Selling England by the Pound
|Selling England by the Pound|
|Studio album by Genesis|
|Released||13 October 1973|
|Studio||Island Studios, London|
|Singles from Selling England by the Pound|
Selling England by the Pound is the fifth studio album from the English progressive rock band Genesis, released in October 1973 on Charisma Records. It reached number 3 in the UK and number 70 in the U.S. A single from the album, "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" was released in February 1974 and became the band's first top 30 hit in the UK; November 1973 in the U.S.
The album was recorded in August 1973 following the tour supporting the previous album, Foxtrot (1972). The group set aside a short period of time to write new material, which covered a number of themes, including the loss of English folk culture and an increased American influence, which was reflected in the title. Following the album's release, the group set out on tour, where they drew an enthusiastic reception from fans.
Critics and the band have given mixed opinions of the album, though guitarist Steve Hackett has said it is his favourite Genesis record. The album has continued to sell and has reached Gold certification by the British Phonographic Industry and the Recording Industry Association of America. It was remastered for CD in 1994 and 2007. Several of the album tracks became fan favourites and featured as a regular part of the band's live setlist into the 1980s.
By late 1972, Genesis had stabilised around Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett and Phil Collins. The group had been regularly touring, achieved commercial success with their previous album Foxtrot, and were starting to gig in the U.S., particularly in New York City, where they had a positive response. However, journalists were still criticising the band and comparing them to other progressive rock bands such as ELP, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd. The group were too busy touring to write new material, so after coming off the road in spring 1973 they set aside time to create new songs. The group's record company, Charisma Records insisted they had three months to come up with a new album, which Rutherford considered "the kiss of death". Collins formed a pick up band with former Yes guitarist Peter Banks for a few gigs, and Rutherford revealed in an interview to Sounds in 1976 that "there had been worries that Phil might want to leave the group".
Gabriel chose the album title, a slogan adopted by the UK Labour Party manifesto, to ensure that the British press would not accuse them of "selling out" to America. Overall, it represented a decay of English folk culture and an increase in Americanisation.
The band temporarily relocated to a small house near Chessington Zoo to write the album. Hackett recalled the interesting neighbours nearby and how there was a noise curfew, preventing the band from working late into the night.
Gabriel later said he wrote all his lyrical contributions to the album in two days. Having rehearsed and written enough material for an album, the group entered Island Studios in August 1973. As with Foxtrot, John Burns helped with production. Burns' technical skills resulted in a good recorded sound and environment, and this motivated the group to play better and tackle more complex arrangements. Banks recalled the sessions being difficult, adding "it was hard to get things going". Charisma released a live album, Genesis Live, compiled from concerts taped for the radio, to fill the gap between studio releases.
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"Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" evolved from a number of short piano pieces composed by Gabriel, which was combined with some of Hackett's guitar figures to make up the track. Gabriel added English-themed lyrics to counter the impression from the music press that Genesis were trying too hard to appeal to the American audience, including references to Green Shield Stamps. Banks had upgraded to a new model of Mellotron and used the choir sound on the track. The track ends with a series of 12 string guitar figures that were originally supposed to segue into "The Cinema Show" to make a piece around 20 minutes in length, but this idea was dropped as the result was too comparable to "Supper's Ready".
"I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" came out of a jam session by the group around one of Hackett's guitar riffs. He had presented the riff to the group previously, but it had been rejected because it sounded too much like the Beatles. It was released as a single from the album, which became the first of the group's to chart in the UK.
Banks wrote most of "Firth of Fifth" on his own, and had presented it to the group for Foxtrot, but it was rejected. He reworked some sections of the song for Selling England by the Pound, where it drew a more positive reception. The track opens with a solo piece for piano, that is repeated by the band later in the song. Hackett took one of Banks' piano figures and rearranged it as a guitar solo, which dominates the latter part of the track.
"More Fool Me" is the second of two songs (the other being "For Absent Friends" from Nursery Cryme) to feature Collins on lead vocals before he became the band's lead singer in 1975. Uncharacteristically for the group's output at the time, the song was a tender, romantic ballad. It was written quickly by Collins and Rutherford while sitting on the steps outside the recording studio.
"The Battle of Epping Forest" was inspired by a news story that Gabriel had read several years previously about the territorial battles by two rival gangs in the East End of London.[a] He placed an advertisement in The Times in attempt to find more about the story, but was unable to find any further information, so he created his own fictional characters, including "Liquid Len", "Harold Demure" and "The Bethnal Green Butcher". The lyrics have since been praised for their humour and wit, but they did not gel well with the music, which the band subsequently felt was complicated for the sake of being so.
"After the Ordeal" is an instrumental written by Hackett; the first half is a classical guitar and piano piece followed by an electric guitar solo. Banks and Gabriel did not want to include the song on the album, but Hackett insisted it should be kept. It was ultimately left on after Gabriel and Banks argued about the length of "The Cinema Show", which meant everything was included as a compromise.
"The Cinema Show" is divided into two sections. The first section is a 12-string guitar-based piece, featuring vocal harmonies between Gabriel and Collins, as well as a short flute/oboe solo. The song concludes with a four-and-a-half-minute keyboard solo on the ARP Pro Soloist,[b] with Rutherford and Collins playing a rhythm in a 7/8 time signature. The lyrics, written by Banks and Rutherford, draw much of their inspiration from the T. S. Eliot poem The Waste Land.
The album closes with a segue from the end of "The Cinema Show" into "Aisle of Plenty", a reprise of "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" which gives the album a book-end effect. The track uses word play such as "Easy, love there's the safe way home" and "Thankful for her fine fair discount, Tess co-operates", referring to British supermarkets.[c]
The album cover is a painting by Betty Swanwick titled The Dream. Swanwick had designed posters for London Transport between the 1930s and 1950s. The original painting did not feature a lawn mower; the band had Swanwick add it later as an allusion to the song "I Know What I Like" as Swanwick told them that she had not enough time to paint a new picture for their cover.
Selling England by the Pound was released in October 1973, reaching No. 3 in the UK charts and No. 70 on the U.S. Billboard Pop Albums chart. The album's success in the U.S. benefitted from a switch from Buddah Records to Atlantic. "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" was released as a single in February 1974. It was the band's first single to enter the UK chart, and peaked at No. 21. In 2013, the album was certified Gold by the British Phonographic Industry.
Critical reception and legacy
|BBC Music||(very favourable)|
Contemporary reviews for the album were mixed. Rolling Stone's Paul Gambaccini praised the band for attempting something utterly different amidst "a stagnant pop scene", but criticised the album's lyrics, feeling they overused British pop culture references, and complained about some musical passages. Despite this, Gambaccini thought the album "merits some recognition". NME's Barbara Charone said the album was "the band's best, most adventurous album to date". The Guardian's Robin Denselow wrote that "much of the material is indistinctive and tedious".
Retrospective reviews have been more favourable. AllMusic and BBC Music remarked that the album returned to the whimsical eccentricity of Nursery Cryme while retaining the hard rock intensity and pessimism of Foxtrot, combining the best of both elements to make Genesis's best album up to that point. Robert Christgau, who thoroughly panned most of Genesis's albums, admitted that the songs "Firth of Fifth" and "The Battle of Epping Forest" have "a complexity of tone that's pretty rare in any kind of art", though he summarised the rest of the album by saying "it sounds as snooty as usual."
In 2012, the album ranked seventh in Rolling Stone's "Readers' Poll: Your Favorite Prog Rock Albums of All Time". It was also included in IGN's list "10 Classic Prog Rock Albums" in 2008, who praised its "subtle elegance, sublime textures, and lyrical splendor". Rock author Edward Macan has mixed feelings towards the album, praising "Firth of Fifth" and "The Cinema Show" but questioning some of the other material. Motoring journalist and broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson is a fan of the album and wrote sleeve notes for it when it was included in the box set Genesis 1970–1975.
Hackett has considered the album to be his favourite Genesis record, and was happy with his extensive contributions to it. In 2017, he explained, "It was an important watershed album for the band, and it was at the beginning of us struggling to find gigs in the States. If we could get into a club somewhere, wherever it was, that was good news for us at that time. A young, struggling band, but with an album that was due to become a classic in time." Banks and Rutherford have had mixed feelings, saying there are a lot of high points but also some lows.
Selling England by the Pound has been praised by other songwriters and musicians. Rush drummer Neil Peart has said: "I think Selling England by the Pound is an enduring masterpiece of drumming. Beautiful drumming, lovely sound, and the arrangements, I think they really nailed the best of what that band as an entity could have done with that album." Fish, solo artist and former lead singer of Marillion, has called it "the definitive Genesis album", praised its "emotive" quality, said the wordplay was "one of the things that became quite an influence on me - the games within the lyrics" and concluded it "took a whole jump forward and was the album that really got me into Genesis". Singer and songwriter Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices considers Selling England by the Pound one of his ten favourite records of all time. John Lennon said he really liked the album during a radio interview, which the band took great encouragement from.
The group went on a sell-out tour of the UK immediately following the album's release, but had to cancel the first date at the Green Playhouse, Glasgow due to electrical safety issues. The group realised they were substantially in debt and needed better management, so recruited Tony Smith (no relation to Charisma Records boss Tony Stratton-Smith). The tour was filmed by Charisma for a possible cinema release, but was rejected by the band who felt it was not up to standard. The group returned to the U.S. in December 1973, with three shows at the Roxy in Los Angeles.
By this time, Genesis were suffering from press attention being exclusively directed towards frontman Gabriel at the expense of the rest of the band, a notable factor that ultimately led to Gabriel leaving the group in 1975. They took an extended break in 1974 following the Selling England by the Pound tour; Collins joined a side project, Brand X, while Rutherford worked with former Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips.
Several tracks continued to feature in Genesis' live set after Collins became the group's full-time lead singer. The instrumental section of "The Cinema Show" became part of a medley with The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway's "In the Cage" and remained a fixture of the band's live set up to the Invisible Touch Tour in 1987. Versions of "Firth of Fifth", "I Know What I Like" and "The Cinema Show" appeared on the live album Seconds Out (1977), while portions of "Firth of Fifth" and "I Know What I Like" featured as part of the "Old Medley" on The Way We Walk, Volume Two: The Longs (1993). "Firth of Fifth" was performed as a one-off reunion with Gabriel at the 'Six of the Best' concert in 1982.
|1.||"Dancing with the Moonlit Knight"||8:02|
|2.||"I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)"||4:03|
|3.||"Firth of Fifth"||9:36|
|4.||"More Fool Me[d]"||3:10|
|1.||"The Battle of Epping Forest"||11:43|
|2.||"After the Ordeal"||4:07|
|3.||"The Cinema Show[e]"||11:10|
|4.||"Aisle of Plenty"||1:30|
Taken from the sleeve notes
- Peter Gabriel – vocals, flute, oboe, percussion
- Tony Banks – keyboards, Hammond organ, piano, ARP Pro Soloist synthesizer, Mellotron, 12-string guitar
- Steve Hackett – electric guitar, nylon guitar
- Michael Rutherford – 12-string guitar, bass, electric sitar
- Phil Collins – drums, percussion, lead vocals on "More Fool Me", backing vocals
|UK Albums (OCC)||3|
|US Billboard 200||70|
|Canada (Music Canada)||Platinum||100,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Gold||100,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Gold||500,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
- The real Epping Forest is some distance from London's East End and is partially outside the Greater London boundary.
- Banks first obtained a Pro Soloist during the album's writing sessions. He had previously borrowed a EMS VCS 3 synthesizer, but disliked it as it kept going out of tune. The Pro Soloist became a regular part of Banks' touring gear with Genesis throughout the 1970s.
- At the time Fine Fare and Safeway were British supermarket chains while Tesco and the Co-op still operate today.
- The original vinyl release credits "vocals Phil" next to the title.
- The original vinyl release does not have a track marker between "The Cinema Show" and "Aisle of Plenty", and hence both are shown as a single track.
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- Analysis of "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" lyrics by George Starosin