Saturday, August 7, 2010

Genesis: Nursery Cryme

My first exposure to the band Genesis came in the summer 1973 when I discovered that suburban Pittsburgh radio station WZUM was then playing album rock selections from 4 PM until sign-off. The latest the station could stay on the air was during the month of June when sundown was 8:45 PM.

Earlier in the day. a variety of ethnic music was featured until the late afternoon formatting switch. While the term ethnic music may conjure up a variety of images, in Pittsburgh it meant anything from Eastern Europe – Slovak, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Russian, Polish, and other traditional music from what collectively became known as the Eastern Bloc.

I found WZUM's new format change by accident as it was near at the end of the dial at 1590 kHz and its 1000 watt signal from its location in the Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie was difficult to receive in the East Boroughs where we lived. If I could hold my tongue just right while tuning my radio, I could hear their signal with as much clarity as one could expect from a station that had the power equivalent of 10 light bulbs.

During the summer of 1973 when I got my first car a 1964 Ford Fairlane 500, I was looking for something to break the monotony of Pittsburgh’s three top 40 stations: KQV, 13Q (WKTQ), and WIXZ. For some unfathomable reason, the program directors at these three outlets had the misconception that only three songs existed. Those three were the Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein,” Focus’ “Hocus Pocus,” and Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” While those songs were all classics in their own right, one could not escape their pervasive influence on the Steel City’s airwaves and these songs grew a little thin after hearing them over and over and over.

Only having an AM radio in my car at the time, I searched for other alternatives when I stumbled upon WZUM’s abbreviated AOR format. I can remember hearing “Nursery Cryme,” Genesis’ third album, for the first time when I was washing my car one Saturday afternoon. Although the album was two years old at that point, It got enough airplay that summer. At some point, I went out and bought the album and for a while it was one of my favorite albums during my prog rock period.

Two songs from this LP got the majority of the airplay: “The Musical Box” and “The Return of the Giant Hogweed.” My feature choice from the LP is the later which was a semi-apocalyptic story of the giant hogweed plant that had been introduced from Russia during the Victorian Era and had nearly taken over the countryside. In the song, the hogweed reigns victorious of the human race.

During 1975, I saw Genesis for their “Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” tour. It remains the best concert performance I’d ever seen. The choice of venues, Pittsburgh’s Syria Mosque, added in the enjoyment of this spectacle of sight, sound, and the theatrics of lead singer Peter Gabriel. At the end of the evening, the band returned to the stage and finished off the evening with an encore presentation of “Return of the Giant Hogweed.”

Peter Gabriel in one of his many stage personas

Live Version

The following is a 1972 live recording of “Return of the Giant Hogweed” which shows how tight this band was live. The song begins with unison riffs played by guitarist Steve Hackett and keyboardist Tony Banks. Hackett uses two handed hammer-on techniques that would become a staple of metal guitarists in the 1980s. Banks begins the song with Hohner Pianet that is played through a fuzz tone. Later in the song, he switches the fuzz tone off for the electronic piano sound during the interlude. Banks primary instrument for “Hogweed” is the Hammond B-3 organ.

The rhythm is handled by bassist Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins (sporting hair). Collins , who would replace Gabriel as vocalist and take Genesis into new directions, provides backing vocals. Gabriel shows his vocal acumen and a showmanship ala the schools of Roger Daltry, Mick Jagger, and Robert Plant that rivals the best of front men anywhere.

The Entire Album

In its entirety, here's a YouTube playlist of “Nursery Cryme” in order and uninterrupted - as those DJ sorts used to say.

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