“The Evolution Of A Rock Biography” - The Genesis biographies reviewed by Ted Sayers.
All bands with as large a following as Genesis today are prey to “rock journalists”; people who have an eye to making a few pennies for themselves out of the band by writing official and unofficial biographies. In a way Genesis have been exceptionally lucky in his respect. Most of the books available (and some sadly now unavailable) have been of an incredibly high quality. Of course, there have been one (or even two) abysmal efforts, both quality and production wise, but, in the main, the books written have been excellent.
Obviously (maybe) a band with as long a history (around twenty years now) and an interesting one too, will find many of the aforementioned journalists hanging on. Therefore the number of biographies, discographies etc will be prolific. Here we review the better ones.
The first biography of the band proper appeared in 1978 and was called: “Genesis - The Evolution Of A Rock Band” by Armando Gallo. This quickly sold out and was never reprinted therefore it is consequently quite rare today. The book itself was very comprehensive in its coverage including many excellent colour and black and white photographs at a time when Genesis were about to take off commercially. The book was quite apt. It was also published in Germany with a completely different cover and in a different format - the UK edition was a paperback and the German one was a hardback each having a different cover illustration. Today it is possible that these are the rarest two Genesis books and are probably the most collectable as they were the first in along line. The writing itself was knowledgeable and well put together, which is only to be expected really, as Gallo has followed the band since 1972. On the whole, the book was excellent value and if you are lucky enough to find a copy now, snap it up!
About two years later, Gallo updated the above book with more photos, more text and in a bigger format. This one he published himself with his own D I Y imprint. The new edition was called: Genesis - I Know What I Like and is even better than its predecessor. It includes many superb photographs up to an including the 1980 tour and a comprehensive solo artists’ section on both Peter and Steve is included. This one is not so rare though an original first edition may be as it was reprinted a couple of times, once quite recently.
Next came a discography from the editor of the band’s fan club - Genesis The Illustrated Discography and a later update: Turn It On Again, were both by Geoff Parkyn who operated the UK fan club. Parkyn states that in no way are the books comprehensive. This is understandable as the band, both past and present have written and recorded so much and performed as session musicians or producers for so many other artists that a FULL discography would be virtually impossible. Nevertheless, they are both excellent books although the second is more of an update. The only main criticism is the lack of bootleg listings. Some are mentioned but nowhere near the real amount. Overall, these are a good effort and this sort of discography is important to the serious collector.
The book, Genesis by Hugh Fielder and Genesis - Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins And Beyond by Kamin and Goddard take different approaches. Neither book is a biography but both appear to be a selection of interviews with the band. Hugh Fielder was the Genesis “champion” at Sounds for a long time and while his book is well written, the photography is not up top the excellent standard of the Gallo books. On the other hand, the Kamin/Goddard book contains some of the best rock photography I have seen, especially some of the live shots from Peter’s recent solo tours. In this case, the text lacks firepower and both books only cover recent periods in the band’s story in any depth. Both books are worthwhile and the Kamin/Goddard book especially for the photography.
Around three years ago Armando Gallo decided to put out his own third book on the band. This one is called; Genesis - From One Fan To Another. It is mainly a photography book with a very sparse text. In a way this book is a little patronising in its approach but maybe this is to be expected from someone who has been around the band for so long. Of his three Genesis books, the one I would go for is I Know What I Like as being the best which is good news as is the only one still available though probably not for much longer.
Both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins have also had biographies written on their solo careers. Peter Gabriel by Armando Gallo and published in 1986 is for me, the best “rock” book ever written. My only criticism is that it appears to disassociate him from Genesis and to imply that Genesis WAS Peter Gabriel. Nevertheless, the book has to be commended on its brilliant (with a capital B) photography once again. This time the text is kept to a minimum and in this case it is just enough. If you haven’t got this book, then my advice is BUY it before it goes out of print. One word of warning though; it does only cover Peter’s solo career and very little mention is made of his time with Genesis.
Finally and most recently is the book Peter Gabriel - An Authorised Biography by Spencer Bright. This book is written as a “serious” biography and is consequently almost entirely textual. It goes into great depth on Peter and is quite fascinating. The book’s few photographs are black and white and only one or two of them are live shots. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the book regardless of the many criticisms of it.
All told MOST of the books on Genesis are of good quality, but there are a few poor ones. If you stick with the ones reviewed here you can’t really go wrong - happy reading!