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.
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 lordsSupper’s Ready
King of kings
Has returned to lead his children home
To take them to the New Jerusalem
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 soulAfterglow
The meaning of all that I believed before escapes me in this world of none
I miss you more
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.
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 /Songs that were played live but don’t appear on Seconds Out are shown struck through
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)
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.
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.
Bonsoir. We visit Montreal as part of the Selling England by the Pound tour
London’s Hammersmith Odeon: it’s Phil’s first tour as Genesis front man
Thoughts on books written by Phil, Steve and Mike