Mama (Genesis song)

Mama (Genesis song)
Single by Genesis
from the album Genesis
B-side "It's Gonna Get Better"
Released 22 August 1983 [1]
Format 7" vinyl, 12" vinyl
Recorded The Farm, Surrey; 1983
Genre Progressive rock
Length 6:48 (album version)
5:19 (single version)
Label Atlantic, Virgin, Vertigo
Writer(s) Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford
Producer Genesis, Hugh Padgham
Genesis singles chronology
"That's All"
Genesis track listing
"That's All"

"Mama" was the first single from Genesis' 1983 self-titled album. It is recognizable for its harsh drum machine introduction composed by Mike Rutherford, which leads into minimalist synthesizer lines in minor keys and finally Phil Collins' reverb-laden voice. It remains the band's biggest commercial success in the UK, reaching No.4 on the UK Singles Chart.[2] It also made the top 10 in Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Ireland and the Netherlands. It was less popular in the US, only reaching No.73 on the Billboard Hot 100.[3]

A live drum kit, modified with the "gated reverb" effect, is used in the final verse.

The song resurfaced in 2007 as part of the Turn It On Again tour, albeit transposed down a tone to account for the deepening of Phil Collins' voice as he grew older.



The song's theme involves a young man's longing for a particular prostitute. On the DVD The Genesis Songbook, the band and producer Hugh Padgham revealed that the inspiration for Collins's laugh came from rap music pioneer Grandmaster Flash's song "The Message".

From 1983 Genesis "Three into One" Wavelength 3-LP vinyl radio show interview:

Our manager, when he first heard it, thought it was about abortion, the kind of feeling of the, you know, the foetus, if you like, saying to the Mother 'Please give me a chance, can't you feel my heart, don't take away my last chance', all those lyrics are in the song but in fact what it is, is just about a young teenager that's got a mother fixation with a prostitute that he's just happened to have met in passing and he has such a strong feeling for her and doesn't understand why she isn't interested in him. It's a bit like Niven in 'The Moon's a Balloon', I don't know if you've read that book, he's very young, just come out of cadet college or whatever, and he meets this quite, you know, 45 year old prostitute who he has a fantastic time with. He's special to her but it definitely can't go any further than what it is and that's really what the song is about, with sinister overtones.

—Phil Collins

Music video

The music video for the song essentially plays out the lyrics, showing Collins singing to a mysterious woman while Banks and Rutherford play in the background. One sequence involves Collins, cloaked in shadows and illuminated by a red light (at approximately 3 minutes 30 seconds into the video). When performed live, white lights were shone from underneath the stage to recreate this sequence.

Versions and live performances

There are at least four versions of the studio recording of "Mama": the original, full-length cut (7:28, released as a 12" single and later as a CD single, backed by the full-length 6:27 version of "It's Gonna Get Better", also from the Genesis album); a somewhat early-faded version (6:48, released on the Genesis album itself); an edited version (6:03, released as a 7" single and on the compilation album Turn It on Again - Best of '81-'83); and a heavily-edited version (5:18, released as a 7" and 12" single). A rehearsal take, dating from 1983 and referred to as a "work in progress", is included at the end of the third disc of Genesis Archive 2: 1976-1992. This demonstrated how Genesis would try out new songs; the band would play while Phil Collins would just sing anything that came to mind, normally without actual words.

The song was played live during the Mama[4] , Invisible Touch [5], The Way We Walk[6], Calling All Stations[7] (with Ray Wilson on vocals), and Turn It On Again[8] Tour.

A live version appears on their albums The Way We Walk, Volume One: The Shorts and Live Over Europe 2007, and their DVDs Genesis Live at Wembley Stadium and When in Rome 2007. The song also appears on the 1984 VHS release The Mama Tour.

Chart performance

Chart (1983/1984) Peak
UK Singles Chart[2] 4
Austrian Singles Chart[9] 10
Dutch Top 40[10] 7
Irish Singles Chart[11] 5
New Zealand Singles Chart[12] 27
Norwegian Singles Chart[13] 3
Swiss Singles Chart[14] 2
US Billboard Hot 100[3] 73
US Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks[3] 5

Cover versions

"Mama" was covered by the band Magellan on the 1996 Genesis tribute album Supper's Ready. The song was also covered by the French extreme metal band Carnival in Coal and released on their album French Cancan (1999). Brazilian power metal band Angra covered the song on their EP Hunters and Prey (2002). "Mama" was covered by the Finnish heavy metal band Tarot as the second track on the single for "Undead Son", the only single release from their 2003 album Suffer Our Pleasures.

Cultural references

  • Illusionist David Copperfield has used the song during one of his stage segments, the "Cocoon" illusion.
  • The song was also featured in an episode Magnum, P.I. ("Death and Taxes" - Season 7), a popular US television series in the 1980s starring Tom Selleck. This particular episode involves a killer targeting prostitutes and communicating to Magnum clues about his next crimes by way of riddles.
  • The gated-reverb drum intro line was used by South Indian music director Deva in 1995 for the Mani Ratnam produced Tamil movie Aasai for the song, sung by Unnikrishnan and K. S. Chithra. The Tamil song also sampled the keyboard from the original 7" version of the track from 2:26 til 2:36. The lack of copyright laws in South India enabled Deva to sample without the need to credit Genesis. The soundtrack was awarded the "Best Music" for 1995 by the Tamil Nadu state government beating out original compositions like Bombay from A.R. Rahman.[citation needed]
  • The song is featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV on the radio station Liberty Rock Radio 97.8.



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