|Released 22 August 1983|
Recorded The Farm, Surrey; 1983
|Format 7" vinyl, 12" vinyl|
Genre Progressive rock
|B-side "It's Gonna Get Better"|
Length 6:46 (album version) 6:07 (single version) 5:18 (video edit / radio edit) 7:27 (long version)
"Mama" was the first single from Genesis' 1983 self-titled album. It is recognisable 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 most successful single in the UK, peaking at No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart. It also made the top 10 in Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Ireland and the Netherlands. It was less popular in the U.S., only reaching No. 73 on the Billboard Hot 100. A 1992 re-release of the single managed to reach the Top 40 in Germany.
A live drum kit, modified using 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.
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 the 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 fetus, 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 [British actor] David 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.
The music video for the song 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 (7:27, 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 (6:46, released on the Genesis album itself); an edited version (6:07, 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 on the promotional video, promo DJ 7" and 12" singles, and the 1999 compilation album Turn It On Again: The Hits). An extremely rare 3:30 and heavy edited version was released on an 1983 Italian promo 7-inch. This remains the shortest edited version of the song. A 10:43 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 Genesis, Invisible Touch, The Way We Walk, Calling All Stations (with Ray Wilson on vocals), and Turn It On Again tours. The song also appears in season 7 of Magnum PI episode 5 "Death and Taxes"
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.
"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.