When Phil Collins left Eric Clapton awestruck

Phil Collins

Phil Collins, a versatile artist, began his remarkable career as a child actor in the 1960s before breaking out as Genesis’ drummer in the early 1970s. He joined the band with guitarist Steve Hackett to support frontman and creative director Peter Gabriel. After Gabriel left the band in 1975, Collins took over as lead singer and co-songwriter.

Genesis established itself as a prog-rock pioneer alongside virtuosic bands such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Yes. The avant-garde fixations of the psychedelic era influenced such acts to embrace complexity and obscurity. Collins initially embraced this aesthetic, but as the 1980s approached, he gradually steered the band towards a more pop-conscious sound.

Collins’ popular solo catalogue began in 1980 with Face Value, which topped the UK Albums Chart for three weeks and peaked at number seven on the US Billboard 200. The album was conceived as an overflow of sorts. It allowed Collins to indulge his passion for soul music by recording any music that was not accepted or suited to Genesis.

Face Value’s lead single, ‘In The Air Tonight’, was a moody study of anxiety. “I wrote the lyrics spontaneously,” Collins said about the song in a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone. “I’m not quite sure what the song is about, but there’s a lot of anger, a lot of despair and a lot of frustration.”

“I was just fooling around”. He told Dave Thompson for Turn It On Again, which featured Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, and Genesis. “I got these chords that I liked, so I turned on the microphone and began singing. I wrote the lyrics you hear spontaneously. That scares me a little, but I’m pretty proud of the fact that I sang 99.9% of those lyrics spontaneously.”

Despite the eventual success of ‘In The Air Tonight’, thanks to Collins’ revolutionary drum fill, Genesis allegedly passed up the opportunity to record the song. Collins claimed to Melody Maker in 1981 that he had played a demo to his bandmates Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks. He dismissed it as “too simple”. However, Tony Banks has denied that Collins showed the band the song before recording it.

Whatever the weather, the song stands out as an example of Collins’ innovative drumming. In a 2016 interview with Digital Trends, Collins recalled some of his friends’ reactions when he performed ‘In the Air Tonight’ during an early studio session.

“When Eric Clapton and his band came up to the studio, we played ‘In the Air Tonight’ for them. When the drums came in, everyone exclaimed, ‘FUKING HELL! What the fuk is that? No one had ever heard anything like that. Drums were never that loud. But this was my album, and it worked.”

“We were playing with psychological things,” Collins concluded. “The audience is there going along with you. And then suddenly you knock them on the head with this thing: Bvoom-bvoom!”

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