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Revisiting Genesis’ Career-Shaping ‘Selling England by the Pound’

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In order to assemble an album that became one of their earliest classics, Genesis had to succeed in balancing the pastoral whimsy of their first couple of albums with the rock pretensions of their most recent work, Foxtrot. With 1973’s Selling England by the Pound, they did just that.

There’s a slew of literary allusions here (TS Eliot in “The Cinema Show,” Tolkein in “The Battle of Epping Forest”), but there’s also the almost glam-rock propulsion of “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe).”

And the literary references are apt, since Selling England might be best described as an anthology of short stories, loosely interwoven but separate rather than a true concept album. Unlike their subsequent double-album opus The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which marked the end of group’s iconic five-man lineup, each of the songs here works both together and of a piece.

If commentary like “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” was a touch too insular in its focus on modern English life, and the puns sometimes a bit over the top (“he employed me as a karmacanic”), it’s all counterbalanced by a group performing at its musical zenith. Check out Steve Hackett‘s stunning solo on “Firth of Fifth,” Phil Collins‘ jazz-inflected cadences throughout.

While Tony Banks’ underrated keyboard work (notably in “The Cinema Show”) remains the album’s other principal voicing, Mike Rutherford’s bass begins to take on a more prominent role as well. Peter Gabriel is at his narrative best in “Epping Forest,” Hackett gets another tasteful feature in “After the Ordeal” and there’s even a hint of what’s to come with the darkly emotional Collins vocal feature “More Fool Me.”

All of this gives Selling England a layered complexity and an uncommon accessibility, even as it brings together all of the many disparate elements that made Genesis such a force. At least for the time being.

See Genesis and Other Rockers on the Top 100 Albums of the ’80s

Next: Top 10 Peter Gabriel Genesis Songs

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