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Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight

Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight

‘In the Air Tonight’ is a song by English drummer and singer-songwriter Phil Collins. It was his debut solo single and was released as the first single from his debut solo album, Face Value, in January 1981.

Often recognized as Collins’ signature song, ‘In the Air Tonight’ peaked at No. 2 on the UK charts, failing to reach No. 1 due to the posthumous release of John Lennon’s ‘Woman’. It did make it to No. 1 in some European countries, and in the top 10 in many others, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

The song is especially famous for its standout drum break towards the end, which has been listed as one of the "101 Greatest Drumming Moments" and has been referred to as "the sleekest, most melodramatic drum break in history."

songwriter:   Phil Collins
Producers:   Phil Collins, Hugh Padgham
Label:   Virgin Atlantic

SOME INTERESTING FACTS

Phil Collins wrote ‘In the Air Tonight’ while he was living in an empty home, after his wife Andrea Bertorelli had moved out, taking the children and dogs with her. It was 1979, and Collins had just returned from another lengthy tour with Genesis. Other band members had discussed using the break to work on solo projects, after they had all recently bought the same home studio equipment.

Collins explained in an interview “we'd all bought home studios so I started to fiddle about. I took over the master bedroom, you know, moved everything out and put my studio in there.” He also confirmed that the grief he was feeling at the time was the main contributor to the song, saying “I wrote the lyrics spontaneously. 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,” adding that the words simply came out while he was improvising during a session while the microphone was still turned on, ‘The lyrics you hear are what I wrote spontaneously. That frightens me a bit, but I'm quite proud of the fact that I sang 99.9 percent of those lyrics spontaneously".

Collins attributes the song’s title ‘In the Air Tonight’ to how the divorce was causing so much tension and negative feelings, that the pain could be felt ‘In the Air’ by the whole family. However, regarding the true meaning and depth of the song’s lyrics, Collins has explained that, “the lyrics were all improvised. I don't know what it's about…the more people say to me what it's about, I just say I can promise you it isn't about whatever you think it is, because I don't know.”

There have been numerous interpretations and claims regarding the true meaning of the lines “Well, if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand”, ranging from someone drowning while a nearby witness refuses to help, to Collins also witnessing the incident; even reaching the extremes of Collins singling out the guilty party at a concert while playing the song. These are all untrue myths, with Collins completely denying all of the stories and explaining that the line simply arose as a symbolic way to demonstrate the pain and anger that he was feeling at the time.

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That historical drum break towards the end of the song came about while Collins and engineer/producer, Hugh Padgham were experimenting with the Solid State Logic 4000 mixing board and creating a bridge between the two song sections. Collins recorded the section while the ‘reverse talk-back’ circuit was still active. Padgham was so impressed with the new sound, that the board was rewired to cater for this new sound on ‘In the Air Tonight’ and other album tracks.

‘In the Air Tonight’ became an instantly iconic song, but the rapid success of the song was bit of a surprise to Collins, who wrote in 2007, “The single came in at No. 36, I did Top of the Pops with Dave Lee Travis, and in one of the down moments he said, "This record is going to be a top three." I didn't believe him, because it had been made so haphazardly, but the next week, there it was at No. 3. And then Mark Chapman shot John Lennon and that was that”.

In 1985, Collins played ‘In the Air Tonight’ at the historical Live Aid concert, creating his own piece of history by playing at both the London and Philadelphia concerts, thanks to time zone differences and a quick trip on the Concorde. He played this song at both venues.

The iconic song has been used in several movies and TV shows, including:

  • The 1983 movie Risky Business, during a scene with Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay.
  • The first episode of Miami Vice in 1984.
  • The 2009 movie The Hangover includes Mike Tyson singing the song, and even playing air-drums at the right moment.
  • The animated show, The Family Guy used the song in an episode called “Petergeist”, when Stewie is trapped inside a TV.
  • The pilot episode of the TV series The Americans in 2013, about Soviet KGB spies living in America during the Cold War.
While the inclusion of ‘In the Air Tonight’ may have added some dramatic impact to each of the movies and shows that it has appeared in, none seem to stand up to the iconic and memorable power of the song being the basis for Cadbury’s 2007 drum-playing gorilla advertising campaign.
 

SONG LYRICS

[Chorus]
I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
And I've been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord
Can you feel it coming in the air tonight? oh Lord, oh Lord
 
[Verse 1]
Well, if you told me you were drowning
I would not lend a hand
I've seen your face before, my friend
But I don't know if you know who I am
Well, I was there and I saw what you did
I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you've been
It's all been a pack of lies
 
[Chorus]
And I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
Well, I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord
I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
And I've been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord, oh Lord
 
[Verse 2]
Well, I remember!
I remember, don't worry
How could I ever forget?
It's the first time, the last time we ever met
But I know the reason why you keep your silence up
No, you don't fool me
Well, the hurt doesn't show, but the pain still grows
It's no stranger to you and me
[Drum Solo]
 
[Chorus]
And I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
Well, I've been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord
I can feel it in the air tonight, oh Lord, oh Lord
Well, I've been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord
 
[Outro]
I can feel it coming in the air tonight! Oh Lord
Well, I've been waiting for this moment for all my life! Oh Lord!
I can feel it in the air tonight, oh Lord, oh Lord, oh Lord!
Well, I've been waiting for this moment for all my life! Oh Lord, Oh Lord!
I can feel it in the air tonight, oh Lord, oh Lord, oh Lord!
Well, I've been waiting for this moment for all my life! Oh Lord, Oh Lord!
I can feel it in the air tonight...
 

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