The dozens of shoes on the freshly varnished parquet floor didn’t slide simultaneously because everyone except Simon and me wanted to master the steps of the foxtrot at the very least. One, two, sidestep-close. And backwards. One, two, sidestep-close. Fortunately, we were often the wallflowers. Dance lessons, ahem, no, that wasn’t really our thing. We had our own “Foxtrot” that we were completely obsessed with. It was the 70s and we were dreamy teenagers. During that time we had just discovered symphonic rock and our world was forever changed. In particular the four studio albums of the already legendary Genesis lineup—Gabriel, Banks, Hackett, Collins, Rutherford—captivated us.
The symphonic rock of those original Englishmen had an almost intoxicating effect on Simon and me. We sympathized with the woman on an floe wearing a fox head in her red dress on the cover of “Foxtrot” painted by illustrator Paul Whitehead. She must have had terribly cold feet. However, Simon and I felt the most sympathy for our teenage selves. Shamelessly we conformed to the one, two, sidestep-close culture that fit so well in society. Fortunately, albums like “Foxtrot” offered us a form of escapism but one that lasted for the long term.
The band had become very popular in Italy in the early 70s with the highly inspired “Nursery Cryme” and several memorable performances there but it was with the sublime “Foxtrot” from ’72 that the world started to bow at their feet with performances in the United States, Australia and Japan. Many symphonic rock fans were absolutely crazy about the enchanting music created by the five creative minds including Simon and me of course. Not least because of the imaginative characters that Peter Gabriel brought forth in his lyrics and on stage dressed in the most bizarre costumes. Imagination has proven to be the keyword that still magnetically attracts fans to the band’s old records. “Foxtrot” is definitely one of the poles with the most allure and the album continues to transport not only me but also Simon, who has painted the beautiful gatefold sleeve on the wall of his living room completely into another world. The combination of the cover, the surreal lyrics, the heavenly music and the images of the bizarre costumes creates so much imagination that according to Simon and me it will always retain its magic.
And then the name, that odd double-sided album title: “Foxtrot”?! To continue in dance terms: Watcher of the Skies opens the ball on the A-side (some albums still retain the sacred status of an LP). When the organ and Mellotron are accompanied by a delightful drum rhythm in the intro of intros, when Gabriel convincingly delivers his mystical words and when the Rickenbacker cuts through the music a classic of great proportions is unfolding. Especially the ending with its thundering drums, grand keyboard sounds and wailing guitar tones is magnificently timed. Simon already pointed out to me at the time how dynamic and tight everything sounded. Every time, I lose myself when Hackett’s screeching guitar is caught by the flowing organ. How much class do the seamless transitions on the album exude? Everything fits together so smoothly with praise for the sublime drumming of Phil Collins. As long as Simon and I have been in the grip of symphonic rock “Foxtrot” has never let us down for a single second.
The first side features an even more esteemed classic: Get ‘Em Out by Friday. This song is so fascinating that it somewhat overshadows the other songs on the A-side, the piano-dominated Time Table and the organ-filled Can-Utility and the Coastliners. However, those are also very beautiful compositions with their rich harmonies and melodies. Interestingly the impact of a bit of acoustic guitar with that mighty Mellotron, as in Can-Utility, seems greater in Genesis than anywhere else. But let’s get back to Get ‘Em Out by Friday. In this radio play-like song Gabriel embodies various characters including Mark Hall, an employee of STYX Enterprises, a company that wants to evict people from their homes. The organ overwhelms as it falls over the threshold with its cool exercise. The swelling guitar sounds euphoric. The flute is beautiful and the word money is sung with such intensity that it always gives us goosebumps. When I first heard “Foxtrot”, Simon told me that these goosebumps were just a precursor to the sensations that the B-side would evoke. Simon was absolutely right and we are enviously jealous of those who are about to experience this intense listening sensation for the first time.
The 23-minute-long Supper’s Ready is preceded by the short but oh so beautiful classical guitar piece Horizons. It has always remained a mystery to us why Horizons was presented as a separate track instead of being included as part of the seven subtitles of Supper’s Ready. This widely respected epic is a sequence of tempo and mood changes, a kaleidoscopic composition where acoustic guitar, flute and piano provide contrasting elements. Simon’s brother finds Gabriel’s lyrics somewhat vague but Simon and I, the wallflowers of yesteryear, have been gladly immersing ourselves in the visionary writings of the man with the fluorescent eyes for decades. Walking across the sitting room, I turn the television off, sings Gabriel, supported by multiple plucked guitars. The background vocals are almost eerie and Lover’s Leap, as this lovely song is called, serves as the starting point for a colorful journey through Gabriel’s dreamworld, a journey that, so to speak, begins in the living room but ends on a grand and elevated level. With The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man the rapture is complete. Even the children’s choir is brilliant. We always look forward to Ikhnaton and Itsacon and Their Band of Merry Men where Hackett uses his guitar for a mighty battle and how he subsequently makes the volume pedal pivot in How Dare I Be So Beautiful?
We are still almost startled out of our dream by the memorable A Flower. The cheerful Willow Farm, filled with linguistic jokes, presents itself. Butterflies, Flutterbies, Gutterflies. Throughout this section various character voices can be heard, revealing the creativity of the gentlemen once again. Remarkably, the band speed is toyed with after the famous referee’s whistle and the switch. This sometimes makes Gabriel sound almost adolescent which was probably the intention.
The keyboard solo in Apocalypse in 9/8 can be counted among the highlights of Genesis’ work. Many people must have clapped their hands until they turned blue during this insanely propulsive, rhythmical piece that originated from a jam between Rutherford, Banks and Collins. As Sure as Eggs Is Eggs splendidly concludes the epic. The symphonic sounds of the gentlemen are grand and Gabriel concludes the song and thus the album with a heart-wrenching emotion that has made him immortal to many. As the electric guitar fades away the song receives the ending it deserves. The lingering tones carry the song into infinity where Simon and I believe it truly belongs.
We quickly gave up on dancelessons. The only foxtrot that truly mattered to us was the one by Genesis. Simon and I constantly wonder where the band members derived their boundless inspiration all those years. Their minds must have been haunted or perhaps an album like “Foxtrot” is indeed the supper of the mighty one?
© Dick van der Heijde 2022