In The Air Tonight ~ Phil Collins

phil-collinsPhil Collins is best known as the lead singer and drummer of English progressive rock group Genesis and as a Grammy and Academy Award-winning solo artist. He has also starred in numerous films.

Collins sang the lead vocals on eight American chart-toppers between 1984 and 1989; seven as a solo artist and one with Genesis. His singles, often dealing with lost love, ranged from the drum-heavy “In the Air Tonight”, to the dance pop of “Sussudio”, to the political statements of his most successful song, “Another Day in Paradise”. His international popularity transformed Genesis from a progressive rock group to a regular on the pop charts and an early MTV mainstay. Collins’ professional career began as a drummer, first with obscure rock group Flaming Youth and then more famously with Genesis. In Genesis, Collins originally supplied backing vocals for front man Peter Gabriel, singing lead on only two songs, namely “For Absent Friends” from 1971′s Nursery Cryme album and “More Fool Me” from Selling England by the Pound, which was released in 1973. On Gabriel’s departure in 1975, Collins became the group’s lead singer. As the decade closed, Genesis’s first international hit, “Follow You, Follow Me”, demonstrated a drastic change from the band’s early years. His concurrent solo career, heavily influenced by his personal life, brought both him and Genesis commercial success. According to Atlantic Records, Collins’ total worldwide sales as a solo artist, as of 2002, were over 100 million.

In the Air Tonight

In the Air Tonight” is a song written and recorded in 1979 by British singer and musician, Phil Collins.

The recording is notable for its atmospheric production and macabre theme. Collins wrote the song about the anger he felt after divorcing his first wife, Andrea, in 1979. In a 1997 BBC Radio 2 documentary, the singer revealed that the divorce contributed to his 1979 hiatus from Genesis until the band regrouped in October of that year to record the album Duke.

“In the Air Tonight” remains a popular selection on many classic rock radio stations. It is the song most often associated with Collins’s solo career, and he has performed versions of it at many events, most notably at Live Aid, where he played the song on a piano on the same calendar day in both Philadelphia and London. He also performed the song at The Secret Policeman’s Ball, which was his’ first live performance as a solo artist.

The lyrics of the song take the form of a dark monologue directed towards an unnamed person:

I was there and I saw what you did
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

Collins wrote the song in the wake of a failing relationship with his wife. Collins has described obtaining the drum machine specifically to deal with these personal issues through songwriting, telling Mix magazine: “I had to start writing some of this music that was inside me.” He improvised the lyrics during a songwriting session in the studio: “I was just fooling around. I got these chords that I liked, so I turned the mic on and started singing. 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.”

An urban legend has arisen around “In the Air Tonight” according to which the lyrics are based on a real drowning incident that Collins witnessed. Various, increasingly embroidered variations on the legend emerged over time, with the stories often culminating in Collins singling out the guilty party while singing the song at a concert. Collins has denied all such stories; he commented on the legends about the song in a BBC World Service interview:

“I don’t know what this song is about. When I was writing this I was going through a divorce. And the only thing I can say about it is that it’s obviously in anger. It’s the angry side, or the bitter side of a separation. So what makes it even more comical is when I hear these stories which started many years ago, particularly in America, of someone come up to me and say, ‘Did you really see someone drowning?’ I said, ‘No, wrong’. And then every time I go back to America the story gets Chinese whispers, it gets more and more elaborate. It’s so frustrating, ’cause this is one song out of all the songs probably that I’ve ever written that I really don’t know what it’s about, you know?”

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

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

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
Well I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord, oh Lord

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, oh 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

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
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
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, oh lord
And I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh lord, oh lord, oh lord
And I can feel it in the air tonight, Oh Lord…
I’ve been waiting for this moment, all my life, Oh Lord, Oh Lord

  • Audio from the 1981 album, Face Value:
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About DJ Allyn

DJ Allyn is a burned out radio guy who went on to become a burned out sound engineer for a few Seattle area grunge bands in the 1980s and 1990s. Left the madness of worldwide tours with bands, cleaned up my act and went into the relative sanity of sound engineering for television series. Currently working as the Director of Sound for a television series being filmed in North Vancouver, British Columbia. I am always on the lookout for interesting videos, old music, and fun.

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