59. Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Starting out like it might be a classical piano concerto, "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" is a shining example of the progressive rock era. The only thing that it has going against it is that the song isn't nine minutes long in three parts, but it has the strange lyrics and musical complexity in spades. The piano slowly builds as the other instruments join in, with Peter Gabriel exclaiming, "And the lamb lies down on Broadway!"

The song comes from the album of the same name, which is a concept album (actually, a double album) whose subject matter is a bit ethereal. Lyrically, lots of progressive rock songs are ridiculous (yeah, I'm talking to you, "Starship Trooper") and "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," both the song and the album that shares its name is no exception. I had to copy this directly from Wikipedia because the person who wrote it presumably did do with a straight face. I, however, couldn't hep from LOLing my AO. "The album tells the surreal story of a half-Puerto Rican juvenile delinquent named Rael living in New York City, who is swept underground to face bizarre creatures and nightmarish dangers in order to rescue his brother John." Of course. Half-Puerto Rican. I should've known. What really cheeses me is that they don't specify the other side of Rael's lineage. Half-Puerto Rican and what? But wait. It gets better. "Several of the story's occurrences and places were derived from Peter Gabriel's dreams, and"... "in this context, Rael would believe he is looking for John but is actually looking for a missing part of himself." Man, I need some pot, and fast.

Actually I don't smoke pot, but if I did, either these posts would be a lot shorter, or a lot longer (if that's even possible).

Anyway, back to the song. As musically interesting as this song is, Genesis has done much more complex arrangements in their career (and even on this album), but they didn't try to do too much in this song. The band knew they had a great melody and didn't want to mess with it by adding superfluous musical accompaniment. Still, that doesn't stop keyboardist Tony Banks from earning his paycheck with the opening and with his work in the rest of the song. And while in this incarnation of Genesis, Phil Collins is "just the drummer," he really shows why he's always been underrated as a drummer.

Guitars on this album were done primarily by Steve Hackett, with Mike Rutherford (who did both guitar and bass parts when the band became a threesome) handled the bass guitar work and twelve string guitars. With this primarily a keyboard driven song, their work is more supporting rather than "best performance in a lead role" type stuff. Still, Hackett and Rutherford add their own distinctive styles to the song and give you more to listen to than it at first seems.

The lyrics reflect the a more gritty, mean streets state than what you'd normally expect on a progressive rock album.

And out on the subway,
Rael imperial aerosol kid
Exits into daylight, spraygun hid,

There are all sorts of lyrical images that evoke New York in the 70's, not the gentrified version you'd see if you were to go today.

Nightime's flyers feel their pains.
Drugstore take down the chains.
Metal motion comes in bursts,
The gas station can quench that thirst.

It's almost as if they're trying to do the music for a Martin Scorsese film. It's another example of how Genesis can't easily be lumped in with the fantasy sci-fi prog rock camp as easily as you'd think. Oh, sure, they've done their bit in the past, but The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway throws all of the old rules out the window.

Two-thirds in, the music changes and slows down to a more mellow pace, giving the song that "song within a song" feel that so many rock songs of this era have. But then the song returns to its faster pace as they race to the end, returning to the melody that caught you in the first place.

Peter goes on to briefly crib a bit of the Drifters' hit, "On Broadway" (although I know it more from the musical "All That Jazz").

On Broadway -
They say the lights are always bright on Broadway.
They say there's always magic in the air.

Then the song starts to fade and transition into "Fly on a Windshield" and is done. As strange a lyrical ride as it might have been, the guys in Genesis put a great song together. It's a song that has its title (and accompanying melody) stick in your head long after you've heard it. And then you want to hear it again.

(Interesting Fact #234: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is Peter Gabriel's last album as a member of Genesis. Even though he came up with the story and wrote most of the lyrics, he was spending a lot of time with his wife (who was going through a difficult pregnancy) and Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford ended up doing the lion's share of the music writing on the album, foreshadowing the Genesis that would come.)
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