This is the inaugural post of what will be, in no specific order, my favorite songs of all time. They're in random order because, to be honest, I looked at my list of 190 songs and thought "I do not feel like putting these songs in a specific order, it's just too much damn work." Since I had organized on a playlist, I hit the "shuffle" button and now will post the songs in the order ITUNES placed it. I do have a favorite song and when I get to that one I will highlight it, otherwise get ready for some random action.
The song that may contain the greatest drum break in modern pop history and arguably Phil Collin's best tune. A dark, atmospheric song with distorted vocals, "In The Air Tonight" is relatively unique in Collin's song book for its tone. A similar song that I liked more than "Tonight" initially is Genesis' "Man On The Corner" which is a close match in tone and pattern. "Man On The Corner" was the first Genesis song I liked and used to play often for a little while.
The song starts out slow as Collin's sings about watching someone drown (not based on a true story as alleged by some) ending each line with the phrase "Oh Lord" (which for decades I thought he was singing "Oh no" until I read the lyrics). Phil Collin's voice gets increasingly echoey/ distorted like someone surfacing through water, building the tension until the cathartic drums come crashing in. In what would become his trademark, the drums have the famous "gated reverb" sound where they come across very loud and boxy. The rest of the song rides on a slightly lurching beat as Collin's goes on about feeling it calling (or is it comin'? I can't remember the lyric sheet) in the air tonight.
"In The Air Tonight" is a favorite song for me because of it's intensely quiet mood, it's kinda a creepy song - in a good way. One of my good friends in high school was a huge fan of Phil Collins, so for some random reason when I think of this jam I recall my friend saying there was a song called "Like China" from Collin's second solo album where he kept hearing the word "Vagina" instead. Heh, high school.
A Lonely Man There On The Corner
A predecessor to "In the Air Tonight", "Man On The Corner" has a similar structure of starting off with a muted keyboard and rippling percussion. Collins sings in a mysterious tone until 2/3rd of the way the drums kick in. In other words, the two songs are very similar. A bit of a precursor to "Another Day In Paradise" too with the homeless theme. Just "In The Air Tonight" is more downbeat and the cavernous guitars add atmosphere. "Man In The Corner" came from Genesis' Abacab album released a few months after Face Value, Collin's solo debut featuring "In The Air Tonight".
When the song initially was released, I heard it a few times and it stood out in memory but I didn't think that much about it. It wasn't until the song was prominently used in the debut episode of Miami Vice that "In The Air Tonight" became a widely known hit by people, including me. Like the rest of America, I really dug the song in that setting of cool cops in cool cars driving in the night. Through Crockett and Tubbs, "Tonight" developed a cache of cool that it would never lose. The song would tie Collins to the NBC show long term, other Collins songs like "Take Me Home" would appear there. Eventually, Collins put his child acting skills to work in making an appearance as a character on Miami Vice. I didn't watch those episodes, just was aware that they happened. I did see the movie Buster, which is where his acting gigs led him to. It was a snoozer to say the least.
Live In The Air
When I saw Phil Collins perform live in 1985, I found him fairly boring in concert. "In The Air Tonight" still translated well for me, it was a highlight of the concert. He also performed the song with a piano at Live Aid.
Legacy of "Tonight"
After Collin's had his peak run as a solo performer, "In The Air Tonight" continued to be a cultural touchstone. Of the many samples and references to the song, the two that stand out in my mind are the Family Guy episode where Stewie is stuck inside the tv like Poltergeist and with his voice electronically fading in and out while singing this song and the Mike Tyson punch to the beat on another dude in The Hangover.
"In The Air Tonight" has had a second life in hip hop according to Wikipedia, being sampled and covered. The song has been remade and sampled by rappers like 2 Pac and Lil Kim. Eminem referenced the song and myth about the tune in rapping that Collins had witnessed a murder (thus inspiring the song) and fingered the killer at a concert. Collins has flatly denied this story for decades.
In addition, the song is popular at sporting events and commercials. While looking for a picture to put in this post, I came across a Wonderbra advert using the song. Because nothing says lift and support like Phil Collins.
I never understood why Collin's didn't re-release the single in the mid 80s to capitalize on the song's second lease on life. Guess he had enough charting hits that he didn't need the money. Nonetheless, "In The Air Tonight" is a modern classic and one of my favorite songs of all time.