Genesis’ “Selling England By The Pound” Finally Breathes
The best-sounding pressing of their best album
By 1973, things were starting to come together for Genesis. The classic lineup of vocalist Peter Gabriel, guitarist Steve Hackett, bassist Mike Rutherford, keyboardist Tony Banks, and drummer Phil Collins embarked on a string of albums, 1971’s Nursery Cryme and 1972’s Foxtrot, that would go down to define the ethos of progressive rock. These albums exemplify Genesis’ liberating drive to incorporate European classical elements into multi-segment compositions with Gabriel’s method of storytelling to create cinematic aural experiences. The songs would come to life on the live stage when Gabriel portrayed song characters in various costumes, such as fox heads, a floral headdress, and bat wings. This facet of Genesis’ artistry gave the group a firm identity that stood out amidst contemporaries who sat still on stage trying to get through a 9/8 musical segment without Moog synthesizers malfunctioning.
Selling England By The Pound is an album packed with qualities to make an essential album in the Genesis canon. Still present are all the Genesis trademarks, but the jazz-fusion flair in “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” pushes the band’s musical boundaries. The band earned their first Top 30 hit with “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe),” a Beatles-y jaunt. Steve Hackett’s guitar solo on “Firth of Firth” is hands down his signature musical moment in the group. “More Fool Me” is a tender acoustic ballad with Phil Collins taking the lead vocal, foreshadowing what was to come in the future. The tour-de-force that’s “The Battle of Epping Forest” fills in the tightly arranged segments with Gabriel’s “million-words-per-minute” vocal delivery. Considered the “filler” track of the record, “After The Ordeal” is a beautiful pseudo-classical instrumental. The instrumental trio section of “The Cinema Show” would become a standout moment in Genesis’ live show during the period where side-long epics swapped for accessible pop nuggets. The album’s closer, “Aisle of Plenty,” serves as a bookend with a reprise of the opening motif of “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight.”
Music aside, Selling England By The Pound is an album lyrically rich with English culture. “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” contains references to Father Thames, citizens of (the Land of) Hope and Glory, and Green Shield Stamps. The title of “Firth of Fifth” is a pun on the Firth of Forth, an estuary in Scotland. “The Battle of Epping Forest” is based on a news story about rival gangs in the East End of London that fought in the ancient woodlands. There is also a nod to the titular characters of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in “The Cinema Show.” British supermarket chains play into the theme of consumerism in “Aisle of Plenty,” referencing Safeway, Fine Fare, and Tesco.
Selling England By The Pound had mixed opinions between critics and band members upon its release. In retrospect, the album has aged like a fine wine, considered one of the greatest albums of the progressive rock genre. Genesis got their affirmal stamp of approval from one of the rock intelligentsia’s most beloved members when John Lennon acknowledged to like the album in a radio interview. The timing of the album’s 50th anniversary is coincidental with the recently released 2LP 45rpm pressing by Analogue Productions in conjunction with Atlantic Records’ 75th anniversary.
For the past 15 years, all vinyl pressings of Selling England By The Pound used the 2008 Nick Davis remix mastered at half speed by Miles Showell. While the remix on vinyl translates much superiorly to the brick-walled CD edition, the original mix will always be the blueprint of comparison. Revisiting the master tape, the last time being the Classic Records pressing in 2001, is beneficial for listeners to hear the album as originally intended. One of the critical aspects of Selling England By The Pound’s translation onto the grooves is its running time of 54 minutes. Between both pressings utilizing the original mix and remix, so many nuances get lost when grooves are working to get crammed. The 2LP 45rpm treatment fixes the issue and allows the album to breathe at its maximum capacity.
The etchings in the deadwax of a record sometimes contain easter eggs worth digging deeper into. This pressing of Selling England By The Pound is NOT a fresh all-analog cut. In 2010, Classic Records produced a test pressing of a 4LP single-sided 45rpm edition of the album pressed on clarity vinyl. The deadwax of this 2023 pressing has “FC-6060” etched, which traces back to the Classic Records test press. Given Chad Kassem’s acquisition of Classic Records and recycling metal parts for releases (ala the UHQR for Jethro Tull's Aqualung), this practice isn’t surprising, but a fun discovery!
Peter Gabriel’s acapella vocals in “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” are inviting, and Tony Banks’ grand piano is full of depth. The key instrument in any progressive rock group’s arsenal is the Mellotron. It swells with orchestral intensity throughout the record. If one has a subwoofer, the lawn mower drone in “I Know What I Like” or the Taurus pedals on “Firth of Fifth” will make your floor rumble. Phil Collins’ vocals in “More Fool Me” are so dry and intimate; it’s as if he’s singing in front of you. The unsung hero of this pressing is bassist Mike Rutherford, who provides a percussive tone that cuts through the mix on a track like “The Battle of Epping Forest.” One of Genesis’ musical advantages is the art of sound manipulation. It’s interesting to listen to “After The Ordeal” and hear the double-tracked harmonized nylon guitars sound like a harp. One of the original mix’s strengths lost on the remix is dynamics—the trio section of “The Cinema Show” crescendos with exciting intensity. After being acquainted with my remixed pressing for many years, hearing the original mix in this fashion was an absolute treat to the ears.
Between Chris Bellman’s mastering, QRP’s expertise in manufacturing high-quality records, and Stoughton’s tip-on glossy gatefold jacket printing, perfection is a word to describe this overall pressing. Chad Kassem knows what his clientele is seeking and proudly offers it, along with others in the Atlantic 75 Audiophile Series.