KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #326: In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #326: In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins.

Phil Collins was a drummer long before he was a singer. He was most well-known as being the drummer for the original lineup of “Genesis”. It wasn’t until Peter Gabriel left the band to pursue a solo career that Phil Collins was pushed out from behind his drum kit and asked to stand and sing at the front of the stage. But, even then, Collins still sat in as a session drummer on many other productions by other artists. Even though he had enjoyed a long career as a singer, with hits such as “You Can’t Hurry Love”, “Groovy Kind of Love”, “Sussudio”, “One More Night”, “Another Day in Paradise”, “Against All Odds”, “Take Me Home” and “In The Air Tonight”, if you were to ask the man, himself, to describe who he is……he would start with the word, drummer.

While Phil Collins has had many hits, the one song he is most noted for is, “In The Air Tonight”. This song was the debut release from his first solo album called, “Face Value”. This song is a very personal one for Collins, as it chronicles the end of his marriage. When Peter Gabriel was the face of the band, “Genesis”, they tended to produce songs and albums that were more theatrical in nature. When Gabriel left and Collins took over, the thought among band members was to take “Genesis” in a more commercial direction. “Genesis” seemed poised to move to another, higher, more successful level. It was at this moment that Phil Collins’ wife let it be known that she was struggling with raising their family all on her own (because Collins was on tour so much). Essentially, she demanded that he help out at home more. At first, he tried but, the lure of the road and the pull of the band and of making music made his decision for him. His wife filed for divorce, just as “Genesis” began to explode in popularity. Collins felt a lot of anger over the timing of it all and put his bitter feelings on paper in the form of a song called, “In The Air Tonight”.

“Well, if you told me that you were drowning, I would not lend a hand……”

He had originally intended the song to be a “Genesis” song but the band felt it was too personal and rejected it. So, Collins put it out under his own name. The rest, as they say, is History.

“In The Air Tonight” has gone on to sell over several million in sales and is a staple of Classic Rock radio formats the world over. While this song is about the tension and bitterness of a messy divorce, it is not these lyrics alone that have gone on to make this song the legendary song it has become. When studio executives first listened to the original demo tapes, they kept commenting on the fact that there were no drums for the first 2-3 minutes of the song. They felt that people would be confused that a drummer like Collins would put out a song without drums in it. He kept preaching patience…..that the drums would come. Boy, did they ever! The tension-relieving eruption of drumming that occurs two-thirds of the way through the song is, arguably, the most famous and well-received drum break in all of Rock History! Not only is the drumming placed in the perfect spot to elevate the song to a higher plain but, the sound of the drumming was unlike any that came before it. This drumming popped, in a crystal-clear fashion, because of a special recording technique that Collins (and producer, Hugh Padgham) invented. I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the recording process but, Collins and Padgham discovered a way to isolate and amplify the drumming track in a way that separated it from the rest of the sounds being made and, as a result, the drum beats seem to leap out at the audience, in the same way that a 3-D image leaps off of the screen in a movie. Other artists rushed to copy what Collins and Padgham had done. This form of imitation can be seen/heard clearly in drum-oriented openings to songs such as “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen and “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush.

The final thing that helped lift this song into the pantheon of the greats was its inclusion in the pilot episode of the groundbreaking 1980s TV show, “Miami Vice”. That show traded on a currency of coolness so, when “In The Air Tonight” played in the climatic moment of the first episode, its’ cool factor increased exponentially, too. I will post that video from the TV series in the Comments section below. In the meantime, here is the official video for one of the most iconic and technologically-advanced songs of its time, “In The Air Tonight” by drummer, turned singer, Mr. Phil Collins. Enjoy.

The link for the official video for the song, “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, can be found here.

The link for a live recording of the song, In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, can be found here.

The link for the video of the song being used in the TV show, “Miami Vice”, can be found here.

The link to the Phil Collins/Genesis official website can be found here.

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