#55: In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins
Philip “Phil” Collins was born in 1951 in Middlesex, England. From the age of five he began to play drums. He never learned to read and write conventional musical notation, and instead used a system he devised himself. He later regretted this, saying: “I never really came to grips with the music. I should have stuck with it. I’ve always felt that if I could hum it, I could play it. For me, that was good enough, but that attitude is bad. He formed a band at the age of 14, and was an extra in the Beatles film A Hard Days Night. Collins played one of the screaming teenagers in the audience for a concert at a TV station. In 1967 Collins played a lead role as one of Farmer Grant’s children in the film Calamity the Cow. Also in 1967, he acted in a scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, where children storm a castle, but the scene was cut to shorten the film.
Other auditions for film roles led to disappointment. And in 1969, Phil Collins became part of the backing band for John Walker (of the Walker Brothers). Walker and his band went on a tour of Europe. On return to England, the four members of the backing band eventually became the Flaming Youth. And in 1969 they recorded an album. Though not commercially successful, it is noted as Phil Collins first experience with having record contract.
In August 1970, Phil Collins successfully auditioned to join the rock band Genesis. Peter Gabriel was the lead vocalist in the band, but he left in 1975. As a result, Phil Collins became the lead vocalist for Genesis starting with the release in 1976 of A Trick of the Tail. In the years that followed, Collins lead vocals were heard on radio stations playing many Genesis singles. These included “Follow You, Follow Me” (1978), “Misunderstanding” (1980), “Abacab” and “No Reply At All” (1981).
Meanwhile, Phil Collins released a solo album in 1981 titled Face Value. It featured the single “I Missed Again”. His next single was “In The Air Tonight”.
Collins wrote this song about the anger he felt after divorcing his first wife, Andrea Bertorelli, in 1980 – he was so devastated that he left Genesis for a short time. All of the original songs on the Face Value album, including the followup hit “I Missed Again”, were at one time intended to be “messages” to his first wife in an attempt to lure her back to him. What does the line mean: “If you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand.” Collins has explained in interviews, that the drowning is symbolic, representing the pain and anger he was feeling at the time of his divorce. The line really connected as a rebuke, entering the lexicon along with sayings like “I wouldn’t give you the time of day” and “not if you were the last person on Earth.”
The lingering tension caused by the divorce led Collins to the title, as these negative feelings were “In The Air,” and affecting not just the couple getting divorced, but the entire family. Collins’ first wife Andrea told her side of the story in a 2015 interview with the Daily Mail, explaining that she was sick of her ex-husband saying that she left him for someone else, leaving him to write the song in his misery.
When the couple had their second child, Simon, in 1976, Collins left to rehearse with Genesis for their Wind & Wuthering tour soon after. Andrea was left to care for Simon, their 4-year-old daughter Joely, and two dogs. She did have an affair while he was gone, but felt Collins checked out of the marriage when he left for the tour. She says that Collins came unhinged in 1979 when she left for Vancouver to get away from him. “He’d call constantly and when I’d answer, instantly start raging, calling me names, telling me to come home,” she said. “He turned up unexpectedly a couple of times. He didn’t realize he was driving me further away.”
By the time Face Value was released, Collins had moved on and was dating Jill Tavelman, who became his second wife.
“In The Air Tonight” was featured on the first episode of the TV series Miami Vice, which used a groundbreaking, MTV-friendly editing style and featured cameos by many famous musicians, including Collins, who played the bad guy in the season 2 episode “Phil The Shill.”
“In The Air Tonight” peaked at #1 in Vancouver (BC), Kansas City (MO), Kingston (ON), Presque Isle (ME), and Winnipeg (MB), #2 in Toronto, and San Jose (CA), #3 in Tacoma (WA), and Hamilton (ON), #4 in Chicago, and Windsor (ON), #5 in St. Cloud (MN), and Regina (SK), #6 in Bangor (ME), #7 in Halifax (NS), #8 in La Crosse (WI), and Grand Rapids (MI), and #9 in San Francisco. In the USA, “In The Air Tonight” stalled at #19. Elsewhere it topped the singles charts in Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and West Germany, #2 in Canada, Ireland, and the UK, #3 in Australia and Belgium, #4 in Italy, Norway and Zimbabwe, #6 in New Zealand, and #7 in Spain. The single has enjoyed re-releases and topped the New Zealand singles chart in 2008.
In 1982 Collins released his second solo album, Hello, I Must Be Going! It featured his number-one cover of the Supremes‘ 1966 #1 hit “You Can’t Hurry Love”. His version topped the charts in Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the UK. The song made it to #3 in Australia, Austria, West Germany, and Switzerland, #6 in Sweden, #9 in Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa, #10 in the USA, #11 in Poland and Spain, and #13 in France. Then in 1984, Phil Collins recorded the theme song for the film Against All Odds: “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)”. Collins topped the charts in Canada, Ireland, Israel, Norway, and the USA. The song peaked at #2 in Denmark and the UK, #3 in Australia, New Zealand and Sweden, #4 in Belgium and Switzerland, #5 in Finland, #9 in South Africa and West Germany, and #10 in the Netherlands.
In late 1984 Collins released Chinese Wall and the single “Easy Lover” in a duet with Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire. The single made the Top Ten in a dozen countries, and included Top 20 chart runs in France, Italy, Japan and Spain. Collins was also a featured soloist on the charity fundraiser “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid.
His subsequent album in 1985, No Jacket Required, included the number-one hits “Sussudio” and “One More Night”. As well, there were Top Ten hits from the album “Don’t Lose My Number” and “Take Me Home”. In addition, Collins recorded a duet with Marilyn Martin for the film White Nights titled “Separate Lives”. The song topped the charts in Canada, Ireland and the USA. It also made the Top Ten in Norway, the UK and Zimbabwe.
In 1988, Phil Collins recorded a cover of the Mindbenders 1966 hit “A Groovy Kind of Love”. It was included in the soundtrack for the film Buster. Collins version topped the pop charts in Canada, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. It also charted into the Top Ten in almost a dozen other nations. A second track from Buster, “Two Hearts”, climbed to #1 in Canada, Denmark, Japan, and the USA. The single also reached the Top Ten in eight other countries.
Phil Collins ended the decade with his release in 1989 of the album …But Seriously. It featured his chart-topping singles “Another Day In Paradise”, “I Wish It Would Rain Down”, “Something Happened On The Way To Heaven” and “Do You Remember?”
As a member of Genesis, Phil Collins continued to be the familiar lead vocalist on the band’s hits in the 80s into the early 90s. These include “Man On The Corner”, “Paperlate“, “That’s All”, “Invisible Touch”, “Throwing It All Away”, “In Too Deep”, “Land Of Confusion”, “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”, and “I Can’t Dance”.
Into the 1990s Phil Collins, as a solo artist and with Genesis, had less chart successes. His 1993 album Both Sides featured “Both Sides Of The Story”, a single that climbed to #2 in Canada, but stalled at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100. And in 1994 “Everyday” peaked at #8 in Canada, but stalled at #24 in the USA. While his title track from his 1996 album Dance Into the Light made the Top Ten in both Canada and the UK, it failed to crack the Top 40 in America.
In 1999 Phil Collins was featured on several tracks from the soundtrack for Tarzan. But “You’ll Be In My Heart” struggled to make the Top 20 in most countries, with its best chart run in New Zealand at #13. In 2002 Collins released Testify. The debut single “Can’t Stop Loving You” made the Top Ten in France and Germany, but failed to reach the Top 30 in most nations.
In 2010 Phil Collins released his eighth and most recent studio album, Going Back. Like each of his seven previous albums, this one climbed to number-one on the album chart in at least one country, and the Top Ten on album charts in many others. The title track was a song written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and offered to Dusty Springfield who recorded it in 1966. The song was also recorded in 1967 by the Byrds.
February 27, 2023
Craig McLean, “Genesis Interview: ‘We Were Hated,’” Telegraph, UK, September 30, 2014.
George Simpson, “Phil Collins FINALLY Speaks Out on Genesis Reunion and it’s Great News,” Express, London, UK, October 18, 2016
Ben Beaumont-Thomas, “Phil Collins Confirms Return to Music: ‘I’m No Longer Officially Retired’,” Guardian, October 28, 2015
Phil Collins, Not Dead Yet, (Crown Archetype, 2016).
“Phil Collins Sued by Ex-wife Over Claims Made in Autobiography,” Sky News, December 5, 2016
Paul Sexton, “Is Genesis Getting Back Together? Tony Banks Talks Reunions, Phil and Prog Rock,” Daily Express, London, UK, June 22, 2014.
“C-FUN Top Thirty,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, August 29, 1981.
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