The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is the sixth studio album by the English rock band Genesis, released as a double album on 18 November 1974 by Charisma Records. It is their last album recorded with Peter Gabriel as their lead singer before his departure from the group in 1975. A concept album, it centres around a journey of self-discovery of Rael, a Puerto Rican youth living in New York City and the bizarre incidents and characters he meets along the way. During the writing and recording sessions, Gabriel temporarily left the band to work with William Friedkin which, along with his insistence to write all the lyrics, put strains on the rest of the band.
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was released to initial mixed critical reception, though it has since received critical acclaim. It peaked at No. 10 on the UK Album Chart and No. 41 on the US Billboard 200. Two singles were released in the UK, “Counting Out Time” and “The Carpet Crawlers” while the title track was released as a single in the US. Genesis supported the album with their 1974–1975 tour across North America and Europe, playing the album in its entirety across 102 dates. The album continued to sell, and reached Gold certification by the Recording Industry Association of America in 1990 for shipment of 500,000 copies.
In May 1974, the Genesis line-up of frontman and singer Peter Gabriel, keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist Mike Rutherford, drummer Phil Collins, and guitarist Steve Hackett finished their 1973–1974 tour of Europe and North America to support their fifth studio album, Selling England by the Pound (1973). The album was a critical and commercial success for the group, which earned them their highest charting release in the United Kingdom and the United States. In the following month, they booked three months at Headley Grange, a large former poorhouse in Headley, East Hampshire to write and rehearse new material for their next studio album. Upon their arrival, the building was in a state left by the previous band with excrement on the floor and rat infestations. By this time, the personal lives of some members started to affect the mood in the band which started to cause complications. Hackett explained: “Everybody had their own agenda. Some of us were married, some of us had children, some of us were getting divorced. And we were still trying to get it together in the country”. Banks later deemed this period of time as his least favourite of all his time in Genesis.
Before discussions were held regarding the album’s contents, the band decided to record a double album as the extended format gave them the opportunity to improvise and put down more of their musical ideas. Banks thought Genesis had gained a strong enough following by this point to put out two album’s worth of material that their fans would be willing to listen to. They had wanted to produce a concept album that told a story for some time, and Rutherford pitched an idea based on the fantasy novel The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, but Gabriel disagreed as he thought it was “too twee” and believed “prancing around in fairyland was rapidly becoming obsolete”.
Gabriel presented the group with a more complicated and surreal story about Rael, a Puerto Rican youth in New York City and his spiritual journey of self-discovery and identity as he encounters several bizarre incidents and characters along the way. The story was more detailed and obscure in its original form, so Gabriel refined it and made Rael the central character. He chose the name Rael as he wished for one that has “no traceable ethnic origins”, but later realised The Who had previously used the name on The Who Sell Out (1967) which annoyed him at first but stuck to it. He later revealed the various influences for the concept, including the novel/musical West Side Story, “a kind of punk” twist to the Christian allegory Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), the works of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, and the surreal Western film El Topo (1971) by Alejandro Jodorowsky. In contrast to Selling England by the Pound, which contained strong English themes, Gabriel made a conscious effort to avoid repetition by portraying American imagery, with references to Caryl Chessman, Lenny Bruce, Groucho Marx, Marshall McLuhan, Howard Hughes, Evel Knievel and the Ku Klux Klan. He also expressed some concern with the album’s title, but noted the lamb itself is purely symbolic and a catalyst for the peculiar events that occur.
During the writing sessions at Headley Grange, Gabriel found himself estranged from the rest of the band which caused some friction. As he had devised the concept Gabriel insisted that he write the lyrics, leaving the majority of the music in charge with his band mates. This was a departure from the band’s usual method of song writing as lyrical contributions on previous albums had always involved the other members. The situation had Gabriel often secluded in one room writing the lyrics and the remaining four rehearsing in another. In one instance Gabriel was unable to meet a scheduled deadline to have the lyrics finished, leaving Rutherford and Banks to write words for “The Light Dies Down on Broadway”. At other times, Banks and Hackett suggested lyrics they thought would fit their songs better, “The Lamia” and “Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist” respectively, which Gabriel rebuffed. Further disagreements arose during the writing period when Gabriel accepted an invitation from film producer William Friedkin to write a screenplay after Friedkin took a liking to Gabriel’s surreal story written on the sleeve of Genesis Live (1973). Collins then pitched the idea of having the new studio album be purely instrumental, thinking it would favour the other members as Gabriel had made some of their earlier songs too lyrically-dense, but the idea was rejected by the rest of the group. However, Gabriel’s offer with Friedkin soon came to nothing and he resumed working on the album. Matters were complicated further when Gabriel spent additional time away in London when his first wife Jill underwent a risky and difficult birth of their first child in July 1974, leaving Gabriel often travelling back and forth. Rutherford later admitted that he and Banks were “horribly unsupportive” of Gabriel during this time, and Gabriel saw this as the beginning of his eventual departure from Genesis.
After their allocated time at Headley Grange came to an end, Genesis relocated to Glaspant Manor in Carmarthenshire, Wales to record using mobile recording equipment from London’s Island Studios. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is the band’s last recording with John Burns as their co-producer, who had assumed the role since Foxtrot (1972). The band is credited as co-producers, and engineering duties were carried out by David Hutchins. The recording equipment used included two 3M 24-track recorders, a Helios Electronics 30-input mixing console, Altec monitors, and two A62 Studers for mastering. Burns and Gabriel experimented with different vocal effects, including recording inside a bathroom and a cowshed located two miles away from their location. Rutherford thought the album’s sound was an improvement compared to past Genesis albums as it was not recorded in a professional studio, which benefited the sound of Collins’ drums. Collins compared the sound of the album to that of Neil Young’s recordings made in his barn, “not studio, not soundproof, but a woody quality”.
The backing tracks for the entire album were put down in roughly two weeks, though Gabriel was still working on the lyrics a month later, and, in one instance, asked the band to produce additional music to fit his words that had no designated section for them. This was the case for “The Carpet Crawlers” and “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”. Thinking the extra material was to be instrumental, the band found that Gabriel had sung over their new parts, something that he also had done on tracks on Foxtrot (1972) and Selling England by the Pound (1973). Gabriel recorded his vocals at Island Studios, where the album was mixed over a series of shifts as the band struggled to complete the album in time of its November 1974 release date. Collins recalled: “I’d be mixing and dubbing all night and then Tony and Mike would come in and remix what I’d done because I’d lost all sense of normality by that point”.
The album tells the story of protagonist Rael, a half Puerto Rican youth living in New York City who experiences several bizarre situations and characters. Gabriel chose to develop a character that is the least likely person to “fall into all this pansy claptrap”, and aimed for a story that contrasted between fantasy and character. He explained that as the story progresses, Rael finds that he is not as “butch” as he hoped and his experiences eventually brings out a more romantic side to his personality. The ending to the story is not directly clear as Gabriel deliberately left the ending of the story ambiguous. When asked about it, Gabriel does not declare that Rael dies, though he compared the ending to the buildup of suspense and drama in a film as “you never see what’s so terrifying because they leave it up in the air without … labelling it”. Several of the story’s occurrences and settings derived from Gabriel’s dreams. Collins remarked the entire concept was about split personality. The individual songs also make satirical allusions to mythology, the sexual revolution, advertising, and consumerism.
One morning in New York City, Rael is holding a can of spray paint, hating everyone around him. He witnesses a lamb lying down on Broadway which has a profound effect on him. (“The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”) As he walks along the street, he sees a dark cloud take the shape of a movie screen and slowly move towards him, finally absorbing him (“Fly on a Windshield”), seeing an explosion of images of the current day (“Broadway Melody of 1974”, the song’s title being a reference to MGM musical films of the same name, such as the 1936, 1938 and 1940 films) before he wakes up in a cave and falls asleep once again (“Cuckoo Cocoon”). Rael wakes up and finds himself trapped in a cage of stalactites and stalagmites which slowly close in towards him. As he tries to escape, he sees his brother John and calls for him, but John walks away and the cage suddenly disappears (“In the Cage”).
Rael now finds himself on the floor of a factory and is given a tour of the area by a woman, where he watches people being processed like packages. He spots old members of his New York City gang and John with the number “9” stamped on his forehead. Fearing for his life, Rael escapes into a corridor (“The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”) and has an extended flashback of returning from a gang raid in New York City, (“Back in N.Y.C.”) a dream where his hairy heart is removed and shaved with a razor, (“Hairless Heart”) and his first sexual encounter (“Counting Out Time”). Rael’s flashback ends, and he finds himself in a long, red carpeted corridor of people crawling towards its exit via a spiral staircase (“Carpet Crawlers”). At the top, he enters a chamber with 32 doors, surrounded by people and unable to concentrate. He finds a woman who leads him out of the chamber and into another cave, where he becomes trapped by falling rocks (“The Chamber of 32 Doors”, “Lilywhite Lilith”, “Anyway”). Rael encounters Death (“Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist”) and escapes the cave.
Rael ends up in a pool with three Lamia, beautiful snake-like creatures, and has sex with them, but they die after drinking some of his blood (“The Lamia”). He leaves and finds himself in a group of Slippermen, distorted, grotesque men who have all had the same experience with the Lamias, and finds that he has become one of them (“The Arrival”). Rael finds John among the Slippermen, who reveals that the only way to become human again is to visit Doktor Dyper and be castrated (“A Visit to the Doktor”). Both are castrated and keep their removed penises in containers around their necks. Rael’s container is taken by a raven and he chases after it, leaving John behind (“The Raven”). The raven drops the container in a ravine and into a rushing underground river.
As Rael walks alongside it, he sees “a window in the bank above his head” which “reveals his home amidst the streets” (“The Light Dies Down on Broadway”). But “as the skylight beckons him to leave” -use the window to leave the odd place where he got stranded and return to his home New York-, he at the same time sees John in the river “far below”, struggling to stay afloat. Rael has to make a decision between either going to rescue his brother or take his perhaps only chance to return to his former life in New York (“The gate is fading now, but open wide, but John is drowning, I must decide, between the freedom, I had in the rat-race, or to stay forever, in this forsaken place”). Despite being deserted twice by John, Rael dives in to save him (“The Light Dies Down on Broadway”, “Riding the Scree”). The gateway to New York vanishes. Rael rescues John and drags his body to the bank of the river and turns him over to look at his face, only to see his own face instead (“In the Rapids”). His consciousness then drifts between both bodies, and he sees the surrounding scenery melting away into a haze. Both bodies dissolve, and Rael’s spirit becomes one with everything around him (“it.”).
Much of the album’s music developed through band improvisations and jams which Banks found particularly enjoyable as they often jammed after setting a single idea. Examples of this was what he described as a “Chinese jam” which ended up on “The Colony of Slippermen”, one named “Victory at Sea” which was worked into “Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats”, and another known as “Evil Jam” which became “The Waiting Room”. Though it is to a story concept, Gabriel described its format as one that is split into “self-contained song units”. He thought the album contained some of the group’s best material and songs that he was most proud of during his time in Genesis.
Banks recalled writing “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” with Gabriel which turned out to be the last track they developed which was “a pretty good song to end on”. At its conclusion, the song borrows music and lyrics from the 1963 single “On Broadway” by The Drifters. “Fly on a Windshield” originally came about through a band improvisation, sparked by an idea from Rutherford who suggested the idea of “Pharaohs going down the Nile” and proceed to play two chords. Banks added: “Instantly the rest of us would conjure up that particular mood.” Banks was particularly fond of the part when the drums and guitar come in, calling it one of the band’s best ever moments. Hackett chose to play “Egyptian phrases” and noted the group used a similar modulation to that of the end section of Bolero by Maurice Ravel. “Back in N.Y.C.” presents Genesis adopt a more aggressive sound than past compositions and includes Gabriel singing an expletive in the line “I’m not full of shit”. A personal highlight for Collins is “Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats” and “The Waiting Room” which developed as a “basic good to bad soundscaping” jam while it was raining, before they stopped and a rainbow formed outside. Collins said that, “Steve [Hackett] played these dark chords, then Peter [Gabriel] blows into his oboe reeds, then there was a loud clap of thunder and we really thought we were entering another world or something. It was moments like that when we were still very much a unified five-piece”.
“The Carpet Crawlers” developed at a time when Gabriel had written some lyrics but there was not any music written for them. The band put together a chord sequence “in D, E minor and F-sharp minor with a roll from the drums flowing through it”. Gabriel spent “hours and hours” on an out of tune piano in the house of his then-wife Jill’s parents in Kensington to develop it. Jill later spoke of Gabriel’s particular fondness of the track. “Anyway” and “Lilywhite Lilith” developed from two early unreleased songs, “Frustration” and “The Light” respectively. Hackett’s guitar solo on “Counting Out Time” features him playing an EMS Synthi Hi-Fli guitar synthesizer. During the mixing sessions at Island Studios, Brian Eno was working on his album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974) in the adjacent studio. Gabriel asked Eno to add synthesized effects on his vocals on several tracks including “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”, which he dubbed on the album’s credits as “Enossification”. As a repayment, Eno asked Collins to play drums on his track “Mother Whale Eyeless”.
Hipgnosis designed the album’s artwork. In a departure from their previous albums that featured more colourful designs, the front cover of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway makes use of black and white and no colour. The band’s logo, originally designed by Paul Whitehead and used on Nursery Cryme (1971) and Foxtrot (1972), was replaced by a new one in an Art Deco style by George Hardie. The left picture on the front depicts Rael in the area where “In the Rapids” and “Riding the Scree” are set.
The band considered releasing the album as two single albums released six months apart. Gabriel later thought this idea would have been more suitable, as a double album contained too much new material, and the extra time would have given him more time to work on the lyrics. Nevertheless, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was released as a double album on 18 November 1974, days before the start of its supporting tour. It became the band’s highest charting album since their formation, peaking at No. 10 on the UK Albums Chart in December 1974 during its six-week stay on the chart, and No. 41 on the US Billboard 200 in 1975. Elsewhere, the album reached No. 15 in Canada and No. 34 in New Zealand. Two singles were released; “Counting Out Time” with “Riding the Scree” as its B-side, was released on 1 November 1974. The second, “The Carpet Crawlers” with a live performance of “The Waiting Room (Evil Jam)” from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, followed in April 1975. The album continued to sell, and reached Gold certification by the British Phonographic Industry on 1 February 1975, and Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for sales in excess of 500,000 copies on 20 April 1990.
Members of the group expressed some concern about the album’s critical reception[according to whom?], and expected to receive some negative responses over its concept[according to whom?] and extended format. Banks hoped the album would end people’s comparisons of Genesis to Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, two other popular progressive rock bands of the time[according to whom?]. Gabriel knew the album’s concept was ideal for critics “to get their teeth into”.
In an interview published in Melody Maker in October 1974, shortly before the album’s release, Gabriel played several tracks from the album to reporter Chris Welch, including “In the Cage”, “Hairless Heart”, “The Carpet Crawlers”, and “Counting Out Time”. Welch wrote, “It sounded superb. Beautiful songs, fascinating lyrics, and sensitive, subtle playing, mixed with humour and harmonies. What more could a Genesis fan desire?” He singled out Collins’ playing as “outstanding”. Welch’s review for Melody Maker published a month later included his belief of such long, concept albums: “A few golden miraculous notes and some choice pithy words are worth all the clutter and verbiage” and called the album a “white elephant”. For NME, Barbara Charone wrote highly of the album. She summarised the album as a combination of the “musical proficiency” on Selling England by the Pound (1973) with the “grandiose illusions” on Foxtrot (1972) and “a culmination of past elements injected with present abilities and future directions”. Charone thought the album had more high points than any previous Genesis album apart from some “few awkward instrumental moments on side three”. Each member received praise for their performances, including Hackett coming across as a more dominant member of the group with his “frenetic, choppy style”, Collins’ backup harmony vocals and Rutherford’s “thick, foreboding bass chords and gentle acoustics”. Colin Irwin wrote a negative review of the “Counting Out Time” single, with its “weary, tepid approach” and a “woeful, dreary three and a half minutes”.
Since its release, the album has been met with critical acclaim. In 1978, Nick Kent wrote for NME that it “had a compelling appeal that often transcended the hoary weightiness of the mammoth concept that held the equally mammoth four sides of vinyl together”. In a special edition of Q and Mojo magazines titled Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock, the album ranked at No. 14 in its 40 Cosmic Rock Albums list. The album came third in a list of the ten best concept albums by Uncut magazine, where it was described as an “impressionistic, intense album” and “pure theatre (in a good way) and still Gabriel’s best work”. AllMusic reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine gave a retrospective rating of five stars out of five. He notes that despite Gabriel’s “lengthy libretto” on the sleeve “the story never makes sense”, though its music is “forceful, imaginative piece of work that showcases the original Genesis lineup at a peak … it’s a considerable, lasting achievement and it’s little wonder that Peter Gabriel had to leave … they had gone as far as they could go together”.
A Rolling Stone readers’ poll to rank their favourite progressive rock albums of all time placed the album fifth in the list. In 2014, readers of Rhythm voted The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway the fourth greatest drumming album in the history of progressive rock. In 2015, NME included the album in its “23 Maddest and Most Memorable Concept Albums” list for “taking in themes of split personalities, heaven and hell and truth and fantasy”. The album was one of two from Genesis included in the top ten of the Rolling Stone list of the 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time. They described it as “one of rock’s more elaborate, beguiling and strangely rewarding concept albums”.
Banks later thought the album’s concept is the weakest thing about it, though the lyrics to some of the individual songs are “wonderful”. Mike Rutherford said that, while the album is a fan favorite, it was a grueling album to work on and had a lot of highs, but also a lot of lows. Steve Hackett remarked how his guitar was underutilized compared to past albums, but thought the album had a lot of beautiful moments and has grown on him over time. On Genesis: Together and Apart, Peter Gabriel stated the album, along with “Supper’s Ready”, were his two high points with the band. Also on the documentary, Phil Collins said that the band created their best music on the album. He also cites it as his favourite Genesis album.
Genesis supported the album with a 102-date concert tour across North America and Europe, playing the album in its entirety with one or two older songs as encores. Such a format was not supported by the entire band considering most of the audience were not yet familiar with the large amount of new material. It was to begin on 29 October 1974 with an 11-date tour of the UK that sold out within four hours of going on sale, but they were rescheduled for 1975 after Hackett needed time to recover after severing a tendon in his left hand. The tour began on 20 November in Chicago, and ended on 22 May 1975 in Besançon, France. The last two scheduled concerts on 24 and 27 May in Toulouse and Paris, respectively, were cancelled due to low ticket sales. Gabriel marked the occasion of his final show with the group by playing the “Last Post” on his oboe. Hackett estimated the band’s debts at £220,000 at the tour’s end.
Rutherford, Gabriel, and Collins performing in 1974 during The Lamb… tour. Gabriel is wearing the Slipperman costume.
The tour featured at the time some of the biggest instruments used by the band, including Rutherford’s double-neck Rickenbacker and the largest drum kit ever used by Collins. The tour’s stage show involved three backdrop screens that displayed 1,450 slides, designed by Geoffrey Shaw, from eight projectors and a laser lighting display. Banks recalled the slides only came close to working perfectly on four or five occasions. The tour was the high point of Gabriel’s use of theatrics and costumes. He changed his appearance with a short haircut and styled facial hair and dressed as Rael in a leather jacket, T-shirt and jeans. During “The Lamia”, he surrounded himself with a spinning cone-like structure decorated with images of snakes. In the last verse, the cone would collapse to reveal Gabriel wearing a body suit that glowed from lights placed under the stage. “The Colony of Slippermen” featured Gabriel as one of the Slippermen, covered in lumps with inflatable genitalia that emerged onto the stage by crawling out of a penis-shaped tube. Gabriel recalled the difficulty in placing his microphone near his mouth while in the costume. Collins admitted at times the tour was ostentatious and “inspiration for Spinal Tap.” For “it.”, an explosion set off twin strobe lights that reveal Gabriel and a dummy figure dressed identically on each side of the stage, leaving the audience clueless as to which was real. The performance ended with Gabriel vanishing from the stage in a flash of light and a puff of smoke. During the final concert of the tour, roadie Geoff Banks acted as the dummy on stage, wearing nothing but a leather jacket.
In one concert review, the theatrics for “The Musical Box”, the show’s encore and once the band’s stage highlight, was seen as “crude and elementary” compared to the “sublime grandeur” of The Lamb… set. Music critics often focused their reviews on Gabriel’s theatrics and took the band’s musical performance as secondary which irritated the rest of the band. Collins later said, “People would steam straight past Tony, Mike, Steve and I, go straight up to Peter and say, “You’re fantastic, we really enjoyed the show.” It was becoming a one-man show to the audience.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame called the tour “a spectacle on par with anything attempted in the world of rock to that point”.
During their stop in Cleveland in November 1974, Gabriel told the band he would leave at its conclusion. A statement he wrote to the English press titled “Out, Angels Out” was published in August 1975. In it he explained his disillusion with the music industry and wanted to spend extended time with his family. Banks later stated, “Pete was also getting too big for the group. He was being portrayed as if he was ‘the man’ and it really wasn’t like that. It was a very difficult thing to accommodate. So it was actually a bit of a relief.”
Peter Gabriel – lead vocals, flute, varied instruments, “experiments with foreign sounds”
Steve Hackett – acoustic and electric guitars
Mike Rutherford – bass guitar, 12-string guitar
Tony Banks – Hammond T-102 organ, RMI 368x Electra Piano and Harpsichord, Mellotron M-400, ARP Pro Soloist synthesizer, Elka Rhapsody string synthesizer, piano
Phil Collins – drums, percussion, vibraphone, backing vocals, second lead vocal on “The Colony of Slippermen”