Tony Banks, Peter Gabriel, and Michael Rutherford formed Genesis whilst attending an English boarding school in 1966. Their only desire was to write pop songs for other rock bands. Wunderkind Jonathan King discovered them and wanted to groom them as the next Bee Gees. Early in the band's career, Gabriel felt so intimidated by the stage that he suggested the band play behind a black curtain.
He instead found a different way to play the central role as frontman: He would hide behind makeup, masks, and costumes. As the band sat earnestly in a semicircle around him, Gabriel would portray an array of characters depicted in the band's epic-length songs. Sometimes there were costume changes within songs.
He was like the Nicki Minaj of prog rock.
During the early '70s, Genesis would find notoriety as one of England's pioneering prog bands alongside King Crimson and Pink Floyd. Though the music offered the grand dynamism of noodling keyboards, intricate fretwork, odd time signatures, and dynamic tonal shifts, Gabriel stole the show as the band's main man. He once modestly said, "I just poodle about and put on silly costumes."
What follows are the ten most famous Gabriel-concocted looks for Genesis during its early years, long before Phil Collins brought them from prog to pop.
10. Early signs of showmanship
The beginnings of Gabriel's stagecraft began circa 1970, when he stood behind a bass drum and told surreal stories to the audience between numbers while the band tuned up or tried to fix broken equipment. In 1971, so enthralled by the music, he broke his ankle while taking one of the earliest documented stage dives into a rock audience. The still above comes from an early 1972 appearance on Belgian TV.
You can watch the entire performance here:
9. The Ageless Egyptian Prince
Just a few months after Genesis' appearance on Belgian TV, Gabriel put on eyeliner before it was called guyliner to become the Ageless Egyptian Prince. He then decided to shave the hair from the peak of his crown, creating an unnatural illusion of the oddest balding pattern ever conceived.
8. The Watcher of the Skies
For the alien visitor known as the Watcher of the Skies, Gabriel wore a headdress with large batwings projecting from each side, a large rainbow cape, and eye makeup that glowed under the blacklit stage.
Here is a chopped-up performance of the song:
7. Old Henry
Old Henry crept out from behind the curtain toward the end of the ten-minute "The Musical Box." A tragic character, he was the victim of murder, resurrection, and, sadly, rejection.
6. The fox's head
Old Henry was not always the face of "The Musical Box." Around 1972, the song took an even more surreal turn as Gabriel played the role in a fox's head and red dress.
You can see that version toward the end of this brilliant collage of early Genesis clips as accompaniment to the song (specifically at the 7:30 mark):