Back in their ’60s public school days, the founding members of Genesis fancied themselves as pop songwriters — aiming to operate in the shadows, penning hits for others to sing. They wound up achieving the success they craved, just not in the way (or after the evolution) any of them expected.
“We didn’t appear to be that good at [writing hits],” keyboardist Tony Banks said in a DVD interview for the reissue of 1986’s Invisible Touch. “And then I think we sort of shown the way by groups at the time like King Crimson and Family and Fairport Convention — another way of approaching music. That’s how we got into the progressive thing. We found we were able to do things in that area that no one else was doing, whereas in the pop area we weren’t so original. By the time we got to [Invisible Touch], we felt we’d almost gone as far as we could in certain directions of … deep progressive music with extended solos and all the rest of it. The idea of trying to craft songs a little bit more was quite appealing.”
Genesis always had a subtle pop sensibility, even during their peak prog years — from the tender 12-string balladry of “For Absent Friends” to the chiming sing-along of “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe).” But they’d reached a new level of sleek verse-chorus songcraft in the ’80s: embracing modern synths and drum machines, empowering drummer and singer Phil Collins to bring over some of his solo megastar magic. And they took another commercial leap on the multiplatinum Invisible Touch, which spawned several hit singles — including the sparkly title track.
The charismatic song, released 35 years ago this month, became their first and only No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 — defining a summer of dominance for Genesis and their alumni (including Peter Gabriel). But it’s not like the band was angling for a smash.
Watch Genesis’ ‘Invisible Touch’ Video
The track actually originated, as was the Genesis MO in that period, from a democratic jam session. Branching off “The Last Domino,” a section from the lengthy epic “Domino,” they worked around a breezy Collins drum machine pattern, with Mike Rutherford adding a distinctive, echoing guitar riff and Banks maneuvering the chords on synthesizer. Inspired by a contemporary Sheila E. song (“I think it was ‘Glamorous Life,'” Collins told Rolling Stone, “and I wanted to write my own version of that”), the frontman followed the choppy guitar rhythm and sculpted an ad-libbed hook focused on a seductive — if destructive — magnetism.
“Invisible Touch,” with its lyrics about a lover who “crawls under your skin,” may seem like a candy-coated love song. But its meaning is more complicated for Collins, who changed that phrase during live performances. “This is someone dangerous and destabilizing,” he wrote in his 2016 memoir, Not Dead Yet. “Someone who will come in and fuck up your life, man, which is the line I will end up singing onstage, much to the audience’s general whooped appreciation and my kids’ embarrassment.”
The singer has widely praised “Invisible Touch” as his favorite Genesis tune, describing it on the reissue as the album’s “flagship.” (It’s no surprise that, after entering the band’s set list, it basically never left.) Collins’ expanded mid-’80s profile, thanks to a run of successful solo LPs, could have primed the public for the band’s enormous 1986. But as Banks noted, “the songs were there anyhow.”
“Obviously Phil had become established more as a singles act, and that opened a few doors for us in terms of radio [being] prepared to listen to it, I suppose,” he said. “But ‘Invisible Touch’ and ‘Land of Confusion’ — they’re hit songs, I think, by anybody.”