I’ve been listening to “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” for three decades now, and I haven’t tired of it—which is something I can’t honestly say about the rest of the Genesis catalogue. The record was a kind of looking glass for my youthful dreams, as crucial as the movies of Martin Scorsese and the novels of Paul Auster in fostering a long-distance fascination with New York that prompted my move to the city after college. Guided by Kevin Holm-Hudson’s critical history, “Genesis and ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’,” and several biographies of the band and its members, I’ve spent the past few weeks immersing myself once again in the mysteries of “The Lamb.” On the eve of Gabriel’s induction into the Hall, there remains no better place to look for the roots of his artistic transformation.
“The Lamb” was written and recorded during the summer of 1974. By that time, Genesis had been together for seven years and released five albums, establishing a reputation for long, intricately constructed songs featuring multiple mood changes and unconventional time signatures (“Apocalypse in 9/8” is the partial subheading of one of their longer numbers). After some early personnel shifts, the band had stabilized its lineup in 1970: founding members Gabriel (vocals and flute) and Tony Banks (keyboards) along with Mike Rutherford (bass and guitar), Steve Hackett (guitars), and Phil Collins (percussion). Intense touring—as many as two hundred shows a year—had helped them develop a strong following in the U.K. Their fifth album, “Selling England by the Pound” (1973), rose as high as No. 3 on the British charts. Though that LP made it only to No. 70 on the Billboard Hot 100, Genesis had supported the record with a long tour in the U.S. (their first), where an embryonic fan base had begun to grow. The exposure to America, and New York in particular, would inspire their next project.
The band operated as a coöperative, equally sharing all music-writing credits. The lyrics were also a collaboration, usually between Gabriel, Banks, and Rutherford. Yet, in performance the members of Genesis were anything but equals. In typical fashion for a progressive-rock act, the four instrumentalists sat or stood in a semicircle, rooted to their spots, intently playing. Front and center was Gabriel, who looked like he’d stormed in from a commedia dell’arte show in the theatre next door. With face paint, an overgrown monk’s haircut, and a tight-fitting black jumpsuit, he bounced around the stage telling stories, donning costumes and masks, and pantomiming. Holm-Hudson correctly argues that Gabriel’s performances are much more akin to early David Bowie than to those of other prog-rock singers like Jon Anderson, of Yes. The video below, of the song “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe),” from 1973, is a representative example of his dynamic stage presence. It also gives the viewer an indication why the other members of Genesis might have begun to resent the growing impression that they were merely a backup group for their charismatic lead singer.