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Friday, September 27, 2013

I was driving around on an errand the other day when a Peter Gabriel-era Genesis song came on the radio. It was a long one (like there were ever any short ones), which featured an extended instrumental introduction, undoubtedly composed to allow Gabriel time to change costumes. I hung with it, because I think that period of prog rock is such an interesting mistake, and I've been making a little mental project of trying to figure out how it happened, and what's wrong with it. It isn't just the pretension. There were certainly a lot of prog bands which reckoned that rock and roll would be better if they classed it up some with a dash of Mussorgsky or something. Neither deserve that treatment. Another issue was the notion that rock should be a vehicle for Big Operatic Statements. The Who were, I think, chiefly responsible for this, although concept albums weren't an entirely new thing. Genesis fell into this trap, but the concept album is not an altogether bad thing: in the hands of a genius like Frank Sinatra, or George Clinton it can be a good thing. Listening to whatever it was though, it dawned on me: even though Phil Collins really is a top drawer drummer, and even though I could hear him being very busy on the track, the drums didn't really drive the song at all. Put simply: It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing. What was remarkable about the breakout Peter Gabriel stuff was that, for the most part, it swung along quite nicely. Actually, the more pared down Genesis got the better they became at it too, until they (or Collins, at least) were doing adequate Motown covers.  

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