Being a fan of Genesis in the 1980’s was a fantastic time for many. Some of my favorite Genesis albums were released in the 1980’s. That same time frame saw the release of several fantastic solo albums and projects from then current and former band members. Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel emerged as hugely successful solo artists. Both experienced worldwide fame with their solo careers. Steve Hackett was a double threat in the 1980’s. Hackett released a few solo albums, including two of his best, Defector (1980) and his brilliant classical guitar album Momentum (1988). As a member of the short lived rock band GTR he scored a top forty hit single with the song When The Heart Rules The Mind. The band’s self titled album sold over half a million copies. Tony Banks released a few criminally undervalued solo albums: The Fugitive (1983), Soundtracks (1986) and Bankstatement (1989). Mike Rutherford released two solo albums that could not be more different from each other. His first release is the brilliant Smallcreep’s Day (1980). Somehow he followed this up with the tuneless album Acting Very Strange (1982). Thankfully this was not the final release for Rutherford outside of Genesis.
1985 saw the release of the debut album of Mike Rutherford’s long running second band, Mike + The Mechanics. The album contains nine songs that feature the influence of classic rock, rhythm and blues, pop rock, jazz and hard rock. One of the songs on the album, A Call To Arms, began life as a Genesis jam. The basic idea for the song was left unfinished by the band. Mike Rutherford would later revisit the song idea outside of Genesis. Rutherford enlisted the help of songwriters Christopher Neil and B.A. Robertson to complete the song. The finished song became the penultimate track on Mike + The Mechanics’ stellar debut album. It is unclear as to how far along Genesis developed the original song idea. Whatever the progress may have been, the seeds of the song were planted by the 1980’s Genesis trio. Listening to the finished song one can hear musical traits similar to that era of Genesis. In the hands of The Mechanics the song takes on the form of a highly dramatic commercial rock song.
From the opening keyboard chords and the steady drum beat it is clear that A Call To Arms is a song full of drama. The song’s fifty second introduction is anchored by a loud, unwavering drum beat. The repetition aptly builds tension, setting the stage for the main section of the song. This dramatic musical introduction, especially the keyboard chord progression, would not have been out of place on the Genesis album Duke (1980). The keyboards and drums are soon joined by a nimble bass line and a short, wordless vocalization. The brief vocal phrase carries a sense of desperation. The instruments then settle into a softer groove, laying a foundation for the introduction of the main vocals. The lead vocals enter and begin to carry the song. The repeated drum beat remains at the same level while the other instruments now function in the background. The subtle, yet highly effective, keyboards add a sense of mystery to the song. From an arrangement standpoint the song utilizes a somewhat atypical musical approach. From the onset of the song the drums are quite prominent in the mix. At times the drums are louder than the keyboards. Throughout the length of the song the drums do not change. The same drum pattern repeats throughout the entire song. Much of the song’s dynamics and sense of drama come from the changes in the vocals and keyboards.
Vocally, A Call To Arms is a unique song in the Mike + The Mechanics catalog. It is one of the very few songs by the band to feature Paul Carrack and Paul Young on lead vocals. Young and Carrack, both delivering with passion and conviction, trade off lead vocals during the verses. The pair utilize a restrained vocal delivery during the verses. At times Young sounds as if he is singing in a loud whisper. As they trade off on vocals it is as if they are sharing secretive information. These vocal dynamics enhance the dramatic feel of the song. The two are augmented by a third vocalist, Gene Stashuck, during the song’s pre-chorus and choruses. The three vocalists skillfully deliver their vocals parts, supporting one another and the song. The sound and feel of the chorus conveys the sense of a triumphal rallying cry.
The band packs a great deal into the song’s length of four minutes and thirty plus seconds. The song could easily have been extended to six minutes. The band opted not to include a guitar or keyboard solo. For the purposes of the this song The Mechanics said what they needed to say in the relatively short time frame.
The Mike + The Mechanics debut album is one of Mike Rutherford’s finest albums outside of Genesis. The nine songs successfully mingle with different genres to create a diverse, radio friendly rock album. At just under forty minutes, Rutherford helped to create a concise musical statement that resonated with music fans across the world. The Mechanics debut album allowed Mike Rutherford to show fans a different side of his musical personality. A Call To Arms may have started as an unfinished Genesis song idea. However, The Mechanics breathed life into that song idea and gave it a second chance. The band successfully constructed a solid rock song and put their own stamp on the finished product.