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Genesis - The Musical Box

Genesis – The Musical Box

Longtrack, 1971

This piece was developed by four and a half guitarists.

The first was Mike Rutherford: he had the idea for the special tuning of the 12-string guitar with three strings tuned to F sharp. Rutherford’s guitar partner was initially Anthony Phillips, then Mick Barnard and finally Steve Hackett, who took over the ideas of his predecessors and added his own. Over time, the piece grew from an instrumental etude called F Sharp to a proto-song titled “Manipulation”. The second 12-string part was taken over by Tony Banks, the keyboardist and part-time guitarist from Genesis, and Steve Hackett provided the lead track on the Gibson Les Paul – jazzy and gentle at first, then rocking with might. The interweaving of the three guitar voices became the band’s most recognizable sound.

The lyrics, of course, came from Peter Gabriel, Genesis’ first singer. He was inspired by English novels from the 19th century. In the lyrics accompanying the album Nursery Cryme, Gabriel embellishes his song text with a bizarre and macabre story: Smiling and graceful, nine-year-old Cynthia Jane De Blaise-William has (accidentally?) decapitated eight-year-old Henry at a game of croquet (This gruesome scene inspired the gory album cover).

Genesis - The Musical Box

Later, Cynthia discovers the musical box belonging to the dead Henry. When she sets it in motion, the melody of “Old King Cole”, an English nursery rhyme, plays and the dead Henry appears from a ghostly limbo. And what he has to say is then sung by Peter Gabriel.

Richard Macphail, Genesis’ roadie and “sixth man”, remembers well the day the band played him the brand new song. “Wow, I thought. I was blown away. I immediately realized: this is a classic! The piece was very well constructed. At the end, the audience went crazy every time.” “The Musical Box” does, in fact, develop as a great crescendo. It begins quietly with the fragile guitar mesh, then gets louder and rockier (Peter Gabriel demanded an aggressive sound à la The Who) and ends after more than ten minutes like a powerful symphonic movement by Beethoven. Not only does the song drama come to a head, but the instrumental parts in the song also become increasingly weighty and extensive. The introduction lasts 15 seconds (the guitars), the first interlude 19 seconds (with flute), the next one a minute and 13 seconds (with flute and timpani mallets), then 1:24 (rocky with organ riffs and guitar solo), finally 1:59 (rocky with guitar solo, electric piano and throbbing staccato). Philipp Krohn calls the piece “one of the most demanding compositions in pop music”. For many fans, it is the most important Genesis song of all.

It was during “The Musical Box” that Peter Gabriel first dressed up on stage. At a concert performance in September 1972, he returned to the stage after the final two-minute instrumental section in a fox head mask and a red woman’s dress. Tony Banks is said to have been horrified, but the audience celebrated Gabriel. He later donned an old man’s mask at this point – in keeping with his role. (Henry’s spirit ages quickly.) Until the 1980s, “The Musical Box” was part of Genesis’ live program, often as the first encore. The most important Genesis revival band also named itself after this song.

Genesis – Nursery Cryme on discogs.com

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