Understanding Misunderstanding

Now that we’ve been at this Phoning It In thing for a while here at WMMCM we’re really dialed in and operating at full speed as we send it on down the line. Occasionally in the wonderful world of phones, there are communication breakdowns, wires get crossed and calls get dropped. And if the line goes dead right in the middle of a conversation, well, some people have a huge hang up about that. And, that leads to misunderstandings.

The phone call that ends unceremoniously right at the exact wrong word has become a staple of Hollywood movies. Dramas as well as comedies. And when it actually happens to you as you – in the real world, (presumably,) – are trying to repair the damage you just did to your recently ended – ending – relationship; at that point it becomes tragedy.

If you happen to be an English rock star, well, there’s only one thing you can do. Call your lawyer and tell them to keep it under $60 million this time and all will be well and then write a song about it.

Misunderstood E-Mail Link! (awwww…)

By 1980 when Genesis’s tenth studio album, Duke, was released, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks had also wandered far from their progressive roots. So far in fact that they actually wandered all the way back to the very start of the band in 1967 when Genesis was actually – briefly – a pop band.

Admittedly Genesis’ time as a pop band in the 1960′s was a very short one only extending through the interesting Bee Gee’s knockoff sounding but not terribly good From Genesis to Revelation album to pretty much the day they re-entered the recording studio in June of 1970.

What became Genesis’ Trespass album still wasn’t very good – although the musicianship was there – but you could easily start to hear where they were trying to go. (If you have the patience to actually listen to Trespass, you’re a better fan than I. Erratic tedium is perhaps being kind.)

The big change in those early years of Genesis came during the Trespass recording sessions when the band was unhappy with their current drummer’s skills. They wound up holding auditions for a replacement and soon hired Phil Collins. Collins’ late entry into the Trespass sessions didn’t change much at the time but after finishing the recording and touring with Genesis over the next year the change in drummers led to the first real Genesis album, (for us snooty purists you know…) Nursery Crymes.

By this point in Genesis’ career lead Singer Peter Gabriel was starting to wear increasingly strange costumes and hats as well as becoming quite an accomplished songwriter and singer. Rutherford, Banks, Collins and lead guitarist Steve Hackett were formulating what would be Genesis’ sound for the next several years until, first Gabriel and then Hackett departed for other musical adventures.

By 1976, Collins had taken over lead vocals from Gabriel and in 1977 Steve Hackett had departed leaving both bass and guitar in Rutherford’s hands and that left the three members who would become the Genesis of their most successful era. With the release of And Then There Were Three… (duh…) Genesis would still have one final album as a progressive rock band before getting – progressively – more pop.

So, when Duke was turned loose on FM radio in early 1980, it actually had a few hits on it and started the full speed ahead portion of Genesis and Phil Collins’ career which didn’t let up until Collins himself departed Genesis in 1996.

But back in 1980 when Duke hit the fan, there certainly wasn’t anything on the radio like it. This progressive rock musicianship with pop sensibilities quickly made Genesis one of the biggest bands in the world eventually selling over 130 million albums. In fact starting with Duke, the next four albums prior to Collins’ departure would all be multiple million selling albums all over the world as well giving Genesis some of the largest and most profitable tours in rock history.

“Misunderstanding” is one of those songs only someone who is going through a bit of relationship misery could have written. And Collins is certainly more familiar with that than most. No doubt as he was waiting for the latest bad news from his lawyer he was concocting the all too close to home tale of confusion and self-delusion.

“There must be some misunderstanding,

There must be some kind of mistake

I waited in the rain for hours, And you were late.”

There is no doubt that this is a guy thing. Rejection? What rejection?

Then a quick bout of self-delusion.

“Now it’s not like me to say the right thing,

But you could’ve called to let me know.

I checked your number twice, don’t understand it,

So I went home.”

Phil Collins is such a wonderful singer getting every mile out of each word with a power and emotion that just sells the heck out of it. Adding on top of Collins’ vocals is Rutherford’s sophisticated guitars and bass and Tony Bank’s multiples of multiples of keyboards and you find yourself suddenly liking progressive rock without realizing they pulled one over on you. It’s prog rock and you like it!

Behind all this is Collins’ – actually fairly restrained for this song – drumming. Yes, once you’re been sucked in to Genesis’ prog rock world you’re being treated to a nearly insanely complicated piece of music that is performed so well you simply don’t quite get what’s happening.

Most rock n’ roll, and I mean probably close to 90% of it is in standard time, as in the 4/4 time signature. There’s no way that proggies, even poppie proggies are going to do that. It’s just to darn simple and you can’t have that now can you?

“Misunderstanding” is played in the 12/8 time signature. Who plays in 12/8 time?

The combination of Genesis’ progressive rock music and Collins’ ability to channel his own personal difficulties into great pop lyrics made for music that people all over the world found irresistible. 130 million albums, number one hits in seven countries and top ten hits and albums in a dozen more.

There are only a small hand full of artists who have had the kind of international success and longevity as Genesis, and they did it without ever really leaving their progressive roots.

Rutherford, Banks and Collins were good enough musicians, songwriters and showmen that they stayed far truer to the complicated and – sometimes – boring progressive music that formed the band’s style then those new fans that Genesis picked up in the early 80′s realized. They also stayed far truer to the progressive course than all too many fans from the “pre-sell out” era are willing to admit.

Once the dust has settled with Collins essentially retiring from most parts of the music business, Genesis stands as a great progressive act as well as a great pop/rock act and probably a few places in between. That can certainly be argued about.

What can’t be argued with is they were the only progressive rock act to truly cross over into becoming a long term major factor in not only sales but touring. And they leave a legacy of music behind that is easily listened to and enjoyed by music lovers from the rock, pop and progressive arenas.

About Pete

Pete is a professional-musician-with-a-day-job based in California's Inland Empire, as well as a veteran sound engineer in the studio and for live shows. He's been a lover of classic rock since back when it was known as "rock" and has in more recent years developed a country habit as well.
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