‘I Can’t Dance’: How Genesis Set Dancefloors Alight
A wry piece of pop perfection, ‘I Can’t Dance’ filled dancefloors the world over with fans emulating its ironic video.
Whereas many artists release their most commercially successful work in their early days, before finding themselves playing to a dwindling – but nevertheless fiercely devoted – fanbase in their autumn years, Genesis are one of the few bands whose career followed the opposite trajectory. By the time they released the We Can’t Dance album, in November 1991, it was their fifth and final UK No. 1, their second Top 5 US chart entry, and, ultimately, a quadruple-platinum-seller that marked the group’s commercial zenith – a mere 23 years after releasing their first single. Bolstered by the massive success of the “I Can’t Dance” song, a 1992 arena tour beckoned, with Genesis playing to packed audiences across the US and Europe.
Listen to We Can’t Dance on Apple Music and Spotify.
The album’s success owed some thanks to its iconic second single. Released on December 30, 1991, “I Can’t Dance” was a wryly humorous piece of pop perfection that earned the group a 1993 Grammy for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals. Initially perceived as a throwaway idea knocked out in the studio, when Tony Banks added keyboards and sound effects to Mike Rutherford’s bluesy guitar line, Genesis realized they had an atypically simple and direct song on their hands. Bolstered by Phil Collins’ self-effacing lyrics and the satirical promo video that accompanied it, there was no way “I Can’t Dance” could fail.
To those for whom Genesis’ name conjures high-concept prog excursions, both the song – and its accompanying promo – offer a startlingly light-hearted riposte. At the time of its release, Levi jeans had gained attention for a run of groundbreaking adverts that featured smoldering models getting the girl while parading their new denims in a string of absurd situations. Genesis saw that they were ripe for parody – and so Collins finds himself upstaged by an iguana, wrestling with a dog and losing his jeans to a pool shark, while the band plays on and the girls turn their attention elsewhere.
Not only did the video introduce that walk to the world – you know, the one that looks as though Collins and co had recently found gainful employment at the Ministry Of Silly Walks – but in showing backstage footage of Collins getting made up for filming and having buckets of dust thrown over him, it also gave fans a glimpse of the less than glamorous world that lay behind the airbrushed glitz of a fashion shoot.
But nothing quite prepared fans for the coda, which proved that Collins could actually bust some moves… after a fashion. In a final send-up of high-profile, big-budget shoots, the promo’s final image sees Collins take Michael Jackson on, throwing bizarre shapes reminiscent of those The King Of Pop indulged in at the end of his “Black Or White’ video before turning into a panther…
Thankfully, Collins escapes such a fate: after brandishing his car keys and indulging in a spot of erratic tap-dancing, Rutherford and Banks come on to save him from himself. Meanwhile, the song danced all the way to No. 7 on both sides of the Atlantic, proving that Genesis were entering their fourth consecutive decade on a high.
We Can’t Dance can be bought here.