This article first appeared in PS Audio’s Copper Magazine.
In 1973 I was a freshman at the State University of New York at Albany. One night I was lying in bed in our dorm room, drifting off, when my roommate Tim asked if I minded if we kept the stereo on. Half-awake, I said sure. The announcer at radio station WRPI-FM, or maybe it was WQBK-FM, said, “we’re now going to play side one of the new album by Genesis, Selling England by the Pound.” That’s nice, I’d never heard of them, yawn…
Immediately Peter Gabriel’s voice called out: “’Can you tell me where my country lies?’ Said the uni fawn to his true love’s eyes…” Then the band joined in, a hauntingly beautiful tapestry of acoustic and electric guitars, piano, and organ, while Gabriel continued, “‘It lies with me!’ Said the Queen of Maybe. For her merchandise, he traded in his prize…”
I sat up, now riveted.
Shortly after, the full band—Gabriel (vocals, flute, oboe, percussion), Phil Collins (drums, percussion, vocal), Steve Hackett (electric and nylon-string guitars), Mike Rutherford (12-string, bass, electric sitar), and Tony Banks (keyboards, 12-string guitar), blasted in, with dazzling up-tempo hurricane force. This was incredible! And like nothing we’d ever heard before. After about six minutes of musical and lyrical twists and turns and astounding virtuosic playing, the song faded out in a hypnotic swirl of flutes, delicate guitar arpeggios and atmospheric keyboards.
I looked at my roommate and we both said something like, “holy sh*t! What was that?”
Genesis aficionados will of course realize we were getting our minds blown by the leadoff track, “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight,” the first cut from Selling England by the Pound, which has recently been re-issued by Analogue Productions on 2-LP 45 RPM vinyl and hybrid stereo CD as part of Atlantic Records’ 75th anniversary celebration.
I consider the album to be an absolute masterpiece. Genesis had done superlative work before (as I was later to find out) on albums like Foxtrot and Nursery Cryme, but Selling England was where, I think, it all really came together for the band, combining instrumental brilliance with complex yet nuanced songwriting, clever and one can only say literary lyrics, muscular rocking tightness, a seemingly endless variety of instrumental textures, and did I mention astoundingly remarkable instrumental prowess?
The second track, “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” lightens up the proceedings with a tale of a young man who’d rather sleep on a park bench than listen to the advice of his overbearing elders. Next comes one of the greatest songs in the Genesis canon, “Firth of Fifth.” Beginning with Tony Banks’s arpeggiated, classical-influenced piano intro, the song gradually builds and builds into Steve Hackett’s monumental fuzzed-out endlessly sustaining Les Paul guitar solo, one of the greatest moments in progressive rock. In fact, I’d call it the greatest guitar solo in rock history. The side ends with the 12-string-driven ballad “More Fool Me,” featuring Phil Collins on vocals, a hopeful, plaintive ending to side one.
The epic “The Battle of Epping Forest” kicks off side two with a martial drumbeat and Gabriel’s flute, the perfect musical lead-in to a tale of gangland warfare where nobody wins, but there’s plenty of smart wordplay, tempo and musical mood changes, and some outright humor along the way. Next up is “After the Ordeal,” a truly beautiful instrumental driven by Hackett’s sweet nylon string guitar and plenty of guitar harmonies, and more of that signature Banks arpeggiated keyboard playing.
Then comes, even by this album’s standards, one of the most astonishing songs Genesis has ever recorded: the spellbinding and multifaceted “The Cinema Show.” It’s a charming story about a latter-day Romeo and Juliet that starts slowly and calmly, and over the course of about 10 minutes builds to a breathtaking display of instrumental virtuosity. Phil Collins doesn’t get enough credit for being the great drummer he is, as this track shows, and the rest of the band is absolutely on fire. The album concludes with the short coda, “Aisle of Plenty,” a needed cool-down after the blazing musicianship that precedes it.
Selling England by the Pound has been a favorite of mine ever since I first heard it that night at 306 Delancey Hall in Colonial Quad at SUNY Albany. It’s one of those albums I can never get enough of, even 51 (!) years later. However, I wish the sound quality of the original LP was better. Not that it’s bad, but my original US “The Famous Charisma Label” pressing is dynamically compressed, more than a little flat and murky, and lacking in transparency. The same goes for the later US Atlantic LPs. The later Definitive Edition Remaster CD isn’t much better, maybe improving on the dynamics and clarity a bit. The 2007 Stereo Mix…well, I’ll be diplomatic…and say this is not the way this album is meant to be heard. (However, it’s better than not hearing the music at all.) I recommend seeking out an original LP or Definitive Edition Remaster CD.
…or better yet, this new LP from Analogue Productions. (I confess, I didn’t review the SACD, as I don’t have a compatible player on hand.) It’s mastered directly from the original master tape by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering, and pressed on excellent 180-gram vinyl by Quality Record Pressings. It is, as the record cover states, 100-percent all-analog. The cover, by Stoughton Printing, is beautifully done, with a glossy finish and the original inner sleeve lyrics reproduced on the inner gatefold.
(January 9, 2024 update: the original mix of SEBTP is just now available again on Tidal and Qobuz, and at retail, after years of not being able to hear anything other than the 2007 Stereo Mix on streaming services.)
The sound quality on the Analogue Productions reissue is by far the best I’ve ever heard for this album. There’s far more presence, depth, and “air.” You can hear Peter Gabriel’s enunciation more clearly—and the fact that he was using a really good microphone, whatever it was. There’s more character to the fuzz box in Steve Hackett’s guitar—it has a more distinct “vowelly” tone and grainy decay.
The rumbly synth “lawnmower” intro to “I Know What I Like” has more texture and definition, and at the end of the song you can hear that it’s actually not one, but multiple synthesizers. In fact, there’s more separation and character to all of the keyboards, whether it’s the “swirl” of the Mellotron or the percussive attack of the organ and grand piano, which has more stereo separation here and a greater sense of two hands hitting the keyboards. Phil Collins’ drums have more impact and distinctiveness, especially the tom toms, although I get the impression that there was only so much they could squeeze out of the master tape in terms of dynamic range. There’s slightly better separation of lead and background vocals overall.
There are a number of sounds I simply hadn’t heard before, and keep in mind that my hearing isn’t what it used to be, and that I’ve heard this album more than 100 times. There’s a tambourine on “Firth of Fifth” I never noticed before, as well as what sounds like a tape edit when the synth part comes in right before Hackett’s solo. Gabriel’s flute is breathier. “More Fool Me” has an electric guitar through some kind of modulation pedal that was previously hidden.
You can now really hear the fact that there are bongos in the left channel on “The Battle of Epping Forest,” and that they’re tuned to distinct pitches. You can also now more clearly hear the background vocals on this track—check out when they say “picnic,” for example.
There are internet pundits who say the early Genesis albums suffer from a lack of “production.” Umm, they’re wrong. Listen to this track on this vinyl set with its subtle reverbs, tremolo keyboards, panning, and other sonic nuances. Or how about the layers of 16th-note playing at the beginning of “After the Ordeal?” And there’s some kind of clinky percussion/keyboard thing going on at the beginning of “The Cinema Show” that was hitherto unrevealed, to me anyway. Speaking of that track, Tony Banks’s titanic synthesizer playing during the ending skyrockets him into the Progressive Rock Keyboard Hall of Fame.
The only other version of Selling England by the Pound that comes close to this is the Classic Records 33-1/3 RPM LP reissue from I want to say the 1990s. In fact, according to a review of this album in The Tracking Angle, this new reissue has the same “dead wax” writing as a Classic Records 45 RPM test pressing from 2010. My Classic Records 33-1/3 copy has “FC-6060” in the dead wax of side one, while the reissue has “FC-6060-A1-45” there.
Nevertheless the new Analogue Productions 45 RPM LP reissue is not only the clear sonic winner, it’s an absolute gift to everyone who has loved this album over the decades.
In fact, albums like this are the very reason for audiophile reissues. It’s easy to get cynical sometimes and think that record labels are just milking the wallets of audiophiles with a never-ending stream of reissues. But I’ll put it into personal perspective. I cherish Selling England by the Pound. I treasure the music, and my life has been richer for it for a very long time. I can now hear it in better sound quality than ever before. This is a wonderful thing.
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