Music fans have differing experiences with and varying opinions about music videos. I have long loved music videos. I was immediately hooked on music videos right from my very first viewing of MTV back in 1981. I spent a great many hours enjoying music videos in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Although their importance has waned a great deal over the years I am glad to see many artists still utilizing the art form.
Over the course of their career Genesis made just over thirty music videos. From the mid 1970’s to the late 1990’s the band appeared in a variety of videos. The quality varies, but the band tried to entertain through their music videos. Some have aged quite well over the years while others are of their time. The majority of their videos are successful at achieving their goal. First and foremost as an effective promotional tool and secondly as a piece of entertainment. Over the years I have watched many of the Genesis music videos countless times. Most of their videos have provided me with some level of enjoyment and escapism. Here are my three favorite music videos from Genesis.
Abacab (1981) – This music video is the reason that I am a Genesis fan. Watching this video on MTV back in 1981 changed my life. I was unfamiliar with Genesis prior to seeing this video. I knew nothing of their prior history. At that time I had not even heard the term progressive rock. I just knew that I had never heard anything like this before and I was immediately hooked. The Abacab video was my introduction to Genesis, which proved to be my gateway into the wonderful world of progressive rock.
Abacab is just a performance video. There is no attempt to tell a story or create any highly artsy visual imagery. The video simply portrays three men in a room miming to their song. But it works for a few reasons. First and foremost it is a great song. From a visual standpoint the camera work, the lighting and the editing help to create energy and drama. The camera and the well placed cuts move and flow with the song. The vibe of the band is loose and relaxed. Overall the video has the look and feel of the band during a rehearsal. The three bandmates do their best to have fun with their “performance”. The whole process of making a music video is undoubtedly a tedious, but at the time it was highly beneficial. Director B. Rymer does a great job with a less is more approach. He previously worked with the band on the music video for the song Follow You Follow Me.
Imagine my surprise when I bought the album and discovered that the album version of Abacab is nearly three minutes longer. This was the first of many wonderful surprises in my early journey with Genesis. That journey all started with this music video.
Mama (1983) – This is another performance video, but with a twist. The highly stylize visuals of the Mama video are quite important to its overall impact. The music video begins in a sepia tinged monochrome. The heavily shadowed look of the video is akin to the film noir movies of the 1940’s. The band is in a hot, sweaty bar. There are stairs that lead to a second level with rooms occupied by ladies of the night. Although the video does not flesh out the story of the song, it hints at the overall theme.
Phil Collins mimes the vocals as the song’s protagonist. This time around he is not stuck behind a drum kit or a microphone. Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, serving as the bar band, play their instruments with extreme conviction. Rutherford just about puts his whole body into every strummed guitar chord and picked note.
As the video progresses there is a subtle, blink and you’ll miss it, shift from sepia to muted colors. The set, the lighting, the camera movement, the editing, the band’s “performance” and the song all work together to make Mama a highly successful music video. Despite the fact the a minute and a half of music is edited out of the song the music video still works quite well. Much credit must be given to the director, Stuart Orme. Orme directed eight music videos for Genesis, as well as six for Phil Collins. It would seem that they were pleased with his work. All these years later I can still remember how excited I was the first time that I watched the video on MTV.
Robbery, Assault and Battery (1976) – An early example of what many believe a music video should be. Somehow in the 1980’s many music video directors created visuals that had absolutely nothing to do with the song lyrics. That is not the case with this exceptional music video.
Robbery, Assault and Battery combines visual storytelling with band performance. The video brilliantly visualizes the story depicted in the song. The four members of the band get the opportunity to not only mime the song, but to portray characters from the song’s lyrics. It is apparent that a great deal of thought went into the overall look and feel of the video. The band, especially Phil Collins as the song’s antagonist, seem to be having a good time acting out the story. The performance portions of the video contain the band “performing” on a stage. The sequences are well shot and edited in a way that creates a good deal of energy and excitement. The mix of close ups and long shots gives the feel of the band playing live. Unfortunately guitarist Steve Hackett is barely visible in all too brief closeups and the extreme longshots of the band. His lack of screen time during the performance sections is as criminal as the robbery depicted in the song.
The video’s director, Bruce Gowers, directed several music videos for Queen. Most notably what is arguably one of the all time great music videos, Bohemian Rhapsody. Bower’s directed three music videos for the A Trick Of The Tail album. Strangely enough the band did not produce any music videos for the follow-up album Wind & Wuthering. I am sure that the band had valid reasons, however it seems like a lost opportunity.
In regards to music videos, you can love them of hate them. When utilized properly they can prove to be a highly effective tool for any artist or band. Genesis took full advantage of the medium to help bring their music to a new and larger audience. I am extremely grateful that the band chose to explore the art form. I am one of the many beneficiaries of the band embracing and utilizing music videos. If I had not seen them on MTV it is highly likely that at some point I would have crossed paths with the music of Genesis. Had I encountered their music at a later time by way of a different medium perhaps my forty year love affair with the band would have been radically different.