1974

A short yet quite delightful piano ballad from Freddie. The title is perhaps drawn from Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven. The piano playing is gorgeous, the words — beautifully sung — are tender and touching, and the backing vocals are magnificent. A rare example of where the BBC session version didn’t really work (an indication, perhaps, of how important the backing vocals are in the song). Best moment: the angelic choir sound at 0:58.

17. Innuendo (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

Rolling, sweeping, majestic. Innuendo casts off the self-imposed straitjacket of the conventional four-minute pop-rock song that constrained the band’s creativity as mega-stardom beckoned in the ’80s. In its epic scale, Innuendo recaptures the youthful idealism and spirit of adventure of songs like The March of the Black Queen and The Prophet’s Song. Like the rising of the sun and the incessant motion of the tides, music and lyrics combine to evoke a boundless, timeless universe — “’til the end of time” indeed. Best moment: a toss-up between the sparse acoustic interlude at 2:45 and Brian’s magnificent guitar from 4:19 onwards.

16. Father to Son (May), Queen II, 1974

An appropriately guitar-rich epic, this is Brian’s loving tribute to his father, Harold, with whom he of course built the Red Special. The centrepiece is Brian’s sweeping, multi-layered solo, yet the whole song illustrates the prevailing Queen motif at that time — to fill every possible space with sound, right from the opening power chords after the final strains of Procession fade away. The Procession / Father to Son opening of the March ’74 Rainbow concert is possibly the greatest beginning to a live album ever. Best moment: Brian’s lines expressing the unconditional love between parent and child — “But the air you breathe / I live to give you”.

15. White Man (May), A Day at the Races, 1976

Another breathtaking exploration by Brian of the possibilities of two-part and three-part guitar harmonies, White Man is a snarling howl of anger and rage at the tragic fate of America’s native peoples, all but wiped out by the onward march of European so-called ‘civilisation’ — “the hell you’ve made”. Freddie brilliantly conveys the pain and anguish in his throat-shredding vocals. Best moment: guitar and drums from roughly 3:02 and particularly Roger’s drums at 3:09.

14. The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke (Mercury), Queen II, 1974

The original and best example of Freddie’s penchant for writing fast-paced quirky arrangements, accompanied by witty or unusual lyrics — Seaside Rendezvous, Mustapha, Bicycle Race and the operatic section of Bohemian Rhapsody follow in the same tradition. Written around a painting by troubled nineteenth-century artist Richard Dadd and obviously the result of painstaking research (not something one would associate with later-era Freddie). Best moment: “What a quaere fellow!”

13. Radio Ga Ga (Taylor), The Works, 1984

A spectacular return to form after the misfiring Hot Space, Radio Ga Ga has achieved near-legendary status, not least as a result of its inclusion in the Live Aid set. Programmed drums notwithstanding (and a guitar sadly buried in the mix), it is a brilliant homage to the apparently dying world of radio — ironically, supported by one of their most ambitious and best videos — with great bass from John and an anthemic, show-stopping chorus. Best moment: “So stick around ‘cos we might miss you / When we grow tired of all this visual”.

12. Seven Seas of Rhye (Mercury), Queen II, 1974

After the prolonged, meandering opening to their first single, Keep Yourself Alive, their second single took them to the other extreme — delivering everything bar the kitchen sink in a spellbinding opening thirty seconds. A brilliantly crafted slice of rock (and one of their more ‘glam’-sounding efforts at a time when ‘glam’ was dominating the charts), with typically (for early-era Freddie) obscure yet compelling lyrics. Best moment: the snarling guitar at 1:51 after “Then I’ll get you!”.

11. Don’t Stop Me Now (Mercury), Jazz, 1978

Freddie’s hymn to the hedonistic lifestyle. An exceptional piece of commercial ‘pop’ music, comfortably the stand-out track from the patchy Jazz sessions and the closest Queen should have veered in the direction of disco. Now one of Queen’s most recognisable songs, it’s hard to believe that it only reached number 9 in the British charts. Unlike (it seems) many fans, this fan prefers the ‘long-lost guitars’ version from the 2011 re-releases and the ‘revisited’ version from the 2018 movie soundtrack, both of which offer a more ‘traditional’ Queen sound. Best moment: John’s bass at roughly 1:31.

10. The Prophet’s Song (May), A Night at the Opera, 1975

In some respects a companion piece to Bohemian Rhapsody from the same sessions, this is probably the most gloriously sprawling, ambitious and experimental song the band (in this case, mainly Brian) attempted — from the opening notes of the toy koto onwards. Mystical themes, delightful guitar harmonies and bizarre vocal effects combine to deliver eight minutes of bewildering brilliance. Best moment: the power of the bass-drum-guitar combination after “Listen to the madman!” at roughly 5:51.

09. Somebody to Love (Mercury), A Day at the Races, 1976

Freddie’s nod to Aretha Franklin and the gospel sound, this is a suitably over-the-top follow-up to Bohemian Rhapsody. A brilliant vocal performance from Freddie, wonderful gospel choir arrangements involving Freddie, Brian and Roger, and a great overall sound. It also translated exceptionally well to the stage, particularly the closing section of the song. Best moment: Freddie’s vocal combining with Brian’s guitar for “But everybody wants to put me down” from 1:45.

08. The Show Must Go On (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

Like These Are the Days of Our Lives, this song captures the sad and reflective yet defiant mood of the time, with the band writing and recording in the shadow of Freddie’s approaching death. The music is magnificent, particularly Brian’s guitar and John’s bass, and somehow Freddie delivers a truly stunning vocal performance. Some of the lines are — with the benefit of hindsight — unbearably sad, not least “Inside my heart is breaking / My make-up may be flaking / But my smile still stays on”. Best moment: a strong contender for the best lyrics Queen ever wrote — “My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies / Fairy tales of yesterday will grow but never die / I can fly, my friends”.

07. Good Company (May), A Night at the Opera, 1975

Almost four minutes of utter originality and genius, courtesy of Brian, beginning with the minimalist ukulele opening and concluding with the full jazz-band sound, all of which (drums excepted, obviously) was created in the studio on the Red Special and other guitars. Has the guitar ever been used to such stunningly original effect? Overlooked too are Brian’s wonderfully witty lyrics, particularly the way he cleverly weaves multiple uses and meanings out of the word ‘company’. Best moment: it has to be the jazz-band effect.

06. In the Lap of the Gods…Revisited (Mercury), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

Freddie was at his creative peak on the first four albums, and this is yet another outstanding piece of writing straight out of left field. A brilliant way to end the Sheer Heart Attack album, it was also used as a magnificent show-closer until 1977, accompanied by industrial quantities of dry ice, and was (for this fan at least) an even better finale than We Are the Champions, which replaced it in the live set. Best moment: the long “Wo wo la la la” final section of the song.

05. Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…) (Mercury), A Night at the Opera, 1975

As the elegant notes from Freddie’s piano make way for Brian’s snarling guitars, a sense of menace and unrestrained fury grabs the listener by the throat and doesn’t let go. Freddie’s diatribe aimed at their former management company is a brilliantly unsettling opening to the band’s Sgt Pepper, as he hurls the insults and heaps on the abuse in line after bitter line. Best moment: it can only be “But now you can kiss my ass goodbye!”.

04. Bohemian Rhapsody (Mercury), A Night at the Opera, 1975

For many, of course, Queen’s magnum opus. What more is there to be said about this song about which so much has been said and written? Startlingly original, certainly in terms of the singles charts — and yet what is magnificent about Queen is that many of the ideas in Bohemian Rhapsody are foreshadowed in their previous work. A complete one-off … and yet so typically Queen. Magnifico, indeed. Best moment: the operatic section, if only for the sheer audacity.

03. ’39 (May), A Night at the Opera, 1975

The finest of Brian’s many wonderful songs about absence, loss and the passage of time. More fitting than the rather upbeat on-stage delivery by Freddie, Brian’s sombre vocal perfectly matches the mood of the song. Exquisite folksy acoustic guitar throughout, supported by bass drum, double bass and tambourine. Best moment: the ethereal backing vocals, especially (but not only) at 1:37.

02. White Queen (As It Began) (May), Queen II, 1974

Queen’s finest power-ballad. Romantic and poetic, it is sung beautifully by Freddie, with backing vocals that are haunting and gorgeously ethereal. The acoustic playing is gentle and warm, matched by Roger’s subtle percussion. Brian’s guitar orchestrations are, as always, sublime. The BBC session version, particularly the interplay between guitar and piano, is possibly even better. Best moment: Brian’s soaring solo from 3:38.

01. Brighton Rock (May), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

The finest five minutes in rock music? Brighton Rock is — for this fan at least — Queen’s best song, eclipsing Bohemian Rhapsody, Somebody to Love and the rest. It incorporates so much that makes Queen unique and utterly, utterly extraordinary. It features great lyrics, as with White Queen, both romantic and poetic: “O rock of ages, do not crumble, love is breathing still / O lady moon shine down, a little people-magic if you will”. It has great lead and backing vocals, not least the drop from falsetto to ‘normal’ on the final line of the verse.

Above all, Brighton Rock showcases the wonderful originality and inventiveness of Brian’s guitar playing, and the thrilling interplay of guitar, bass and drums. One can only wonder at the time it took to record the song. Best moment: all of it, obviously, but at a push it would probably be the wonderful combination of guitar, bass and drums at 2:25.


More about Queen


40–21

Queen songs ranked — from Hammer to Fall (’84) to Who Wants to Live Forever (’86)

Live Killers

Reflections on Queen’s first live album, forty-ish years after its release

Queen Memories

Growing up as a Queen fan: teenage tales told through 10 Queen-related objects


Queen Songs Ranked 40–21


Another selection of twenty incredible Queen songs, almost the best of the best and drawn fairly evenly from the ’70s and later. This collection features the three best tracks from The Miracle and no less than four tracks from their debut album, as well as the standout tracks from Flash Gordon, Hot Space, A Kind of Magic, News of the World and The Game.

Click here for details about how I compiled the list and to start from the beginning (number 185).


40. Hammer to Fall (May), The Works, 1984

Brian’s most directly anti-war song, written at the height of the ‘second’ cold war and the popularity of CND, though on stage it was Roger who wore a T-shirt bearing an explicitly anti-nuclear message. It begins with a thumping guitar riff and doesn’t let up. It would have been an obvious way to end their comeback-of-sorts album, The Works, until the acoustic Is This the World We Created …? came along late in the day. The 12″ version is an extended Headbanger’s Mix with additional magic from Brian (though the ‘join’ at the beginning is a bit clunky).

Most Queen fans would probably disagree, but for me it’s the one song that didn’t quite work in the Live Aid set (I would have used Somebody to Love).

Best moment: the musical break at roughly 1:58 leading to a (for ’80s Queen) lengthy guitar solo.

39. A Kind of Magic (Taylor), A Kind of Magic, 1986

By the mid-’80s Roger was proving that he could write megahits too — though Freddie apparently re-worked the original idea somewhat. An infectious piece of uptempo pop, it transferred effortlessly to the stage and featured a quite superb ending. Brian’s playful guitar is utterly delightful in the studio and on stage. One of the better twelve-inch remixes from the ’80s. Best moment: “This rage that lasts a thousand years …” at 2:35.

38. Breakthru (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

An irresistibly infectious beat propels this song along: no wonder the video was set aboard a train. This song showcases John and Roger at their finest [note, however, that co-producer Dave Richards said at the time that it “has a synth bass line — it just didn’t seem to work with a live bass guitar”]. There are two ideas here merged into one, tacking Freddie’s A New Life Is Born onto the main song (apparently one of Roger’s). Best moment: the final chorus from 3:30.

37. I Want It All (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

The Miracle was arguably Queen’s patchiest album, but I Want It All delivers in spades, with a welcome helping of full-throated guitar and several blistering solos from Brian. Great drums, too, from Roger. The anthemic sound captures the ‘I want it all’ lyrical sentiments (the phrase apparently comes courtesy of Brian’s partner, Anita Dobson). Best moment: Brian’s vocal interlude (“I’m a man with a one-track mind …”) leading into an extended solo, with great backing from John and Roger.

36. These Are the Days of Our Lives (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

Roger’s gentle meditation on the passage of time — an enduring theme of his, though written now from the perspective of approaching middle age rather than of happy-go-lucky youth. The song is, of course, forever bound up with the death of Freddie and particularly the final video footage, in which he stands metaphorically naked before the camera, allowing the world to see the ravages of his illness. Truly heartbreaking to watch. Best moment: Brian’s guitar solo.

35. Vultan’s Theme (Attack of the Hawk Men) (Mercury), Flash Gordon, 1980

34. Battle Theme (May), Flash Gordon, 1980

The rebellion against Ming and the attack on Mingo City are here brilliantly brought to life in four blistering minutes. A driving beat from Roger and John accompanies Freddie’s synthesizer before Brian’s full-on guitar onslaught: this is heart-stopping stuff to accompany the onscreen heroics. The two pieces were briefly incorporated into the live set at the end of Brian’s solo. Best moment: “Flash!” at roughly 1:45 of Battle Theme.

33. We Are the Champions (Mercury), News of the World, 1977

A classic that — along with We Will Rock You — has gone on to capture the imagination of the world over the last forty years. Exceptionally lyrically daring at the time of its release (when Queen were hate figures for the punk-obsessed music press), the world has come to accept that the focus of the song is a collective ‘We’ — be it a Queen audience, a sports crowd or people in general.

As Brian has pointed out, Champions starts small and ends big — in typical Freddie style. Musically, it is straightforward — its power coming from the words and the anthemic chorus. On its release, the song was accompanied by a great ‘live’ video (with an ‘alternative’ version now produced) — shot in front of fan club members — far better than (say) Fat Bottomed Girls, filmed a year later, which comes across as pedestrian and by-the-book in comparison.

Best moment: Brian’s guitar in the final chorus, starting with the extraordinary elongated note at 2:41.

32. My Fairy King (Mercury), Queen, 1973

Was this the first Queen song ever played on the radio — track one of the first BBC session, broadcast in February 1973? It’s arguably also the first song to feature the complex vocal and musical arrangements that became such a feature of the early Queen sound. Mystical, mythological and biblical themes were common in Freddie’s early lyrics: here he borrows from the poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning (“And honey-bees had lost their stings / And horses were born with eagles’ wings”).

Piano-led, rather than guitar-driven, this was an exquisite foretaste of what was to come. Best moment: the delicate piano break at roughly 2:14 (“Someone, someone just drained the colour from my wings …”).

31. Was It All Worth It (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

A high-point on which to end the patchy Miracle album, this feels like an (at times tongue-in-cheek) valedictory reflection on the vicissitudes of the rock-‘n’-roll life set to a thumping riff. Here the synthesizer is also used to wonderfully surreal effect. Best moment: the synth intro and opening riff and then the closing riffs at 5:05.

30. She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos) (May), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

A typically dark, moody and magnificent Brian affair. Sweaty and claustrophobic — probably written as Brian recovered from serious and prolonged bouts of illness in ’74. The closing minute or so is utterly brilliant and original. One story holds that the ponderous, doom-laden drumbeat was described by Roger as like ‘a stormtrooper in stilettos’ — hence the song’s subtitle. Best moment: the harmonies on “She makes me need / She is my love / She is my love” at 0:57.

29. Great King Rat (Mercury), Queen, 1973

Another early masterpiece. Harder than My Fairy King, here the guitars do the heavy lifting — it includes a brilliant multi-tracked solo from Brian. The biblical allusions are typical of early-era Freddie. There’s great percussion too from Roger buried away somewhat throughout the track, for example at 0:51. Best moment: when temptation beckons — “Now listen all you people” — at 2:43.

28. Love of My Life (Mercury), A Night at the Opera, 1975

Attention now focuses almost exclusively on the acoustic version performed live — a pivotal audience-participation moment in the show with, on recent tours, an ‘appearance’ by Freddie. It’s a shame that the original is somewhat overlooked: it’s a quite sublime ballad, infinitely superior to the slush that normally passes for a love song. There’s so much to enjoy, not least Brian’s harp and the tender vocal from Freddie. Best moment: the exquisite piano runs from 2:32 accompanying Brian’s delicate guitar.

27. You and I (Deacon), A Day at the Races, 1976

The most hidden of John’s hidden gems — to add insult to injury, it was released as a b-side to Tie Your Mother Down. This is John’s writing at its absolute peak, which could (and arguably should) have been a single. In roughly four minutes it encapsulates the whole A Day at the Races sound — an attractive radio-friendly melody, great guitars, Freddie’s driving piano, nice bass runs, a thick drum sound and lush backing vocal arrangements. Best moment: that exquisite guitar at 2:49.

26. Save Me (May), The Game, 1980

As Mack dragged the Queen sound into the ’80s, it seemed as if — with Sail Away Sweet Sister and Save Me — Brian was fighting a rearguard action on behalf of the ’70s. Reminiscent in some ways of the magnificent White Queen, there are lots of trademark early Queen sounds here. A groundbreaking video at the time, though for this young fan at the time (before home video recorders and the like) it was frustrating that on-stage ‘live’ footage of the band was used only intermittently.

Best moment: the short acoustic solo at 2:24 could have come from Queen II.

25. Under Pressure (Queen/Bowie), Hot Space, 1982

It really shouldn’t have worked — a collaboration more or less from scratch, a semi-drunken jam, rock-star egos loose in the studio — and yet it does, magnificently so. Both acts subsequently did it justice on stage — though, frustratingly, never on the same stage at the same time! Best moment: “Can’t we give ourselves …” at 2:36.

24. Liar (Mercury), Queen, 1973

Another one of the very earliest songs, of course, and a fan favourite — a bona fide Queen classic. One of the longer Queen songs, it goes through several mood changes, though retaining a hard-rock edge throughout. Great drums from Roger and featuring a number of guitar solos. On stage, a rare example of John singing (he shared Freddie’s microphone). Best moment: the closing section, particularly Roger’s drumming, which enabled him to look suitably moody and heroic when performed on stage.

23. The March of the Black Queen (Mercury), Queen II, 1974

It’s impossible to listen to Bohemian Rhapsody and not hear echoes of Black Queen. The most over-the-top track on Queen’s most over-the-top album. The listener is left gasping at their sheer arrogance: it feels as if every so-far unused musical idea from the sessions was added to the mix. It over-reaches and almost keels over under the weight of its grandiosity; yet, it is utterly audacious and quite magnificent.

When Queen II was first released on CD, faulty indexing/mastering resulted in the final verse being tacked on to the beginning of Funny How Love Is.

Best moment: “I reign with my left hand / I rule with my right / I’m lord of all darkness / I’m Queen of the night” from 4:22 (the section that featured in the medley on stage).

22. Keep Yourself Alive (May), Queen, 1973

Iconic in so many ways — first session, first single, first track on the first album. A mesmerising, meandering opening — the gradual build-up of instrumentation until the first verse kicks in. How many singles include the words “belladonic haze” and a drum solo? As Brian has noted, it’s not a little ironic that, on stage, the song took on a ‘good-to-be-alive, get-’em-out-of-their-seats’ quality: the lyrics are in fact somewhat darker (as one would expect with early Brian). Best moment: the long introduction — the beginning of an incredible journey for us all.

21. Who Wants to Live Forever (May), A Kind of Magic, 1986

Written to accompany the Highlander storyline (apparently, it was sketched out in Brian’s head within twenty minutes after seeing rushes of the film), the emotional power of the song was of course later given added poignancy with the news of Freddie’s health.

On the Magic Tour, Freddie spoke at (relative) length to the crowd about rumours of the band splitting up, before introducing the song (thus allowing time for Brian’s keyboard to be set up on stage). At Wembley (12 July), he said: “So forget those rumours. We’re going to stay together until we fucking well die, I’m sure.”

A somewhat rare example of where orchestra and rock band complement each other and combine with great dramatic effect. Good use, too, of two vocalists — Brian’s initial voice is vulnerable and naked whereas Freddie soars. Best moment: the power chords and Roger’s drums (presumably) at 2:50.


More about Queen


60–41

Queen songs ranked — from Don’t Try So Hard (’91) to I’m in Love with My Car (’75)

20–01

No spoilers, but it’s safe to assume Bohemian Rhapsody is in my top 20 Queen songs

Queen Memories

Growing up as a Queen fan: teenage tales told through 10 Queen-related objects


Queen Songs Ranked 60–41


Queen’s finest non-album release features in this magnificent selection (at number 50), as do tracks from most of their albums. Innuendo and News of the World both feature three times. No album released in Freddie’s lifetime has yet made its last appearance. Of the tracks listed 50–41, only two date from 1980 or later, and one of those has a ‘classic’ ’70s Queen sound!

Click here for details about how I compiled the list and to start from the beginning (number 185).


60. Don’t Try So Hard (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

A simple, delicate ballad, this song is taken to quite another level by Freddie’s stunning vocal, which is nothing short of astonishing when one considers his undoubted physical frailty at that time. Superb understated use of synthesizers too. Best moment: “Oh what a beautiful world / This is the life for me” at roughly 2:02.

59. The Hero (May), Flash Gordon, 1980

It’s a shame that The Hero is rather let down by what was apparently some last-minute, seat-of-the-pants production: the ‘joins’ between the different sections of the song are somewhat glaring. Nevertheless, after a blistering reprise of Battle Theme, the core of the song (from roughly 0:50 to 1:40) is an outstanding slice of hero-saluting heavy rock. It was used as a brilliant (and unexpected!) set opener in 1982. Best moment: “All you gotta’ do is save the world!”

58. Staying Power (Mercury), Hot Space, 1982

Along with Back Chat, this was by far the best of Queen’s experiments in dance-funk. It’s baffling that one of these two songs was not released as the Hot Space lead-off single, if the band really wanted to announce their new musical direction. Packed with quirky ideas and with good use of the stereo mix, the horns blend in well too. There is internet chatter that (along with Body Language) this was largely a Freddie studio creation; certainly, there is little or no space for Brian and Roger. As usual, the live version was far rockier — and far better. Best moment: the horn-led instrumental break at 1:42.

57. Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’) (May/Taylor), The Works, 1984

Machines is quite unlike anything else in the Queen canon and demonstrates a refreshing willingness to jettison traditional song structures in a manner reminiscent of their early albums. The conflict in the lyrics between humans and machines seems to be mirrored by the interplay between guitar/bass/drums and programmed Fairlight synthesizer ‘mechanical’ sounds. Best moment: the recurring hammer blows of guitar, bass and drums beginning at 0:46 (used to bring the band to the stage during the Works tour).

56. You Take My Breath Away (Mercury), A Day at the Races, 1976

Almost a solo Freddie effort, this is a beautifully naked and tender love song. On stage it was performed with just piano and voice — and for an early performance of the song at Hyde Park, Freddie sang falsetto parts. Best moment: the exquisite final line — “To tell you when I’ve found you / I love you”.

55. Bijou (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

Brian’s simple yet devastatingly effective inversion of the traditional song structure. Thus his beautifully mournful guitar ‘sings’ and Freddie’s vocal plays the part of the solo. Again, the synthesizer is nicely understated. It is perfectly situated on the album, leading into the magnificent The Show Must Go On. Best moment: Freddie’s brief vocal, the words again taking on a whole new significance in light of his illness — “You and me / We are destined, you’ll agree / To spend the rest of our lives with each other”.

54. Keep Passing the Open Windows (Mercury), The Works, 1984

A fantastic piece of pop-rock, with a great driving bassline from John and stirring, uplifting sentiments from Freddie — “Get yourself together / Things are looking better every day” — far better than his earlier Don’t Try Suicide. It would also have been a better choice for third Works single than It’s a Hard Life, working on the assumption that intra-band politics had reached a point where each was ‘entitled’ to one A-side single release. Best moment: John’s bass kicks in at 0:20.

53. Ride the Wild Wind (Taylor), Innuendo, 1991

A great uptempo beat drives this hymn to life in the fast lane — lyrically it is favourite Roger territory. Great drums throughout, too, and restrained use of synthesizers, adding lush textures rather than dominating the music. Best moment: Brian’s guitar sounds epic at roughly 3:00.

52. Mustapha (Mercury), Jazz, 1978

It would take something special to prevent Let Me Entertain You being placed as side one track one on Jazz — and Mustapha was certainly it. A delightful slice of left-field nonsense from Freddie. It’s not easy to disentangle the lyrics — some in English, some apparently in Arabic and Persian and some gibberish. Mustapha earned its place in the live set by popular demand.

The song is let down (as so often on Jazz) only by the production: the ‘epic’ Queen sound of old has well and truly gone and the drums, in particular, have lost their natural depth, now sounding artificial, tinny and dull. The instruments sound compressed and lifeless (except for a brief segment starting at 1:20 when the sound ‘breaks out’ and makes full use of the available ‘space’, repeated at 2:33).

51. One Vision (Queen), A Kind of Magic, 1986

We of course know more about this song’s creative development than probably any other Queen song due to the fact that the recording process was filmed by the so-called Torpedo Twins, regular Queen collaborators at the time. Recorded in the afterglow of Live Aid, One Vision wears its internationalist, humanitarian sentiments on its sleeve. It’s a great riff from Brian. Best moment: Roger’s thudding bass drum in the introduction.

50. See What a Fool I’ve Been (Arr. May), b-side, 1974

Here it is: Queen’s finest non-album song. There are two excellent studio versions of the song available. The original b-side recording — complete with blistering multi-tracked guitars and Freddie at his most outrageously camp — and the BBC session version, more closely aligned with the way the song was performed on stage and with alternative lyrics.

We now know a little more about the genesis of the song in the Smile days. It was based on a chord sequence and a couple of lines of lyrics that Brian remembered hearing. As he was unable to recall the specific song, he says that the composer credit was left as ‘Trad. arr. — May’. The original song has since been tracked down. Notwithstanding the above, when the song has featured on recent Queen releases such as Queen On Air, it is credited to ‘May’.

Best moment: Freddie’s blatantly camp vocal delivery — “Oh tantrums! / It don’t feel the same / Now hit it … like that!”

49. Bicycle Race (Mercury), Jazz, 1978

Straight out of the tradition of eccentric Freddie songs (The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke, Bring Back That Leroy Brown, Seaside Rendezvous), this is a smorgasbord of quirky musical ideas, time-signature changes and tongue-in-cheek lyrics (marred only by the rather banal lyrics of the chorus). The instrumental version (released in 2011) is a great listen too. Best moment: “Bicycle races are coming your way …” at roughly 1:00 and the accompanying piano.

48. Spread Your Wings (Deacon), News of the World, 1977

Overlooked for Queen’s Greatest Hits, this terrific John Deacon song remains one of their finest hidden gems, though its placing on the magnificent side three of Live Killers has perhaps earned it a wider audience over the years. It was resurrected but quickly dropped for the 2017 Queen + Adam Lambert News of the World fortieth-anniversary tour, with Brian claiming that the song didn’t quite take off with audiences as well as they had hoped.

The track contains some great incidental piano and acoustic guitar. The BBC session version includes a superb uptempo final section that for some reason was not performed on stage. The ‘raw sessions’ version that featured in the fortieth-anniversary box set is a treat as well. Best moment: the long outro from 3:29.

47. Bring Back That Leroy Brown (Mercury), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

Arguably the first song to show off the band’s willingness to dabble in radically different musical styles and pastiche, Leroy Brown is an indicator of what was to come. A joy from start to finish, especially Brian’s ukulele. Best moment: a toss-up between the musical break at roughly 0:49, leading to John’s double bass solo, and Brian’s ukulele solo at 1:57.

46. Long Away (May), A Day at the Races, 1976

A Brian song — one of many — about absence, longing and loneliness. Of the four members of the band, he was clearly the one most troubled by life away on the road. Certain Queen songs suited Brian’s vocal, exemplified perfectly here: “For every star in heaven / there’s a sad soul here today”. There’s a great jangly 12-string guitar sound throughout. Best moment: the short multi-tracked solo at 1:47.

45. It’s Late (May), News of the World, 1977

One of Brian’s tales of emotional upheaval, reimagined around three ‘scenes’ and set to a thumping guitar-based rock backdrop. Brian’s solo leading into an extended musical break is exceptional, as is the closing section. The alternative version released in 2017, also a delight, contains more up-front piano from Freddie. Best moment: Brian’s multi-tracked solo, starting at 3:29, and the long riff at 3:50, leading into the uptempo rock-‘n’-roll section.

44. All Dead, All Dead (May), News of the World, 1977

Eschewing the lush arrangements of their earlier material, the song is a model of stark simplicity — piano, minimal guitar and Freddie on backing vocals. One of the unexpected surprises of the 2017 fortieth anniversary News of the World box set was the version with Freddie on lead vocal. It was nice to have the mystery of the opening lines, which I love, solved. For me, they perfectly capture the bittersweet quality of the memories of those you have loved who have passed away: they “haunt” you but you never want to forget them (“How long can you stay …”).

On balance I think I prefer the Brian version, though that might just be because of its familiarity and its ‘polished’ quality. Of the four, he consistently wrote the most intensely personal lyrics, often about absence and lost love. Here he seems to sing his own poetical, old-fashioned words (“ado”, “fleeted”) with complete authenticity, even though he doesn’t have Freddie’s expressiveness. Best moment: Roger’s drum and John’s bass after 2:29 (which isn’t in Freddie’s demo version).

43. Princes of the Universe (Mercury), A Kind of Magic, 1986

Similar in many ways to The Hero (lyrically, certainly), this is a rare slice of hard rock from ’80s Freddie, packing a wealth of ideas into three-and-a-half frantic minutes, with time-signature changes aplenty. A great vocal from Freddie, a huge drum sound and truly epic guitars from Brian. Best moment: the backing vocals at 1:00.

42. Sail Away Sweet Sister (May), The Game, 1980

It felt at the time that Brian was the guardian of the traditional Queen sound, as the band moved in a radically different direction. Sail Away is another emotional epic with tasteful use of acoustic guitar and synthesizer. The downbeat ending from 2:47, particularly John’s bass, is great. Best moment: Freddie’s middle-eight, ending with the traditional Queen backing chorus at 1:57 and Brian’s multi-tracked solo. Classic ’70s Queen.

41. I’m in Love with My Car (Taylor), A Night at the Opera, 1975

So much has been written about this song over the years. They even poked fun at it in the movie script (though Roger has always had the last laugh — the large royalty cheques continuing to arrive as the original b-side of Bohemian Rhapsody). It’s the quintessential Queen song about fast cars, set to a rolling beat and featuring Roger’s best ever vocal performance, backed by typically lavish backing vocal arrangements. Best moment: the backing vocals at 0:59 and again at 2:10 and 2:22.


More about Queen


80–61

Queen songs ranked — from Pain Is So Close to Pleasure (’86) to Tie Your Mother Down (’76)

40–21

Queen songs ranked — from Hammer to Fall (’84) to Who Wants to Live Forever (’86)

Queen Memories

Growing up as a Queen fan: teenage tales told through 10 Queen-related objects


Favourite Album: Cold Maths or Gut Instinct?


Inspired by a blog I came across recently (unfortunately I can’t find the link but there are loads of such blogs around), I have spent the last few days compiling my personal ranking of Queen songs, and I am just in the process of writing it all up, beginning with 185–161. I had in fact already started all of this when the Classic Rock readers’ poll listing came out — I am looking forward to comparing my ranking with theirs in due course. At the moment, I am just thinking about what my rankings are telling me about my favourite/least favourite Queen albums.

So I now have a database of 185 Queen songs (I explain here what I did/didn’t count as a ‘Queen’ song) — each one numbered from 185 (least favourite) to 01 (favourite). I decided to see if a bit of elementary mathematics (it would need to be) could help me formulate a ‘definitive’ ranking of albums. I was intrigued as to whether it would confirm what ‘gut instinct’ has always told me, which is roughly something like this:

1-2 Sheer Heart Attack & A Night at the Opera (usually Opera at 1 but it seems to alternate in my mind)
3 Queen II
4 A Day at the Races
5 Queen
6-8 News of the World, The Works, Innuendo
9 The Game
10 A Kind of Magic
11-12 Flash Gordon, Made in Heaven
13 Jazz
14 Hot Space
15 The Miracle


I worked out the mean score for each album (the old-school ‘average’: add up all the individual items and then divide by the number of items). This is what I got (mean score in brackets):

1 A Day at the Races (45.5)
2 A Night at the Opera (57.2) — though it was 47.5 without God Save the Queen
3. Queen II (63.4)
4. Sheer Heart Attack (67.2)
5. Queen (68.8)
6. Innuendo (78.3)
7. A Kind of Magic (80.3)
8. The Works (87.3)
9. News of the World (88.2)
10. The Game (91.9)
11. Jazz (100.3)
12. Hot Space (103.5)
13. Made in Heaven (113.1)
14. The Miracle (115.7)
15. Flash Gordon (138.3)

The big surprise there is that A Day at the Races came out the fairly comfortable winner. I have exceptionally fond memories of the album — the first one I ever bought — but I have never seriously considered it my absolute favourite.

I scored the tracks on A Day at the Races as follows: 9, 15, 19, 27, 46, 56, 61, 68, 72, 82. So consistency wins out, at least by this mean measure. I have of course always seen it as a very ‘solid’ album: there is nothing at the very top (the highest is 09Somebody to Love), but there is also nothing lower than 82 (Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy).

Ten very good tracks — the epitome of ‘solid’ — whereas a ‘great’ album that includes perhaps twelve or thirteen tracks may still include a couple of weaker songs which pull the overall average down. For example, I scored A Night at the Opera: 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 28, 41, 78, 102, 109, 135, 164. It has five songs in the top ten but the ‘weaker’ songs bring the average down.

I should perhaps make clear that I don’t dislike God Save the Queen (number 164), but I found it an interesting headache where to rank short songs that I really like (such as some of the Flash Gordon songs but also songs like Dear Friends, which was at 141) and the God Save the Queen and Wedding March (170) traditional arrangements — part of a discussion for another time about what criteria we might use to rate a song.

The other thing that stands out for me from the mean list is that I seem to rate the individual elements of A Kind of Magic higher than my gut sense of the album as a whole. Conversely, I like Flash Gordon as a soundtrack but that doesn’t come through when broken down on a track-by-track basis. The cold logic of mathematics, I suppose. It’s the old adage about the whole being bigger than the sum of the parts: the numbers are struggling to express how I feel about an album as an overall listening experience.


I then ranked them according to the median (list the individual items and the median is the one in the middle). Supposedly this is good for filtering out a small number of outliers that dramatically skew the average and therefore gives you a better sense of where the bulk of the numbers are. This is what I got:

1. Queen II (23)
2. A Night at the Opera (35) – 28 without God Save the Queen
3. A Day at the Races (51)
4. Sheer Heart Attack (65)
5. Queen (67)
6. Innuendo (72)
7. A Kind of Magic (80)
8. The Game (84)
9. News of the World (94)
10. The Works (99)
11. Jazz (101)
12. Hot Space (107)
13. Made in Heaven (116)
14. The Miracle (135)
15. Flash Gordon (152)

So this calculation yielded slightly different results. A Day at the Races is certainly closer to where I would instinctively have placed it in the list. The big surprise was Queen II coming out top. When I look at how I scored the tracks, I find that it is an album very much of two halves (and I don’t mean the two sides, Black and White): six absolutely fantastic songs and five merely ‘good’ songs. It’s the very opposite of the consistency of A Day at the Races but the good tracks are so good (five in the top twenty) that it ends up winning.

This is how I scored Queen II:

02 White Queen (As It Began)
12 Seven Seas of Rhye
14 The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke
16 Father to Son
18 Nevermore
23 The March of the Black Queen
88 Ogre Battle
112 Some Day One Day
115 Procession
145 Funny How Love Is
152 The Loser in the End (sorry, Rog)

Great fun to do – and I will be doing a lot more analysis in the next few days and weeks.

By the way, Brighton Rock was number 01.


More about Queen


185–161

Queen songs ranked — plus an explanation of the rationale and ground rules I adopted

Live Killers

Reflections on Queen’s first live album, forty-ish years after its release

Queen Memories

Growing up as a Queen fan: teenage tales told through 10 Queen-related objects