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Music / Selling England by the Pound

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"'Paper late!' cried a voice in the crowd
'Old man dies!' The note he left was signed 'Old Father Thames'
It seems he's drowned
Selling England by the pound"
— "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight"

Selling England by the Pound is the fifth studio album by Genesis, released in 1973. It was the first album by the band which charted a single in the UK ("I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)", #21) and reached the US Billboard 200 (#70). Although a modest commercial success compared to the later works of both the band and its then-members Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins (it has likely sold around a million copies worldwide by now), its impact has extended far beyond its commercial performance; it remains not merely in all likelihood their most acclaimed album but one of the most acclaimed Progressive Rock albums of all time.



Side One

  1. "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" (8:02)
  2. "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" (4:03)
  3. "Firth of Fifth" (9:36)
  4. "More Fool Me" (3:10)

Side Two

  1. "The Battle of Epping Forest" (11:43)
  2. "After the Ordeal" (4:07)
  3. "Cinema Show" (11:10)
  4. "Aisle of Plenty" (1:30)

I knoooooooooow what I trope and I troooooooooope what I know:

  • Album Title Drop: While there is no Title Track, the album title appears early on in "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight":
    Old man dies
    The note he left was signed "Old Father Thames"
    It seems he's drowned
    Selling England by the Pound.
  • Artistic License – Geography: The chorus of "The Cinema Show"; see Gender Bender below. This planet actually contains roughly twice as much sea as land. The band weren't being literal here.
  • Artistic License – History: There used to be online an essay by an American fan about "The Battle of Epping Forest", who amongst other unintentionally hilarious mistakes failed to realise that "not since the Civil War" refers to the English Civil War, not the American one.
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  • Book-Ends: "Aisle of Plenty" is a reprise of "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight".
  • Breather Episode: The three shorter tracks, all of which are a bit more subdued overall, are all sequenced between the album's longer epics (counting "Aisle of Plenty" as part of one of the latter).
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Gabriel does several different voices for "The Battle of Epping Forest", which frequently represent different areas of the United Kingdom. One of them is a pretty clear goof on Bob Dylan, too.
  • Double Entendre: In "The Battle of Epping Forest":
    It all began when I went on a tour,
    Hoping to find some furniture.
    I followed a sign — it said "Beautiful Chest".
    It led to a lady who showed me her best.
    • The same song also mentions "Staffordshire plate". Although Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire is known as a pottery town, the above is also a slang term for oral sex. Really, the entire "Reverend" section is one double entendre after another.
    • "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" also has a few, starting with the song title.
    • "The Cinema Show" also has one centring around Romeo and Juliet.
  • Epic Rocking: There are four tracks longer than eight minutes, though originally "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight", "Cinema Show", and "Aisle of Plenty" were to be part of a 20-minute suite, much like Supper's Ready, considering the riffs linking the tracks together.
  • Gender Bender: The chorus, such as it is, of "The Cinema Show" (it's the only segment of the song to be sung twice) centres around Father Tiresias, a figure from Greek mythology who had lived as both a man and a woman.
    Take a little trip back with Father Tiresias
    Listen to the old one speak of all he has lived through
    I have crossed between the poles
    For me there's no mystery
    Once a man, like the sea I raged
    Once a woman, like the earth I gave
  • Hurricane of Puns: It's not just that "Aisle of Plenty"'s title is in itself a pun; the song has these for the big grocery chains of the time.
    There's the safe way home
    Thankful for her fine fair discount,
    Tess co-operates.
    • Really, the whole album is full of them. "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight", we might note, is also a pun, as is "Firth of Fifth", which is a pun on the actual body of water the Firth of Forth. The album title itself also qualifies, since "pound" can refer either to the measurement of weight or to the British currency. And that's just titles; if we delved into song lyrics we might be here all day.
  • Instrumentals: "After the Ordeal".
  • Literary Allusion Title: The album title was used as a slogan by the British Labour Party at one point.
  • Longest Song Goes Last: Some CD versions have "The Cinema Show" and "Aisle of Plenty" indexed as a single, 12:40 track. They are Siamese Twin Songs either way; the only obvious reason for separating them is that the latter is a reprise of "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight". (It is also not obviously lyrically related to either "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" or "The Cinema Show", but the Romeo and Juliet and Father Tiresias sections of the latter also are not obviously related, so it's not clear how much impact that had on the band's decision.)
  • Lyrical Cold Open: The whole album opens a cappella with Gabriel's voice.
  • Mob War: "The Battle of Epping Forest", written about the turf wars in London's East End that Peter Gabriel had heard of for years.
  • No Ending: In a way, "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight", because it was intended to lead into "Cinema Show". It simply fades out on the recording, but it's pretty clearly meant to build tension until the opening of the latter track releases it.
  • Recurring Riff: As "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight", "Cinema Show", and "Aisle of Plenty" were originally meant to be a suite, there is a similar progression that can be heard at any point in the three songs, of which it transitions the latter two in the final cut.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: After all the fighting in "The Battle of Epping Forest", all the participants end up dead. Because the battle would otherwise be a draw, their accountants flip a coin to settle the matter.
  • Shout-Out: All over the place. "The Cinema Show" refers to both Romeo and Juliet and Greek mythology within the span of a few minutes. "The Battle of Epping Forest" makes a passing reference to Woodstock, and Gabriel does a brief Bob Dylan impression. "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" makes references both to an old Labour Party slogan (which also provides the album with its name) and to "Land of Hope and Glory", a song commonly associated with the British Conservative Party. And so on.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: "Cinema Show" and "Aisle of Plenty", to the point where some releases (including the original 1973 LP) have them combined as one track.
  • Song Style Shift: Because it's Progressive Rock, these can happen anywhere, but a particularly noteworthy one is the shift from folk at the beginning of "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" to complex progressive rock in the middle to an eerie twelve string guitar-led instrumental at the end.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Phil Collins, whose vocal contributions at this time tended to be mostly backing vocalsnote , sings lead on "More Fool Me". He would take over as lead vocalist two albums later, after the departure of Peter Gabriel.
  • Uncommon Time: Used several times in most of the longer songs, but a few noteworthy cases are that "Firth of Fifth" opens with a piano segment (later reprised on synthesizer later in the song) that shifts between 2/4, 13/16, and 15/16, "The Battle of Epping Forest" is mostly in 7/8, and "The Cinema Show" also contains a lengthy instrumental segment in 7/8.


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