Genesis: Selling England By The Pound - Album Of The Week Club review

Selling England By The Pound was strikingly complex yet often deceptively simple, and it heralded a different Genesis in so many ways

Genesis: Selling England By The Pound cover art
(Image: © Charisma Records)

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Genesis: Selling England By The Pound

Genesis: Selling England By The Pound cover art

(Image credit: Charisma Records)

Dancing with the Moonlit Knight
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Firth of Fifth
More Fool Me
The Battle of Epping Forest|
After the Ordeal
The Cinema Show
Aisle of Plenty

Taking its title from a slogan in the Labour Party’s manifesto, Genesis's 1973 album Selling England By The Pound, the band’s fifth studio album is infused with a whimsy, a Britain at sunset, assessing how to move forward in shifting times. The word ‘pound’ in its title was key; aside from the obvious pun between currency and weight, the pound sterling had been one of the hottest political topics in recent history. 

Selling England… was recorded in three weeks in August at Basing Street Studios in West London. The band asked John Burns to produce, who had worked as engineer on Foxtrot. Burns was of a similar age to them, had already had considerable experience, and the strength, consistency and exquisiteness of the material is enhanced by his crisp, rich production.

Creating backdrops to diverse themes – gang violence (The Battle Of Epping Forest); ruminations on gender (Cinema Show); a supermarket price-list (Aisle Of Plenty) – extraordinary performances proliferate. It was strikingly complex yet often deceptively simple, and heralded a different Genesis. 

The album was key in so many ways. It gave them a taste of a hit single in I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe). It demonstrated that Collins could handle lead vocals with élan. Most importantly, with their trio playing at the end of The Cinema Show, it showed that Banks, Rutherford and Collins could play well with each other. The future was written. 

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Other albums released in October 1973

  • For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night - Caravan
  • Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John
  • These Foolish Things - Bryan Ferry
  • Cyan - Three Dog Night
  • Suzi Quatro - Suzi Quatro
  • Moondog Matinee - The Band
  • Mystery to Me - Fleetwood Mac
  • Time Fades Away - Neil Young
  • Wake of the Flood - Grateful Dead
  • Live in Europe - Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Montrose - Montrose
  • Hat Trick - America
  • Pin Ups - David Bowie
  • Quadrophenia - The Who
  • Frampton's Camel - Peter Frampton
  • All American Boy - Rick Derringer
  • Ashes Are Burnin - Renaissance
  • At the Rainbow - Focus
  • Full Sail - Loggins and Messina
  • Gone Crazy - Grin
  • Inside Out - John Martyn
  • The Joker - Steve Miller Band
  • Laid Back - Gregg Allman
  • Marjory Razorblade - Kevin Coyne
  • Nine - Fairport Convention
  • On the Road - Traffic
  • Please Don't Ever Change - Brinsley Schwarz
  • Sweet Revenge - John Prine
  • Takin' My Time - Bonnie Raitt


What they said...

"Genesis proved that they could rock on Foxtrot but on its follow-up Selling England by the Pound they didn't follow this route, they returned to the English eccentricity of their first records, which wasn't so much a retreat as a consolidation of powers. For even if this eight-track album has no one song that hits as hard as Watcher of the Skies, Genesis hasn't sacrificed the newfound immediacy of Foxtrot: they've married it to their eccentricity, finding ways to infuse it into the delicate whimsy that's been their calling card since the beginning. " (AllMusic (opens in new tab))

"The LP has its moments, and Dancing With the Moonlit Knight should be at least heard if not purchased. Genesis may well be the most wordy of today's pop groups, and their facility for the language is admirable. Musically their artiness is, in small doses, engaging. And a band that is trying to do something different in a stagnant pop scene deserves encouragement." (Rolling Stone (opens in new tab))

"Down-to-earth progressive, which means that it indulges in snooty satire about the vulgar futility of working class youth. Would T.S. Eliot be proud? I doubt it. But I have the feeling that they're saying right out what all their co-workers in the genre are thinking, and there's some pretty dense music here." (Robert Christgau (opens in new tab))


What you said...

Ray Liddard: For a long time, this was my favourite Genesis album. When I still had a voice, I could sing Dancing With The Moonlight Knight word for word in true Peter Gabriel style. Firth of Fifth is possibly the best Genesis track ever - if not, it's in the top ten.

Over the years, I have fallen in and out of love with The Battle of Epping Forest. It's about five minutes too long and the middle section noodles into indulgence in order to accommodate the overly-imagined storyline. Peter's comedy voices are good fun but this lengthy piece is a weakness on an otherwise great album. They should have ditched it in favour of the now widely available and superior Twighlight Alehouse, which I believe came from the same recording sessions.

I Know What I LIke is just quirky English wonderfulness. If only the England portrayed was really like this now instead of being full of small-minded Brexit twats that have really sold England out to the non-doms and oligarchs that are the true beneficiaries of our calamitous withdrawal from the EU.

Uli Hassinger: The Peter Gabriel era of Genesis was a difficult chapter of my growing up with rock music. In my younger days I hated everything about them. Growing older I become more gracious. But I still think that Peter Gabriel isn't an outstanding singer. In my ears Phil Collins' voice is much better. Unfortunately they turned into a pop band over the years. I reckon that the greater number of Peter Gabriel admirers is more a result of his appearance and his performance on stage than of his singing capabilities.

From the albums I knew of this era this is for sure the best. Especially in relation to The Lamb Lies Down... It's much more accessible and easier to listen too. But I have to admit I have not listen to Foxtrot yet and I will surely catch up with that.

The album is dominated by Firth of Fifth, which is one of the best prog rock songs ever. The solo guitar part from Hackett is not from this earth, and the dynamics of the song are brilliant. The first song stands out, with its folk-rock touch. The rest of the songs are good but nothing to make me break down and cry. I Know What I Like is the stinker on the album, very cheesy. This album is a solid 7/10 to me.

Philip Qvist: Can't say I ever got into Genesis, whichever era - although I did like Duke and their self titled album. It's been a while since I listened to Selling England By The Pound, and I have to say I like what I heard when I gave it a spin.

I would say that this is a 70s Prog album in all its splendour - along with the shortcomings that came with that genre of music. Good musicianship and well crafted songs, it's an 8 from me.

Iain Macaulay: It’s hard to pick a best album when Genesis have four classic albums to choose from. Foxtrot, Selling England, Nursery Cryme and The Lamb Lies Down. For me, Selling England is the one I listen to the least out of the four. It’s a bit too clean and light for me compared to the other three, which are overall quite dirty and dark in lyrical quality and style, from a band that was perceived as being quite middle England in their approach. 

However, those first three songs on Selling... are faultless, then it gets a tad style over substance for me. As if they are trying a bit too hard and got wound up a bit too tight. For me, there’s a bite and a spark missing from this album that Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot have in spades, and also a natural flow that was nailed on Lamb. If I only had to listen to one Genesis album for the rest of my life it would not be this one I’m afraid. But then again, I wouldn’t be able to choose for the other three.

John Davidson: The four tent pole classics make this Genesis's most consistently brilliant album. Cinema Show and Firth of Fifth are two of the best progressive songs of all time and the rest of the album doesn't really put a foot wrong either.

Great stuff and if you get a chance to see Steve Hackett on tour. He is keeping this music alive with an amazing show and a group of incredibly talented musicians around him.

Gary Claydon: This is 'Tru Prog'. It's another album that's been much commented on down the years and I don't think there is anything to add, certainly not by me. Selling England... was the album where the different elements that made Genesis special finally came together most consistently. Lyrically, Gabriel is on fine form, Banks is as good as ever and if you're not sure why Steve Hackett is held in such high esteem as a guitarist then just listen to Firth of Fifth. Special mention to the rhythm section though, especially Collins. It's easy to forget just how good a drummer he was and his work on Selling England... is excellent.

Greg Schwepe: Rock bands change personnel, that’s a fact. Sometime it’s not a big deal. Other times it causes huge rifts among fans. “[insert band name] never made another good album after [insert band member name] left.” Pretty sure you’ve read that on the internet once or twice. Probably even in the comments of our own Classic Rock Album of the Week reviews. And Genesis are one of those bands. With Gabriel or without, everyone has an opinion.

Anyway, full disclosure; I became a big Genesis fan during the Phil Collins era. Having a dorm full of friends with record collections, I finally could get some Genesis albums for “free.” Just cost me a few cassettes. After recording Duke I began adding other albums. When you get into a band in the middle of their career, you always have to work backwards. Got to the Gabriel era and only got as far back as The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Liked that one and all his solo stuff to date but some of the older Genesis seemed a “little weird” to me.

Then as a fan I finally realised a few years ago that I needed to get the entire catalogue and bought all the remaining Gabriel stuff. And, you know what, I got the whole “now I get it!” vibe. And Selling England By The Pound became my favourite of that era.

Dancing With The Moonlit Knight starts with a little whimsical vocal and instrumentation… and then at 2'24: the tempo about triples and the prog fun begins!

I Know What I I Like (In Your Wardrobe) and Firth of Fifth follow and are there you go… two more classic songs that remained on the band’s set lists on their last two tours. Shows they have staying power and that they connected with fans.

While I enjoy the rest of the album, The Cinema Show resonates with me the most. A nice journey as I finally got to hear the entire song, not just snippets as in some of the Collins-era live album medleys.

Listened to this one three times today and each time it seemed to get better. This lineup had great musicianship and songwriting. OK, so maybe the lyrics about rooting around for underwear in someone’s wardrobe was a little weird…

Alex Hayes: Bloody hell, Selling England By The Pound. Now, we're talking.

Between 1970 and 1977, Genesis produced seven remarkable albums, much of the contents of which I consider to be some of my favourite music of all time. Quintessentially English in nature, I've often considered the bands' material from that period as akin to listening to old nursery rhymes that have been set to a colourful canvass of progressive rock. Of those seven albums, Selling England By The Pound is my favourite, and that's saying something.

I even love The Battle Of Epping Forest, a song frequently derided as the runt of the litter here. Selling England By The Pound is Genesis' creative zenith. The standout diamond, nestled in among an already impressive bag of musical gems. Although I dig the album conceptually, as it contains some of Peter Gabriel's most thoughtful lyrics, it's the instrumental passages that excel here for me.

The inter-weaving wizardry that graces the middle of Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, the entirety of Firth Of Fifth (surely Tony Banks' finest ever composition), and, particularly, the opening three minutes or so of The Cinema Show, all spring to mind. That latter example is the most spellbinding moment of all, the classic rock equivalent of opening a musical box as a small child and watching the tiny ballerina dance. Just thinking about that exquisite guitar playing from Steve Hackett makes the hairs on my arms stand to attention. Selling England By The Pound is a gorgeously textured, and, often quite emotive, body of work.

By 1978, Genesis had been whittled down to a three-piece band. Mindsets had changed by this point, and things were never the same (although 1980's Duke remains a mighty fine album). To this day, ...And Then There Were Three... stands as my least favourite Genesis album. The polar opposite of Selling England By The Pound for me, I've never managed to get past my initial disappointment upon hearing that record. All the ingredients that blend together so perfectly on one album, just sound listless and uninspiring on the other. What a comedown.

Not that it ultimately matters. From Trespass in 1970, right through to Wind & Wuthering in 1977, Genesis went through one of the greatest of purple patches. Their work from that period shines like the most regal of crowns, with Selling England By The Pound as it's brightest centrepiece. Yeah, I like this one. 10/10

Chris Elliott: I never did get Genesis... and still don't. There are times it's like nails down a blackboard - in the the right mood I begin to see the appeal and then there's some annoying noodling or Gabriel's whimsy and it's gone. The reality is its everything good and everything bad about Genesis in one album. It does have moments but it'll go back on the shelf for another 10 years

Evan Sanders: A good progressive rock album, at a time when I believe the genre was more dominated by ELP, Yes, and Crimson King. I enjoy listening to the early Genesis albums now, knowing what a strong combination of musicians and personalities they had before gradually splitting off into their solo projects and the Phil Collins-led pop version of Genesis. This album stands the test of time, and is worthy example to answer the question of "what did 1970's prog rock sound like"? 7/10

Adam McCann: For me, this is arguably Genesis's finest moment, a stone cold progressive rock classic.

Dennis Benzie: The first album I heard from Genesis. Battle Of Epping Forest got to me. Fantastic album.

Andrew Bramah: The most complete Genesis album.

Jonathan Richards: A progressive rock masterpiece. In my all-time (past, present and future) Top 10 favourite albums!

Bill Griffin: While I love this album, it always seemed a little sterile to me, the only one in the entire Genesis catalog. Live versions of the songs appeal to my ear way more than these studio versions.

Fred Varcoe: I was a big fan of Genesis with Peter Gabriel and saw them grow from an afternoon set at the Reading Festival to supporting Lindisfarne to headlining at Wembley Pool. For me, Foxtrot is their classic. After that, I always had a feeling that being clever was more important than being musical, but the music was always good (and the theatre was always interesting). Maybe no surprise that I like After The Ordeal' best on this album. It's a solid 8 out of 10, whereas Supper's Ready is off the scale.

Simon Kucia: One of my all time favourite albums of all time. Which in itself is somewhat odd as I was ( and still am) more into Purple, Heep, Sabbath, UFO etc.

Adam Ranger: My favourite Genesis album will always be Foxtrot, still sounds great 50 years on. However this album does come a close second. I think the opening three tracks  – Dancing With T Moonlit Knight, I Know What I Like and Firth Of Fifth are the best opening tracks of any Genesis album. Perhaps any prog album ever.

More Fool Me is unusual for Genesis of the time, a tender, almost poppy ballad with Collins on vocals, but it works. Battle Of Epping Forest seems to be many peoples' favourite, but for me it is my least favourite track on the album. Controversial opinion? Maybe, but something does not really click with me on that song. The album Closer Cinema Show redeems the second side for me. Another tour de force of prog magnificence from a band at the top of their game.

9 out of 10. It would have been 10 but for my dislike of Battle Of Epping Forest.

John Burton: One of my favourite Genesis albums, it changes from Foxtrot to Selling England... to A Trick Of The Tail to Seconds Out and repeat.

It has to be said that Firth of Fifth and Cinema Show lift this album up to brilliance, a solid 10 out of 10!

Warren Dennison: Selling England By The Pound features two of the greatest prog rock songs of all time, namely Dancing With The Moonlit Knight and Firth Of Fifth. What do these songs have in common? Answer: Steve Hackett’s mesmerising guitar parts. Listening to Dancing With The Moonlit Knight it sounds like Tony Banks and Steve Hackett are having a fight; Tony’s weapon is the Mellotron and Steve’s the Gibson Les Paul Goldtop. The duel is loud, fast and boy does it rock. Steve used the tapping technique to obtain some of the sounds on his guitar long, long before Eddie Van Halen made a career out of doing so. Firth of Fifth’s fame is largely due to one of the greatest guitar solos of them all. To hear it is to love it. There’s other good tracks on the album but these two are enough to warrant 10 out of 10.

Chris Smith: Just the absolute best album of any genre imho. Gorgeous.

Neil Immerz: Their best album, next to Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot.

Chris Elliott: One dogs looking sad in the corner, the other is barking at the speakers. So the dogs don't like it.


Final score: 8.47 (150 votes cast, total score 1271)

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