Genesis was formed in 1967. They were formed by core members Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford among others including Peter Gabriel. Phil Collins, the drummer and eventual lead vocalist, didn't join until 1970. There have been a number of other members of the band over the years. Gabriel was the lead vocalist and a primary creative influence early on. After he left the band, leadership passed to Collins who would hire other drummers to play when the band toured. Among these touring drummers was Bill Bruford, formerly of Yes, helping to cement the prog roots of Genesis.
Genesis started out primarily as a pop group, influenced somewhat by the light Brit-pop sound of the early Bee Gees. Much of their early repuation and success was affected by their stage shows which included a darker, more haunting sound as well as elaborate and sometimes bizarre costumes worn by the band's lead singer, Peter Gabriel. Still, most of the band's members were influenced by the earlier Brit-pop bands from the invasion years; particularly the Beatles and the Animals. But their influences went broader than that, including classical and jazz performers. Collins, known as a hard-hitter on drums, often cites jazz great, Buddy Rich, as a key influence.
Main Creative Force
In terms of writing, Banks and Rutherford were always key contributers and their instrumental arrangements really do come closest to being a defining sound for the band. Still, in terms of their early reputation in the British music scene and the soaring concept albums they produced, the primary influence was clearly Peter Gabriel. Gabriel's view of rock as a type of performance art was somewhat unique and highly progressive. His willingness to use costumes and physical movement onstage to enhance the songs he was performing were ahead of their time and definitely unique for 1970.
Most Likely To Be A Mainstream Rocker
Since Rutherford and Banks tended to shy away from any noteriety and Gabriel clearly veered from the mainstream, the obvious answer is Phil Collins. Not only did the band shift rapidly into the world of commercial pop once Collins took over, he went on to a successful solo career fueled largely by 80's pop and MTV exposure.
First Hint of Prog Brilliance
The band's original five man lineup was Banks, Rutherford, Gabriel, Anthony Phillips on guitar and Chris Stewart on drums. While their early albums were conceptual in nature, they were still rather light on orchestration and complexity. However, the second album, Trespass, was recorded in 1970 after a couple of personnel changes. Trespass showed signs of influence by King Crimson and Yes among others and clearly moved the band into progressive territory. A key part of their move into this territory was Steve Hackett on guitar whose techniques would foreshadow some of the guitar gods of the 80s. In particular, Hackett was fond of finger-tapping styles which would become a huge part of the success of Eddie Van Halen.
The two-disc concept album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is really the creative pinnacle for Genesis.
It features some of Gabriel's finest work as a vocalist and lyricist along with brilliant instrumentals and arrangements, largely done by Rutherford and Banks. It also includes synthesizer tracks created by Brian Eno, adding to the album's prog pedigree. It was, however, the last album for Genesis featuring Peter Gabriel and while Genesis would continue to be a rather progressive pop-rock band in many of their compositions, they were never more progressive than this 1974 album. The band produced some very commmercially successful albums in the 80s starting with Duke and continuing with Abacab. While there is no question these are prog albums based on the arrangements and instrumentals of Banks and Rutherford, they were still much more radio accessible and included at least a couple of songs that were clearly tooled for MTV or radio marketability.
Influenced By Them
Many prog bands from the 70s and 80s and even later have cited Genesis as an influence. Interestingly, their influence was greatest in their early form with Gabriel as a songwriter and vocalist, rather than later in their more successful years. Both Rush and Dream Theater have cited Genesis as being influential. In short; Genesis has more influence on later prog rock than on mainstream music, despite the fact that the Collins-led Genesis had much greater success in the mainstream era.
Genesis will go down in prog history as a highly influential, hugely successful, but somewhat changeable band. There is no question the band changed dramatically after Gabriel left. Both versions were critically acclaimed but by different critics and for different reasons. There is no question Genesis has a lot of fans and sold a lot of albums. To this day, it is harder to find fans who own the earlier albums and are predominantly fans of the Peter Gabriel days of the band. In any case, the RRHOF recognized the importance of Genesis musically as both a creative and commercial force and inducted them in 2010. Some saw this as opening the door for more prog bands.
Peter Gabriel has been highly significant in the advancement of world music and continues to be a very progressive composer, vocalist, and arranger. Gabriel himself was also very commercially successful in the 80s as a video artist on MTV. His album So produced some outstanding MTV material and continued his clear prog traditions.
My Personal Take
My high school nerd friends were largely unaware of Genesis. The one Genesis album I heard prior to my radio days was The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and I wasn't as impressed with it as I should have been. I should have listened to it three or four times before passing judgment. In radio, my first close acquaintance with Genesis was Duke which I really liked. I thought Turn it On Again was a prog classic. The one hit from the album, Misunderstanding, was too commercial. Those songs, taken together, were a bridge between Genesis past and future, though we really didn't know that at the time. And in all fairness, there was always a certain amount of prog-ishness in everything done by Genesis and even Phil Collins solo. But the heyday of their live shows with Peter Gabriel and his fantastic costumes was gone for all time.