Selling England by the Pound 1974 - Genesis Remember...
TONY: The writing period for 'Selling England' was a very long, drawn-out affair. It was the first time that we actually set time aside to write an album. When we first went there, we had some magical days and it all seemed to really go well. Then we hit a period when nothing seemed to happen; we just went over the same bits again.
We ended up working over some sections with a fine toothcomb - for instance, the penultimate part of 'Dancing with the Moonlit Knight', which is sort of stop, start, you know - and I began to think, 'Is this really worth it'. We got very frustrated - I seem to remember Phil in particular went through a very bad time during this period.
MIKE: We probably wrote half of what we actually used in the first two weeks. I think we were given three months to write it, which was the kiss of death because it became such an open-ended thing. It is an album which, for me, has got probably more' highs and lows than any other album. For example, 'Battle of Epping Forest' is an odd song - a fantastic backing track, a great vocal line, great lyrics; but together there's just too much happening. It's something we'd been guilty of in the past, but it came to a head on this track.
Tony, Phil and I put 'Cinema Show', which I think is one of our strongest things, together. I wrote the acoustic song and then we all wrote the solo.
TONY: 'Cinema Show', was an example of extended playing. Mike, Phil and I were in a room together and Mike came out with a riff in 7/8, which had a great feel and by restricting his playing a little he allowed me to make the chord changes. I like to play with chords because I've got a better feel for harmony than I have for melody. So with Mike just hitting the bottom three or four strings of the guitar I managed to write endless bits on the rhythm. Just before we came to do the album, we put them in order and the final section of 'Cinema Show' developed.
Mike and I wrote the lyrics to 'Cinema Show.' The first part, at least, is a fairly close rendition of a section of 'The Wasteland' by T S Eliot. The idea of using the two words 'Romeo' and 'Juliet' actually was Peter's. I thought it should be more impersonal just using 'young clerk', or something and I wasn't too sure about it to begin with. In fact it worked quite well. Pete didn't like the lyric at all. He felt that we were out of our depth. But I think he was wrong. In fact the lyric on 'Firth of Fifth', which is on the same album, is one of the worst set of lyrics I've been involved with. It's not just a question of being obscure, I really don't think it has anything going for it. Whereas 'Cinema Show' worked really well.
The main creation on this album was the 'Battle of Epping Forest'. It's a pity it doesn't quite work because it really did sound good in the rehearsal room. But by the time we got the final version on record, there was a just a bit too much going on.
PHIL: 'The Battle of Epping Forest' just has too many words per minute. If we had worked on the lyrics beforehand, or if there'd been a melody to start with, we could have said, 'Hang on, we'll take a breather here'. As it is, you end up having to take the record off to have a burst of oxygen before you can listen to the next track! It literally left Pete out of breath on stage quite regularly: although he did sing it with a stocking over his head - which didn't help matters!
PETER: I really got carried away with the lyrics for 'Battle of Epping Forest'. I enjoyed writing them, but they didn't fit the music and by that point it was too late in the day. What happened was that I insisted on doing most of the words as I thought I could do them better than the others - which, I think, was true. The problem was that I was incredibly slow, so that, often, by the time they saw the lyrics, they would have done their parts. The backing tracks would be complete but there were no melodies and no words.
TONY: I think this was the first time that I didn't worry too much what the others thought if I played bum notes. To be unselfconscious about your playing in front of the other members of the group is very important, I think - in order to let ideas flow freely.
MIKE: A lot of our writing has come from jamming. However, jamming on stage is not the same as jamming together in rehearsal rooms. This all comes back, I think, to personalities. Nowadays when we jam on stage, I'm very relaxed and we make up quite a few bits as we go along. There was a long jamming section in 'The Lamb'. In the rehearsal room, in front of Tony and Phil, Pete and Steve, I could jam for hours. We'd all play countless wrong notes and just do anything we wanted. But we couldn't jam on stage. I'm saying this to contradict any idea that we were a tight band all of the time. On stage we were, because we weren't relaxed enough to jam. But, as I said, during a lot of the rehearsals we'd jam for three or four hours a day.
PETER: There were points at which I felt that as a band, we all worked very well together. The highpoints for me were the end of 'Cinema Show' and the 9/8 section in 'Supper's Ready'. I had nothing to do with generating them, but I still felt very good about them. There were other elements however, which troubled me. I was still having difficulty communicating with people, particularly if it was anything that was in some way emotional.
MIKE: I think we were getting conscious of technique on this album, or very aware of the fact that we'd become quite well known for our techniques as musicians. The fact that we'd become competent players gave us confidence to play fast phrases and to be clever. There's a bit of that on the album, I think and there are some moments when we're all trying to be too clever. But at the same time, you've got to try for something, to move on to the next stage.
STEVE: I managed to develop my style throughout the course of the album even though my marriage was about to break up. The band was my lifeline. I never felt closer to the band than I felt then. Genesis was my relief from the very difficult domestic trauma that I was going through.
PETER: We were conscious of America at that time because I remember thinking that we were going to get knocked in England for slanting stuff towards America, which was partly why I wanted the title, 'Selling England By The Pound'.
TONY: 'I Know What I Like' came from a riff that Steve had been playing for years. We just jammed on it for hours during some of the better days when making this album. I think the day it really took off was when I was playing the fuzz electric piano and the organ. The electric piano was slightly out of tune with the organ and the effect was just amazing. Pete was making funny noises into a mike and we were working out a melody line for the verse. I think we probably felt at the time that it had single potential but we also accepted we had very little idea about singles and we never aimed for them anyhow.
STEVE: It was a riff that I'd been playing with Phil, right back at the time of 'Foxtrot', which the rest of the band felt was too Beatleish. We just kept on playing it and it became 'I Know What I Like'. We used to joke about it as our hit single. Everyone used to say, 'Oh, pass the hit single please, will you'. We sat around and Pete and Phil jammed a vocal, which developed from something on the guitar and it was transformed from something, which sounded a little too much like the Beatles to something, which sounded a lot like Genesis. It became the first little bit of plastic which got anywhere in the charts.
PETER: We'd always tried to avoid writing hits, which may sound a really dumb thing. Actually now, I think it was really dumb. Tony played that melody line and although I didn't think it was a great melody line, I knew people would like it. The verse, I think, is good. I don't dislike the chorus but I felt, at the time, that it was taking the easy way. We did have these very high ideals about trying to do things a different way, avoiding cliches wherever possible. Although we did secretly borrow from people at different times.
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