September 1981: Genesis Release ABACAB

Monday, September 18, 2023

The evolution was almost complete. British prog-rock stalwarts Genesis had seen the band's biggest commercial success with the release of 10th studio album Duke (1980). Featuring hits including "Misunderstanding" and "Turn It on Again," the group's stealthy move towards more radio-friendly music resulted in Duke spending two weeks at #1 on the UK Album Chart. In America, the LP peaked at #11 on the Billboard 200.

Taking a break after the tour supporting Duke, Genesis reconvened to purchase a farm house in Surrey, England, which the band refashioned into a personal rehearsal and recording space. While rehabbing the space, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins began working on new material. The fresh surroundings inspired the trio to take a different approach to the band's music.

“It was a very conscious decision to try and break some of the Genesis traditions – get rid of the reprises, the extended solos, the big choruses and tambourines and everything,” Tony Banks told CBS in 2015.

Helping Genesis with their new sound was producer/engineer Hugh Padgham, who'd worked with Phil Collins on his debut solo album, Face Value (1980) as well as Peter Gabriel's third solo LP (1980). It was during those sessions when Collins and Padgham stumbled onto the gated reverb sound, which Genesis was eager to employ on the new record.

Marathon recording sessions at The Farm studio from March into June 1981 resulted in enough material for a double-album; instead, Genesis edited the tracks down just nine, deeming the rest of the songs too similar to music they'd released in the past.

Genesis kicked off the Abacab campaign by releasing the title track as the LP's lead single in August 1981. The track's massive gated drums paired with a New Wave throb powered by Tony Banks' agile keyboard work and flashy guitar-playing from Mike Rutherford. The sleek new Genesis sound was an immediate hit in the UK, where the single crashed the top 10 to reach #9 (the song was the second single from the album in the US, where it peaked at No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100).

In America, "No Reply at All" was issued as the first Abacab single. The upbeat track featured Phenix Horns, best known as the horn section for R&B legends Earth, Wind and Fire. Peaking at #29 on the Hot 100, the tune enjoyed an impressive 18-week run on the mainstream singles chart.

Genesis released Abacab the album on September 18, 1981 in the UK; the U.S. released followed a week later. Featuring two more singles, "Keep It Dark" and "Man on the Corner," the LP was a breakout success on both sides of the Atlantic. In England, Abacab climbed all the way to #1 on the album chart. In the States, it was the first Genesis full-length to reach the top 10 on the Billboard 200, peaking at #7.