Genesis on ‘The Midnight Special’ With Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins Will Blow Your Mind

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Peter Gabriel performing with Genesis on The Midnight Special, Dec. 18, 1973

Before Genesis became worldwide superstars, they had released many albums in the U.K. on the Charisma label with only modest success. But something caught the eye of a rising, young executive at Atlantic Records, Jerry Greenberg. “[We] had the reputation, always, of finding English acts. [Atlantic’s legendary producer] Jerry Wexler used to read a lot and he got all of the magazines all over the world. And when he’d go to throw them out, I would read them.

“I remember reading about Genesis and Peter Gabriel [in New Musical Express],” Greenberg told Best Classic Bands. “I knew I wanted to sign that band. I never heard one note of music. But just from what I read in the English papers about them, I said: ‘I’ve gotta have this group.’”

The band’s live performances were notable for their theatricality, led by their charisma-tic frontman. By that time, the band’s lineup had solidified with original members Gabriel, bassist Mike Rutherford, and keyboardist Tony Banks, plus guitarist Steve Hackett and drummer Phil Collins.

In 1973, Greenberg made the deal with Charisma owner Tony Stratton-Smith. The first album under the new agreement, Selling England By the Pound, was released that October and included such progressive FM radio favorites as “The Cinema Show,” “I Know What I Like” and “Firth of Fifth.”

An official YouTube Channel has been created for The Midnight Special TV series, celebrating the legendary late-night show with restored performances featuring the biggest names in music, comedy and entertainment from the 70s and early 80s. The March 6, 2023, launch is from producer Burt Sugarman.

From musical legends like Tina Turner, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Elton John, The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, and Olivia Newton-John, to comedians like Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, Richard Pryor and George Carlin, The Midnight Special showcased many of the industry’s biggest artists between 1972 and 1981.

The Midnight Special was a groundbreaking and revolutionary show that pushed the boundaries of what was possible on television as not one broadcaster had programming available after 1:00 a.m. back then,” said Sugarman, the show’s creator. “I insisted on live performances in front of an audience, there was no lip syncing.”

Although their first Atlantic release was only a few months old, Genesis performed two songs including “The Musical Box,” a macabre, though epic number from their third album, 1971’s Nursery Cryme, in an episode of The Midnight Special that was taped on December 18, 1973, at NBC Studios in Burbank, Calif., and aired two days later on Dec. 20. [A copy of the band’s appearance contract is here. The TV series’ official YouTube Channel has the date listed incorrectly as January 25, 1974.] TV viewers at the time would have been unfamiliar with the band that 15 years later would have a multi-Platinum catalog and stadium headlining tours.

Phil Collins on The Midnight Special, Jan. 25, 1974

After an initial shot of Rutherford briefly strumming the first few chords on his guitar, the camera comes in on a close-up of Gabriel with his shocking theatrical makeup and wig. At the 1:45 mark, we see a first tight shot of Collins, and at 2:06 there’s Hackett solo-ing. Not long after, there’s another close-up of Gabriel on the flute. At the 3:40 mark, he scurries off stage. The viewer has no time to wonder because there’s ace keyboardist Banks doing what he does so well, driving the band’s music in his customary low-key approach.

At 4:50, the camera suddenly focuses on a lone figure poking his head behind the staging. With the band’s personnel still largely unknown to music fans at that time, they can only wonder who this is. Another close-up shows him to be a performer, dressed as an old man. Hunched over, he somewhat comically must lower the stage microphone to accommodate his height. “She’s a lady, she’s got time…,” Gabriel sings.

Watch all 8:26 of the glorious performance of “The Musical Box”

Here’s the band’s performance of “Watcher of the Skies,” from their 1972 album, Foxtrot

In 1974, Gabriel would record his final album with Genesis, the ambitious two-LP set, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. (Collins took over as the band’s lead vocalist, beginning with A Trick of the Tail.) In 2023, Gabriel did his first solo tour in seven years.

With over 400 episodes produced over a decade, The Midnight Special‘s original pilot and dozens of performances are being officially released to stream, many available for the first time in nearly fifty years.

Related: Listings for 100s of classic rock tours

Best Classic Bands Staff

9 Comments so far

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  1. Mozorising
    #1 Mozorising 2 June, 2023, 13:49

    The performances (Musical Box and Watcher Of The Skies) were recorded on December 18, 1973 and aired on December 20, 1973. At the time the band was in USA for a series of concerts at Roxy (3 days – 2 performances each day). I have a copy of the contract between the band represented by William Morris Agency and Burt Sugarman Inc for a compensation of 921 US dollars + 10% agency commission. Hope soon they will post the second performance Watcher Of The Skies

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  2. Greendata
    #2 Greendata 3 June, 2023, 02:59

    The writer is mistaken. Peter Gabriel was not wearing a wig. He just had a strange haircut where he would shave an indent on the front top of his head.

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  3. Iain
    #3 Iain 3 June, 2023, 03:19

    How sad that despite the west coast and venues like the Roxy were important to Genesis, yet ignored on the final tour

    Reply this comment
  4. TommT
    #4 TommT 4 June, 2023, 09:38

    If you like this, a tribute band called The Musical Box performs Gabriel-led Genesis performances that are just like the originals. They are done perfectly.

    Reply this comment
  5. James
    #5 James 4 June, 2023, 12:22

    Early Genesis was definitely an acquired taste that I never really acquired. Too weird. I preferred more rock oriented prog bands like Yes and ELP.

    Reply this comment
    • Bob Putignano
      Bob Putignano 21 December, 2023, 06:26

      I wholeheartedly agree with you James, early Genesis was too weird for my tastes too.

      Reply this comment
      • BMac
        BMac 21 December, 2023, 13:36

        I tend to agree with the both of you. When I was a teenager in the ’70s, I did NOT care for what I heard, because it WAS weird! Even after half a century, and developing a liking of a number of selections from the first several albums, I still find a lot of it…weird…and far prefer the post-Gabriel Genesis, especially “A Trick of the Tail” and “Abacab”.

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  6. BKennyb
    #6 BKennyb 21 December, 2023, 08:05

    Epic performances! Luv ’em!

    Reply this comment
  7. MadMax
    #7 MadMax 21 December, 2023, 11:06

    Sheesus! What a mess!

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