The Musical Box

Composed by Tony Banks / Phil Collins / Peter Gabriel / Genesis / Steve Hackett / Mike Rutherford

Song Review by

The first of the four classic Peter Gabriel-era Genesis tracks (along with "Watcher of the Skies," "Supper's Ready," and "The Cinema Show"), "The Musical Box" was written in Spring 1971, recorded in August of the same year, and released as the opening cut on the band's third LP, Nursery Cryme. Actually, the album takes its title from the story at the basis of this song: while youngsters Cynthia and Henry were playing croquet, the little girl knocked the boy's head off with her mallet. Later in the nursery, Henry's head appears from his cherished musical box. While he tries to convince Cynthia to engage in a physical relationship, he ages rapidly. The story was explained in the LP's liner notes but was more dramatically told through the song and by Gabriel in his spoken introduction on stage. "The Musical Box" begins with three acoustic guitars (Tony Banks joined Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford for this part), but the band's sound is already miles away from the pastoral atmospheres of previous acoustic numbers like "Dusk" or "The Shepherd"; Steve Hackett's influence already takes the band into darker territories. The song is built around a succession of soft acoustic sections and brutally erupting loud sections with Phil Collins speeding over his drums and Hackett giving listeners a first taste of his surgical-like precision and crisp electric guitar tone. The whole thing climaxes in the closing section where, after a violent instrumental passage, Gabriel used to come back on-stage with an old man's mask, acting libidinous and shouting "Touch me now!" while performing obscene dance steps involving the microphone stand, all over a powerful Beethoven-like ending. "The Musical Box" and its introductory story became a highlight of Genesis' show from 1971 to 1974 when it was dropped for the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour. Later, the band occasionally performed the closing section, usually ending a medley, but Phil Collins could never deliver the same energy. A complete live version appears on Live (with Gabriel); the closing section can be found on Seconds Out. Numerous bootleg versions have been circulating since the 1970s. A television performance recorded in Belgium in 1971 can be found on bootleg VHS (1971 Belgium TV).

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Nursery Cryme 1971 Atlantic / Rhino 10:26