Best Genesis Songs: 20 Prog And Pop Epics

In a career spanning more than five decades, Genesis covered the bases from resonant love songs to elaborate flights of fantasy.

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Best Genesis Songs - Photo: David Warner Ellis/Redferns
Photo: David Warner Ellis/Redferns

The Genesis catalog is full of gems, singles, and deep cuts alike. In a recording career that lasted more than two decades, they covered the bases from tailor-made singles to nearly side-long tracks, from resonant love songs to elaborate flights of fantasy. This should also revive the eternal question of where to file your Genesis albums: Under prog-rock, mainstream pop, or somewhere in the middle?

It’s certainly true that they created many of prog rock’s cornerstone pieces during the early days, when Peter Gabriel was upfront and the live shows verged on musical theater. And it’s also true that they went on to unprecedented success after Phil Collins took over as lead singer – starting in 1976, but reaching a commercial peak with the Invisible Touch album 10 years later. Coupled with Collins’ solo mega-success and Gabriel’s at the same time, Genesis was dominating the charts, something that seemed unthinkable in the Nursery Cryme days.

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Yet things were never that simple. Even at their loftiest, Genesis never aimed to be an esoteric prog band: Starting back in their teenaged days at the Charterhouse School, the members of Genesis always wanted to write hits. Their proggiest albums still had singles on them, some of which (including “I Know What I Like,” from Selling England by the Pound) charted in the UK. And by the same token, they never abandoned prog: The two biggest albums, Invisible Touch and We Can’t Dance, both included tracks that were far too epic for airplay. And some of their best-loved tracks over the years have been the ones that don’t fall squarely into either the pop or prog category.

Keeping that in mind, we’ve gone through the Genesis catalog and pulled out some of the brightest gems in all three groups: The prog, the pop, and the unclassifiable. As you’ll see, there’s plenty of both Peter and Phil in each category.

Pre-order the new greatest hits collection, The Last Domino, and scroll down for our Top 20 Genesis songs.

The Prog Genesis

The Musical Box, Supper’s Ready, Dancing With The Moonlit Knit, …In That Quiet Earth, Afterglow, Fading Lights

Without a doubt, some of the best Genesis songs are prog touchstones, especially during the Peter Gabriel era. To this day, “The Musical Box” may have the most outlandish plot of any prog epic: A Victorian girl decapitates her brother playing croquet and his ghost appears when she fires up his beloved music box, and….things don’t go well. The instrumental sections follow the emotional flow of the encounter, and Gabriel’s vocal builds to a dramatic climax.

It’s tough to think of “Supper’s Ready” as a single song, since the 23-minute piece is comprised of separate parts that can stand on their own, but the songs are doubly powerful within the whole suite, which begins with a haunted moment between two lovers, takes a surreal detour through Willow Farm, and ends with the Apocalypse.

Genesis would wind up doing its more progressive work within the 8-10 minute range. Prime example: The next album’s leadoff track, “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” – a mini-epic that begins with Gabriel a cappella, builds to dazzling grandeur, then leaves you with two minutes of lovely atmospherics. Putting fantasy aside, the lyrics explore the discrepancy of England’s mythic past and its consumerist present. US ears missed some of the references (for instance, “knights of the Green Shield” refers to supermarket trading stamps) but that made Anglophiles love it all the more.

Purely instrumental tracks never played a huge part in the Genesis canon, but “…In That Quiet Earth” was one that didn’t need lyrics. Effectively Steve Hackett’s farewell to the band, it’s a grand, cinematic escapade that harks forward to his solo career. It segues on Wind & Wuthering into “Afterglow” – not the first or last Genesis love song, but the most intense of them all.

Even during their chart-topping days, Genesis never abandoned prog. Thus the singles-heavy We Can’t Dance ends with “Fading Lights,” a 10-minute piece that begins on a somber and reflective note, before Tony Banks’ keyboards take control and carry it into the stratosphere. As the last song by Genesis’ most successful lineup, it makes a suitably bittersweet signoff.

The Pop Genesis

Silent Sun, Many Too Many, Turn It On Again, Land of Confusion

While some Genesis fans assumed the band turned pop due to Phil Collins’ new inclinations, their earlier songs would suggest otherwise. Just listen to their very first (pre-Collins) single, “Silent Sun.” It’s so much a pop love song that it even has the word “baby” in the chorus. Genesis tend to dismiss their earliest work as young and naive – which “Silent Sun” certainly is, but it’s also lovely, and can stand with early Bee Gees or Moody Blues.

But Genesis didn’t really get back to shorter songs until the post-Steve Hackett album …And Then There Were Three…, with an unheard-of 11 tracks. The catchy “Follow You Follow Me” was the commercial breakthrough, but the buried treasure was the UK follow-up single, “Many Too Many.” Its haunting tune and emotive Collins vocal put across the romantic angst that some group members were experiencing at the time. Also, note how the lost love is addressed as “mama,” an idea which they’d really run with a few albums later.

Not all of Genesis’ poppier tunes were sad or romantic. Originally the centerpiece of the scrapped Duke Suite, “Turn It On Again” was an exhilarating piece of jittery New Wave that gave the Cars and The Police a run for their money. The band sounded spare and tight and even the lyrics, about a man’s attachment to his TV, were sleek and modern. Genesis became a hit-singles machine on the Invisible Touch album, but its fourth hit, “Land of Confusion” always stood out – both as a rare topical number (with an eye-grabbing video to match) and as one of their few, guitar riff-driven rockers. Rutherford provided the memorable riff along with its lyrics, which avoid easy answers and call for awareness.

The Outliers

Back in NYC, Carpet Crawlers, Abacab, Mama, The Diving Line

The real beauty of the best Genesis songs is that they don’t fall squarely into the prog or pop boundaries. The double-LP epic The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway inhabits a universe of its own. Tied to a Gabriel narrative that manages to be mind-bogglingly surreal and emotionally resonant at once, The Lamb found the band branching out as never before. Because the hero Rael is a New York graffiti artist, it wouldn’t work to make the music too twee or English-sounding. So you get an out-of-nowhere triumph like “Back in NYC,” where the riff really pounds and the sound is something close to glam-punk.

Another Lamb highlight, “Carpet Crawlers,” might be called a surrealist painting set to music, with a world of visual details in every lyric line. It’s one of Genesis’ most hypnotic tunes and the chorus makes the most of the Gabriel/Collins harmonies, by now the band’s secret weapon.

Abacab may not be the most beloved Genesis album, but there’s a real thrill of discovery here as the band shook off its prog origins and tried new possibilities. The title track “Abacab” was one of the liveliest rockers they’d ever produced, with its abstract lyrics and abundance of great hooks. After the moody solo debut Face Value, Phil Collins now sounds like he’s having the time of his life.

Now that Collins was a genuine pop star, some fans claimed that Genesis’ most adventurous days were over. So how do you explain them producing something as edgy as “Mama,” and releasing it as a single? It’s seven minutes of pure drama and darkness, with Collins voicing the tangled emotions of a young man visiting a sex worker. The band completely shook up its instrumental formula on this track, employing drum machines, atmospheric keys, and guitars, and no solos of any kind.

Calling All Stations will forever be the lost Genesis album because the new lineup with singer Ray Wilson didn’t wind up flying. But at least one track, “The Dividing Line,” proves they were on to something. The song puts rhythm upfront in a way Genesis seldom did before, with a strong Wilson vocal and the instrumental section gathers plenty of steam as Rutherford and Banks trade riffs atop an onslaught of percussion (Israeli drummer Nir Zidkyahu was a real find).

Solo standout moments

In The Cage, It’s Gonna Get Better, Watcher of the Skies, Los Endos, The Return of the Giant Hogweed

Some of the best Genesis songs are a showcase for the individual strengths of the five classic-era members. Peter Gabriel gave some unearthly performances during his term as frontman, but in terms of inhabiting characters, few moments could match “In the Cage.” In contrast, Phil Collins’ best vocal moments in Genesis are direct and emotional. His delivery powered a stack of hits, but one deeper track especially bears out his desire to be a genuine soul singer: “It’s Gonna Get Better,” from the self-titled ‘83 album. His vocals are pure and heartfelt, and he builds drama as the song goes on, peaking with the falsetto part in the bridge – not a register he often sang in – but he pulled it off beautifully here.

The more grand and majestic a Genesis song is, the more you usually hear of Tony Banks’ keyboards. Foxtrot may well be the only prog album open to open with two minutes of solid Mellotron, and Banks’ opening solo on “Watcher of the Skies” truly sounds like an ascent into the heavens.

Mike Rutherford made much of his impact as a songwriter and later as a guitarist, but let’s not forget that he was an absolute monster on bass guitar – especially just before he switched over. He’s the main reason why “Los Endos” is one of Genesis’ most exciting instrumental pieces, with a propulsive bassline that pushes the band into the untried territory of Latin music.

When Genesis brought Steve Hackett into the fold, they wanted a lead guitarist who’d play more aggressively than the pastorally-inclined Anthony Phillips. They got their money’s worth on “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” from Nursery Cryme, his first with the band. From the coiling opening riff to the fuzz-toned parts throughout, Hackett delivers. His solo here is often cited as the birth of tapping – entirely possible – and a killer solo in any case.

Listen to the best of Genesis on Apple Music and Spotify.

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37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. Brent Bollmeier

    March 11, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    Perhaps “Supper’s Ready”?, not “Super’s”? 🙂

  2. Hernan

    March 11, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    The Dividing Line it isn’t deserves to belong to this list.

    • Brent Bollmeier

      March 11, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      I’d have put “Uncertain Weather” there.

  3. Anthony

    March 11, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    I almost agree completely with your choices. Just throw “Thowing it all away” away (pun intended), and replace it with “Domino”.

  4. Matt Sanders

    March 11, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    So where is “Musical Box”???

    • Jack Soffalot

      March 11, 2015 at 1:50 pm

      Er, at number 3?

  5. arturo

    March 11, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    The Lamia???????

  6. Martyn Pitt

    March 11, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    I saw them on the Seconds Out tour in 1977 and can still picture them doing Supper’s Ready even now. Having said that, the studio version from Foxtrot must surely take precedence here?

  7. Soren

    March 11, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    Good list, but…:
    Lose “Supper’s Ready”, replace w/ “Afterglow” (Seconds Out)
    Where’s “Robbery, Assault and Battery”? Great Phil Collins showcase (Trick of the Tail).
    Lose “Mama”, replace w/ “Home by the Sea” (Genesis, 1983)
    “The Carpet Crawlers” is my favorite track on “Lamb”, but no title track? Wow.
    “Keep It Dark” should have made the list.

  8. Vladimir

    March 11, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    good list alas it is not available in Russia… ? I think it is the sanctions against me personally… 🙂 Just a joke… there are a lot of people that love Genesis in Russia… the songs “the moonlit knight”, “jesus he knows me”, “calling all stations” are my favorite… cheers!

  9. Javier

    March 11, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    1. Stagnation (1970)
    2. Mudical Box (1971)
    3. Sippers Ready (1972)
    4. Firth of Fifth (1973)
    5. Cinema Show (1973)
    6. In the Cage (1974)
    7. Carpet Crawlers (1974)
    8. Dance on Volcano (1976)
    9. Afterglow (1977)
    10. Follow You follow Me (1978)
    11. Duchess (1980)
    12. Behibd The Lines (1980)
    13. Abacab (1981)
    14. Mama (1983)
    15. Home by hge Sea (1983)
    16. Land of Confusion (1986)
    17. Tonight, Tonight, Tonight (1986)
    18. Domino (1986)
    19. No Son of Mine (1991)
    20. Dividing Line (1997)

  10. Adrienne

    March 11, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    I almost completely disagree wholeheartedly with this list. With the exception of a few choices primarily in the early part of their career, far better choices could’ve been made in the latter portion which would showcase them still as a progressive rock band, not a pop band. Any true fan also knows it’s Watcher of the Skies” not “Watcher in the Skies”. Disappointed in this article.

  11. Helena

    March 11, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Have been lucky enough to see Genesis some 20 times, including Knebworth and Hollywood Bowl!

    With Peter Gabriel;
    Cinema Show
    IT
    The best top 5 albums with or without Peter Gabriel includes Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering, so included on that list would have to be;

    Blood on the Rooftops
    Mad Man Moon

    • Al

      March 4, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      I think so too.

  12. Theresa D. Brown

    March 11, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    Well written article and I do agree with you choices. I, however, would have chosen, Deep in the Motherlode for And Then There Were Three.

    • James Doyle

      March 11, 2015 at 9:25 pm

      The first song on the And Then There Were Three tour in Chicago was Deep In The Motherlode and I was surprised by the grand reaction. I felt like I was among thousands of close friends because the album was released just before the tour and the reaction was like it was an old favorite!

  13. Rob Neal

    March 11, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    The latter half is dross.
    I also cannot believe they put that turgid “Your own special way” on instead of “Afterglow”

  14. Massimo

    March 11, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    My list
    1. White Mountain
    2. The Return of the Giant Hogweed
    3. Can-Utility and the Coast Liners
    4. Supper’s Ready
    5. The Fountain of Salamis
    6. Dancing with the Moonlight Night
    7. Firth of Fifth
    8. Lamia
    9. Anyway
    10. Counting out time
    11. The Light Dies Down On Broadway
    12. It
    13. Dance on a Volcano
    14. Ripples
    15. Squonk
    16. Eleventh Earl of Mar
    17. Blood on the Rooftops
    18. Many too Many
    19. Invisible Touch
    20. You’re no Son of Mine

  15. Steven Jackson

    March 12, 2015 at 12:18 am

    1) Silent Sun
    2) Musical Box
    3) Watcher of the Skies
    4) Supper’s Ready
    5) I Know What I Like
    6) Firth of Fifth
    7) Cinemshow
    8) Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
    9) Carpet Crawlers
    10) Entangled
    11) Ripples
    12) Blood on the Rooftops
    13) Afterglow
    14) Burning Rope
    15) Follow You Follow Me
    16) Turn it on Again
    17) Abacab
    18) Mama
    19) Invisible Touch
    20) No Son of Mine

  16. Minocher Vania

    March 12, 2015 at 12:29 am

    1973, living in Switzerland, a school friend of mine introduced me to ” Live”. Never had heard anything like it before, even though I was an ELP and YES fan. Genesis was so unique, ” Watchers of The Skies” was brilliant ! Saw them perform “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” 1975 in Bern, Switzerland and a couple of times later in the US.

  17. Martín Rodriguez

    March 12, 2015 at 5:01 am

    I rather the progressive line of the songs

  18. David Barnett

    March 12, 2015 at 8:40 am

    A great idea to do such a list, but I’m sure every Genesis fan has his/her own favourites so there will always be disagreements. For me, Genesis can be summed up in 3 “pieces”;
    1. Firth of Fifth from Selling England by the Pound. Steve Hackett “owns” that guitar solo, and sorry Daryl Steurmer, great guitarist that you are, you will never play it as good.
    2. Suppers Ready from Three Sides Live – I actually think Phil’s vocals are better than Peter’s original
    3. The Cage/Cinema Show/Afterglow medley from Three Sides Live – quite simply prog rock nirvana!

    • Brent Bollmeier

      March 12, 2015 at 1:34 pm

      Did you mean from Seconds Out, or is there another version of 3SL with Supper’s Ready on it?

  19. Erik

    March 12, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    OK, best I could do is 22. If you put a gun to my head, I’d drop Lamb and Harold from the list, I guess. Sorry, I don’t think any songs from the last three (or And Then There Were Three…) rate with these. Just one man’s list…

    1. The Knife
    2. The Musical Box
    3. Harold the Barrel
    4. Watcher of the Skies
    5. Supper’s Ready
    6. Dancin’ in the Moonlit Knight
    7. I Know What I Like
    8. Firth of Fifth
    9. Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
    10. Carpet Crawlers
    11. Colony of Slippermen
    12. In the Cage
    13. Squonk
    14. Ripples
    15. Eleventh Earl of Mar
    16. Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers…
    17. Afterglow
    18. Turn it On Again
    19. Dodo/Lurker
    20. Another Record
    21. Mama
    22. It’s Gonna Get Better

  20. Scott

    March 12, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    After reading all the comments and all the other songs that have been suggested, I believe the list should be 40-50 songs long. You just can’t do it in 20.

  21. Robert

    March 12, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    I Like all their songs and their solo albums BIG TIME GENESIS FAN

  22. Judith Rovira

    March 12, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    I love Genesis ❤ and love Phil Collins

  23. rob

    March 13, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Here’s my 20 for what its worth

    1. The Musical Box
    2. Watcher of the Skies
    3. Supper’s Ready
    4. I Know What I Like
    5 Cinema Show
    6 Dancing with The Moonlit Knight
    7.It
    8. In The Cage
    9.Ripples
    10. Squonk or The Knife
    11. Afterglow
    12. Snowbound
    13. Follow You Follow Me
    14. Behind The Lines
    15. Turn It On Again
    16. Throwing It All Away
    17. Hold On My Heart
    18. It’s Gonna Get Better
    19. Man On The Corner
    20. Abacab

  24. MarkPetersen

    August 9, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Here’s my list in no particular order:
    1.Firth of Fifth
    2.The Knife
    3.The Musical Box
    4.The Return Of The Giant Hogweed
    5.Watcher Of The Skies
    6.Get’em Out By Friday
    7.Supper’s Ready
    8.Dancing With The Moonlit Knight
    9.Fly On A Windshield
    10.Counting Out Time
    11.Lilywhite Lilith
    12.Riding The Scree
    13.Robbery ,Assault and Battery
    14 .Los Endos
    15….In That Quiet Earth
    16.The Cinema Show
    17.Stagnation
    18.Can-Utility and the Coastliners
    19.Dance on a Volcano
    20.One for the Vine

  25. John Michaelson

    February 10, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    My two cents (in no particular order):

    1. White Mountain
    2. Home By The Sea
    3. Feeding The Fire
    4. Fountain of Salmacis
    5. Follow You, Follow Me
    6. Squonk
    7. A Trick Of The Tail
    8. That’s All
    9. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
    10. Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
    11. Abacab
    12. Musical Box
    13. Turn It On Again
    14. No Son Of Mine
    15. Get ‘Em Out By Friday (from Genesis Live)
    16. Dodo/Lurker
    17. Your Own Special Way
    18. Stagnation
    19. In The Glow Of The Night
    20. Can-utility And The Coastliners

    Honorable Mentions: “Misunderstanding” and “Land Of Confusion

  26. Patricio

    February 10, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    This my list
    1) Silent Sun
    2) Musical Box
    3) Watcher of the Skies
    4) Supper’s Ready
    5) I Know What I Like
    6) The Lamia
    7) Carpet Crawlers
    8) Robbery assault and battery
    9) Squonk
    10) Blood on the Rooftops
    11) What Gorilla
    12) Burning Rope
    13) Follow You Follow Me
    14) Turn it on Again
    15) Dukes travels
    16) Dodo
    17) In the cage medley
    18) Mama
    19) Domino
    20) Driving the last spike

  27. Mike

    February 10, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    Surely ‘The Cinema Show’ should be in anyone’s top 20 list of all time songs of ANY/ALL bands – not just a Genesis – unless of course you haven’t really listened to it 🙂 it’s quintessential Genesis and the last few minutes of keyboard n drums is as good as it gets!

  28. Dave

    February 11, 2017 at 12:54 am

    And Cinema Show????????

  29. Ernest

    February 11, 2017 at 1:18 am

    I’ve been listening to Genesis music for 40 years. Having said that, this are my 20 songs from Genesis (I will try to choose from all the studio albums):

    1. Stagnation
    2. The Musical Box
    3. Supper’s Ready
    4. Firth of Fifth
    5. The Lamia
    6. Squonk
    7. One for the vine
    8. Snowbound
    9. Heathaze
    10. Dodo (the live versión from Three Sides Live and if it’s possible the live versión from any bootleg from the Mama Tour when Dodo was the opening track and it was AMAZING)
    11. Home by the sea / Second home by the sea
    12. Domino
    13. Driving the last spike
    14. Alien afternoon
    15. Inside and out (B-side from Wind & Wuthering)
    16. Twilight Alehouse (B-side from Nursery Cryme)
    17. Ripples
    18. Entangled
    19. In the cage (the live version from Three Sides Live)
    20. Afterglow (the live version from Three Sides Live)

  30. David Atkinson

    February 11, 2017 at 7:50 am

    Any list the has ‘Invisible Touch’ or ‘I Can’t Dance’ on it is immediately disqualified.

  31. Antonio Helcio Vilela

    February 11, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    Cinema show?….

  32. Federico

    August 26, 2017 at 5:30 am

    Genesis

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