Editorial: Why Collins Matters

I Know what you’re thinking…

Phil Collins???!!! Yes, Phil Collins.
Phil Collins is corny!
Yes this seems to be opinion of most people these days, but this was through no fault of Collins. Understand the context from which your perception of him is derived. Your first exposure to Collins was probably through the prism of the 80’s hate filled era called 1993-2001. The 80’s were pure exuberance and obnoxiousness in terms of sound (synths as trebly as possible and drums as big as possible) and style (Awful loud suits that have no business coming back). There was nothing subtle about music during this era. Hardcore music was at its most feverish pitch. Metal was at its peak with its big hair, outlandish tour riders, and stage shows. Rap was as angry as it ever was going to be. Pop artists became public messiah’s and created as much controversy as art. Video’s from the 80’s exemplified how the music world was influenced by its greater surroundings, a new age of conspicuous consumption as US financial markets were at unprecedented highs. The financial excess and subsequent attitude of displaying status seeped into all facets of life with the mantra being “push it to the limit” (Scarface reference!). Nothing was spared. Drugs (Crack Rock), comedy (Sam Kinison), conservatism (Ronald Regan), wars (Contra and the war on drugs), hair (The Jheri Curl and The Mullet), Saxophone’s, and suits (David Byrne in “Stop Making Sense”) were just a few of the things taken to the extreme (don’t forget about the 80’s group “Extreme” taking ponytails to the extreme). Collins is not taken seriously because he’s been unfairly associated with the obnoxiousness of the 80’s and not the great music of the period.
Once things began to balance out in the mid 90’s and a subtle approach to music began, everyone (and don’t say you weren’t there I saw you!) began to bash the 80’s. Then attitudes began to change at the beginning of the 00’s. 80’s dance nights emerged around the country. Popular artists name checked 80’s artists as their primary influences. VH1 ran a billion “I love the 80’s” specials. The Wedding Singer became a cult classic. Shows from the 80’s began to be turned into movies. The 00’s never had its own own signature sound and style like previous decades so it looked to past decades. It became cool to like the 80’s. This new found respect and nostalgia never made its way to Collins as he’a been mixed in with 80’s artists that symbolized the lameness and unintentional comedy of the era. He’s never mentioned when someone speaks of innovative artists from the 80’s that changed their lives. He’s not mentioned when someone thinks of the best singers or drummers of the era. He’s mentioned when it’s time for shits and giggles. This is because of the generalization that he’s corny. This reputation has stuck as critics have placed him in a camp of artists from the 80’s who’s careers were due in part to fads (Debbie Gibson or Stacey Q) not critical acceptance. We hold a high amount of respect in the music community for Post Punk artists and New Wave artists from the 80’s and disregard artist like Collins accomplishments and influence. It’s time he’s considered when people are having serious discussions about the best artists during the 80’s. He’s one of them.

He was just a random pop artist from the 80’s.
Wrong. His career began as a drummer playing with local bands in england in the late 60’s before becoming the drummer for the legendary Progressive Rock band “Genesis.” During Genesis’s initial peak Collins began to be recognized as one of the best drummers in music. He played drums and provided backing vocals during the first incarnation of the band. Once original Genesis lead singer Peter Gabriel left the group to pursue a solo career Collins replaced him on lead vocals. After being in the prog rock trenches for at least a decade the group went in a pop direction producing their biggest hits during the Collins period. Along with a successful solo career he’s played drums for Brian Eno, Robert Plant, and Eric Clapton as well as other notable names in music. It’s impossible to put Collins in a box as his music and performing career spans different genres and styles going back to the late 60’s.

He ripped off black R&B and Caribbean artists!
Influence happens. Like Gil Scott-Heron said on “Ain’t No New Thing” its happened before. With his foray into world beat and R&B Collins joined a large fraternity of artists that were “inspired” by black artists and culture. This group includes such notables as The Rolling Stones, Benny Goodman, Elvis Presley, Sting, Paul Simon, ironic hipster rap groups, Justin Timberlake, white Jazz artists (not including Don Sebesky, Charlie Haden, and Gil Evans) and every white blues guitarist after Robert Johnson. Ain’t no new thing. You can’t hate Phil or anyone for being influenced by black culture. It’s just that good. As long as credit is given where credit is due all is good. If Phillip Bailey co-signs, then we should too.
Why should I care about Collins music?
Because his influence has been prominent in some of the most popular music of the last 3 years. Kanye West is one of the most critically and commercially successful artists currently. His album “808’s & Heartbreaks” is a unofficial homage to Phil Collins body of work from 81-85. It’s all about the tom drums, murkiness, and melodies. Kanye ditched his hip hop pedigree and programmed the drums on 808’s in the vein of Collins album cuts during his prime. He doesn’t rip him off by any means but the influence is OBVIOUS. “Welcome To Heartbreak” fulfills the Collins sonic checklist with a emphasis on filtered percussion of different persuasions and synth stabs as the song sounds like Collins should be singing the hook instead of Kid Cudi. “808’s & Heartbreaks” was a BIG influence on Drake and his producers. Although they dug it, 808’s was highly criticized due to the auto-tune backlash that was happening at that time. This was also Kanye making his first attempt at a groundbreaking new sound which he later perfected with the album “My Dark Twisted Fantasy.” Although 808’s was inconsistent at different points it served as a map of a new frontier that Drake and other artists studied. Drake and his team took the kernels of 808’s and harvested their own field of dreams. His breakthrough mixtape “So Far Gone” reeks of Collins and 808’s production values. From the filtered drum programming to the 808’s keyboard/piano melodies, Drake created his signature sound based off of Collins and West’s work. He double downed on the sound with “Forever” (the live drum programming on the verse is sooo Collins) and select parts of his album “Thank Me Later” (Fireworks, Karaoke, Fancy, and Find Your Love). Kanye’s sound has moved on with “My Dark Twisted Fantasy” and Drake will as well, but we can say two of the most critically acclaimed artists in music today used Collins work as a reference point for their material. If you love “So Far Gone” or “808’s & Heartbreaks” you need to listen to Collins Discography 81-85 to hear the influence.
Who really likes Phil Collins??!
Collins is one of only three recording artists (along with Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson) who have sold over 100 million albums worldwide both as solo artists and (separately) as principal members of a band. He’s sold over 150 million records! He’s won seven Grammy’s, an Oscar, and two Golden Globes. Can that many people and critics be wrong??! The Red House Painters dig Collins! Questlove loves Collins too! Do you want more??!!
What greater form of flattery is there in today’s music then being sampled? Collins has been sampled quite a bit and it’s not cheap. According to Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists: “High master fee (The payment for use of the actual original recording) – around $8,000- with personal approval from the balding skins-beater required for your usage. He can feel it (the cash) comin’ in the air tonight.”
So why does Collins Matter?
Because dude wrote epic prog songs when he was in Genesis and later epic pop songs with the group and as a solo artists. With Collins as the leader after Gaberial’s depature Genesis began a slow shift from a successful progressive rock band to successful pop band (An outlier in regards to my previous argument of Progers never being able to look back. The difference with Genesis was that they started off as a prog band so making pop songs was the change). The band had its highest charting on Billboard with the self titled album “Genesis” and the single “That’s All” in 1984. To be able to go pop when your fan base is comprised of progressive rock fans is nearly impossible. Progressive Rock fans will revolt the second a song clocks in under 8 minutes and has basic song structure. There was no such revolt as the band continually sold out stadiums internationally. Collins successfully willing the band into this new territory while keeping their core base is reason enough to matter in my book.
Collins has a ability to make songs emote and vibe like no other artist can. “In The Air Tonight” is one of the most intense songs ever. It conveys such a “Shit is about to hit the fan” vibe that it was used for two of the most iconic “shit is about to hit the fan” scenes of the 80’s: The train scene in “Risky Buisness” and the car ride to take out Calderone in the pilot episode of “Miami Vice.” On one hand you have a in-over his head teenager getting on the Chicago L with a prostitute to have sex in public and on the other Crockett & Tubbs preparing to take on a drug cartel by themselves in the name of vengence. Good times! Neither scene would have felt as tense if they had not used “In The Air Tonight.” Most people think the song is about Phil seeing a man drown (Like the dude who wrote eminem). It’s actually about a divorce he was going through at the time ( My question is was there a “In the Air Tonight pt 2 & 3”? Dude has been divorced three times!). His ballards are emotional deep sea dives (Do not listen to “Against All Odds” after breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend. You will cry even harder once the drums hit. I wouldn’t know this from personal experience…I’ve been told about it…from friends..yeah).
I had a great conversation with Obey City about how this era is one of reinterpreting past era’s. We discussed how his generation has embraced 80’s music through new groups making 80’s inspired music. From 4AD sounding bands to Old School Hip Hop revivalist the sound and the era is no longer taboo like it was when I was growing up. Someone was immediatley quarintined and sent off to an island like lepers once were when they came out as a 80’s fan. We agreed that every era, genre, sub-genre, etc will be re-examined by his generation and the previous one. In the last 10 years the music community has had periods of re-engagement with Soul, Garage Rock, Funk, Arena Rock, World (When Vampire Weekend were emerging how many times did you hear “Graceland by Paul Simon is one of my favorite albums”…sigh) as well as other styles. We agreed that while the 80’s has gotten it’s fair amount of love Collins hasn’t and it was essential to show and prove on his behalf because it matters.

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One Response to Editorial: Why Collins Matters

  1. Michelle says:

    Great article, thanks! My husband is a big Phil Collins fan, and always has been. He cringes at the Disney soundtrack era of Collins’ career, however.

    Not to be pedantic, but your apostrophe usage is problematic. Every time I was deep in the article, I was jarred out by incorrect punctuation. Apostrophe s is used to indicate ownership: “Phil’s amazing drum kit.” S without an apostrophe indicates plural: “So many saxophones in the horn section.”

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