10.000 Songs: Genesis - Abacab

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10.000 Songs: Genesis - Abacab

Postby Rob » Sun Feb 11, 2018 10:42 pm

This topic is part of the weekly 10.000 songs, 10.000 opinions. In this, every week another song from the Acclaimed Music song top 10.000 is selected for discussion. The song is chosen completely at random, through random.org, making the selections hopefully very varied. The only other rule in this is that after an artist has had a turn, he can’t appear for another ten weeks. The idea for this topic came to me because I wanted to think of a way to engage more actively with the very large top 10.000 songs that Henrik has compiled for us, while still keeping it accessible and free of any game elements. Yes, that’s right, no game elements. You are free to rate the song each week, but I’ll do nothing with this rating. I want it to be about people’s personal reviews and hopefully discussions. So in reverse to other topics on this site I say: “Please comment on this song, rating is optional”.
Earlier entries of this series can be found here: archive.


“Well, there's a hole in there somewhere.”


110. Genesis - Abacab

The facts:
Year: 1981.
Genre: Pop-rock.
Country: United Kingdom.
Album: Abacab.
Acclaimed Music ranking: #8526.
Song ranking on Acclaimed Music in the artist’s discography: 10th.
Ranks higher than Matty Groves by Fairport Convention, but lower than Why by Carly Simon.
Place in the Acclaimed Music Song Poll 2015: Unranked.

The people:
Written by Tony Banks, Phil Collins & Mike Rutherford.
Produced by Tony Banks, Phil Collins & Mike Rutherford.
Vocals by Phil Collins.
Guitar by Mike Rutherford.
Drums by Phil Collins.
Bass pedals by Mike Rutherford.
Keyboard by Tony Banks.

The opinion:
Is it a cliché to talk about the differences between Peter Gabriel-era Genesis and Phil Collins-era Genesis? Yes, but it seems inevitable. I guess it wouldn’t be necessary if I was to talk about a Gabriel Genesis song. Maybe I could have avoided it with one of the better Collins Genesis tracks, if only as a counter to the cliché. This week we are talking about Abacab though, perhaps the song most caught between the two periods of the bands.

By 1981 Genesis had already delivered four albums without Gabriel, but it wasn’t until Steve Hackett left two albums later that the sound of the group really started to shift (which is why I’d argue that Hackett’s exit is as significant as Gabriel’s, although Gabriel benefits in this narrative because he was with the band from the beginning and during their development of their original sound). From …And Then There Where Three, the group very slowly started to dabble their feet in a more pop-friendly sound.

Was Phil Collins to blame? He always struck me as an ordinary guy, perhaps not naturally suited to the fantasy worlds of early Genesis. Gabriel pranced around in weird costumes, something Collins didn’t even try to pull off, instead preferring comic banter with the audience. But that’s all show. The band was always a group effort. Most songs where written by the band in jam sessions. Gabriel himself said he didn’t see himself as the group’s leader and later on Rutherford and Banks claimed Collins wasn’t the sole brain behind the band. Diving into the stories behind their albums and songs confirms this.

Perhaps the slide into pop was inevitable. The years of prog were gone, for better or worse. The pop songs brought the band a new audience, but initially they still made a lot of prog works. Around 1981 the group members felt like they were at risk of becoming a caricature of themselves. Abacab was to be the real turning point, but it was still an uneasy one. The album is mostly very poppy, if stylistically diverse, yet it also contains the very prog Dodo/ Lurker.

Above all, there was the title track, a song that has been labelled as both prog and pop. Prog-pop? I think fans of either genre try to deny such a hybrid is possible. I’d say that there is at least one such song and that it is Abacab. Just listen to it. It sounds much like a typical 80’s pop song with its synths. The playing is simple and there are clear hooks. It worked well as a radio single and it was a hit in some countries. But on the album you got a longer cut of almost seven minutes. That one has an extensive, purely instrumental second half, with various “movements”. I think only a prog band would have considered that.

Is this Genesis having their cake and eating it too? Pop for the radio version and prog for the album audience? The first idea worked out, the second didn’t. Initially, prog audiences despised the album and it’s title track, although both have been revaluated somewhat. The second half of the album version might not contain the intricate playing of early Genesis, but it is prog in nature.

Regardless of what Genesis fans, pop audiences, prog aficionados and music critics think, I hate this song. I find it almost indescribably dull and find concentrating on this damn thing to write about it a challenge. I’ve noticed an odd pattern in writings about this song: most articles only talk about its place in the band’s career and above all about its title. Both elements which don’t require to listen to it.

I already talked about Abacab’s role as a turning point in Genesis, but let me cover the story of the title for you, just in case. When writing the song, the band had various elements in mind, which they each gave a corresponding letter, while trying to figure out the song’s structure. A was the verse, B was the chorus and C the bridge. Originally they structured the song in this order: ABACAB. This didn’t end up becoming the final order, but the “word” it created stuck and became the title and also a word that is perhaps meant to be a name in the terribly obtuse lyrics.

Did you find this explanation of the title interesting? I didn’t. What does it say about this bloody thing if that is the only piece of info anyone ever wants to talk about? Why does hardly anyone try to attempt to at least explain the lyrics, something critics always seem to be up for? Probably, because the lyrics are not just vague, but also very uninspiring. When Genesis got together again in 2007 for a tour, Collins scratched the idea of adding Abacab to the set list because he didn’t have a clue what it was about. Perhaps because it isn’t about anything?

I can forgive bad lyrics, if the music carries me along. In fact, this is what prog usually does for me. The thing is that I can hardly think of less inspired keyboards than on this song. Yes, they are hooky, but so incredibly lifeless and undynamic that there is just very little to listen to. I’ve talked about far longer songs in this series, which actually tend to get some of my higher scores. The thing is, Abacab seems longer to me than the longest cover of Maggot Brain.

And no, I don’t even hate Collins-era Genesis. It helps to see the two Geneses as two separate bands and if you can do that, there is quite a bit to appreciate in each. Gabriel-era is more my cup of tea, but there is some solid pop later on. Jesus He Knows Me is fun satire. Land of Confusion packs a punch. Mama might be derivative of In the Air Tonight, but it is atmospheric and contains some of Collins’ most inspired vocals. I Can’t Dance is catchy in a good way.

I don’t know every bit of Genesis’ discography, but I have heard most of both eras and I have a hard time of thinking of something more boring and uninspired they did than Abacab. Well, there is one: Me and Sarah Jane from the same album. I’m glad that in Abacab both the pop and prog fans have this one song on which they can come together and meet for once. It just so happens that I happen to be left out of this meeting, but that’s my problem.

Other versions:
This song belongs to all the bad singers out there. No, I don’t mean this as a put-down for Phil Collins, but to many of the people who covered Abacab. There is one big thorough-line and that is that many of the people who did it can’t sing at all. Maybe it’s for the best that many covers here are karaoke instrumentals?

As should be clear there is little love from me for Abacab, but still this playlist is a challenge. It’s one extremely faithful cover after the other and they can be categorized in three groups: bad singers, Phil Collins clones and instrumentals. If you’re looking for creativity here, just leave. I mean, a band named ApologetiX released a cover of this under another title: Malachi. A sign that this is a creative cover? No, it is hyper-faithful. They’ve earned their band name at least…

So what’s left is a Harold & the Barrell’s cover which adds some spirited playing missing anywhere else. And there is The Queen and Me by Mondo Rock, which is structured completely around samples of various parts of the Abacab melody. That is by far the best thing here. It’s not original on itself, but it seems alive and vibrant and that’s worth a lot when you are working with little.

The playlist:

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Re: 10.000 Songs: Genesis - Abacab

Postby Henry » Mon Feb 12, 2018 6:17 am

ABACAB was not the first Genesis song I heard, but it was the first Genesis album I heard for the first time upon its release. The album was more pop oriented and that worked for me at the time. The title track was musically fine for me but not inspirational. It put me in a relatively upbeat mood and wasn't so pedestrian that it became boring after a few listens.


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