In the Air Tonight’s influence, intrigue, and That drum break that lasts 40 years later
It takes three minutes and forty seconds before the signing moment arrives.
A powerful cacophony of drums explodes from the speakers, taking Phil Collins’ eerie and bubbling opus In the Air Tonight to another level that has helped it last for four decades.
The song’s legacy is interwoven in this epic drum fill, considered one of the greatest pop percussion pieces of all time.
But there’s a lot more to Collins’ success than the drums – there’s an air of mystery, a production blunder that shaped the future of music, and an urban legend about a drowning that never happened. .
Well i remember
In 1979, Phil Collins was the reluctant drummer and singer of the British fusion rock group Genesis, having taken on the lead role when Peter Gabriel left the group.
The band had just burst into the United States on the back of the ninth studio album … And Then There Were Three … and hit the single Follow You Follow Me, but a grueling nine-month tour and over 100 shows. contributed to Collins’ divorce from his first wife Andrea Bertorelli and led Collins to take time away from Genesis.
“I had a lot of free time,” Collins told the BBC’s Classic Albums episode about writing Face Value, the first solo album he ended up creating during that hiatus.
He said that “the album is definitely autobiographical [and] triggered by “her divorce.”
But before Collins could get down to work on Face Value, Genesis reunited again to make their 10th album Duke.
Among the songs Collins performed to his bandmates was a black vocals called In the Air Tonight – a booming synth track filled with barely contained anger he had written in the wake of his divorce.
Genesis rejected the song, much to their regret.
Collins hid it and made it the opening track and lead single from Face Value.
I can feel it coming in the air tonight
Somewhere among it all, Collins found time to play drums on ex-bandmember Gabriel’s third solo album, where a happy accident in the recording studio would shape the future of music.
A microphone used to communicate between the drummer in the studio and the producer in the control room was accidentally left on while Collins played on Gabriel’s Intruder track.
Producer Hugh Padgham was impressed with the sound coming from the talkback mic capturing the echo – or reverberation – of the drums in the room loudly before suddenly stopping before the echo naturally subsided.
Padgham and his engineers worked through the night to rewire the desk so that sound could be played back to record Collins’ drums the next day, and a technique known as “gated reverb” was born.
While Intruder was the first track to use this technique, In the Air Tonight was the song that made it famous.
The Gated reverb, at the back of this dramatic and huge drum fill in In the Air Tonight, became the sound of drums in the 1980s.
It’s on the records of every big act of the era – Whitney Houston, Madonna, Kate Bush, Prince, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and more.
The producers and musicians heard In the Air Tonight and said “I want this sound”.
Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne said decades after its release “that the drum fill is the best ever. It still looks awesome.”
While the sound of drums fell in vogue in the 1990s, it has seen a revival of late as artists and producers attempt to recapture the sounds of their childhood and their parents’ record collections, found on contemporary hits from Lorde, Taylor Shift, HAIM and many more.
But I don’t know if you know who I am
Grammy-winning Australian producer François Tetaz, who worked on Gotye’s mega-hit Somebody That I Used to Know, recalls hearing In the Air Tonight for the first time on a jukebox at a fish and chips on a family vacation when he was 11 years old.
The song has been etched in his mind ever since, but his admiration for it goes beyond his studio deception.
“It’s a very primitive song,” Tetaz said.
He said the famous drum fill symbolizes the moment the narrator slams, likening it to slamming a door or banging a wall.
“It’s about being very, very angry with something,” Tetaz said.
He said the one minute fade in the song is like the anger that fades away after that moment of release.
“[The song has] such a good shape. It actually mimics human behavior very directly, ”Tetaz said.
He said the unique shape was part of the genius of the song.
“This is one of those huge expectations. In modern terms, she expects ‘the downside,’ Tetaz said.
“You got this big build up where you’re going” oh my god he’s so angry. Oh my god, what’s gonna happen? “
“And then all of a sudden he fulfills that great expectation in the strangest way – the biggest drums ever.
“And then it’s just, basically, it’s a big chorus and an exit, and that’s it.
“It’s very unusual in a song. Normally you’re a little teased in different ways, then you have something, then you come back to it.
“But In the Air Tonight isn’t like that. It’s just like a big wave.”
It’s all been a bunch of lies
Collins said he wrote “99.9 percent of the lyrics” on the fly while recording the demo. He just let the pain of his divorce flow from him in a monologue straight from his subconscious.
“I didn’t know what I was singing about,” he told the Classic Albums program.
Despite Collins’ insistence the song has no real meaning beyond its emotion, a sinister urban legend has arisen from the intrigue buried in its lyrics and overly literal reading of them.
The myth is that Collins wrote the song after witnessing an incident in which a friend drowned while a man refused to help him.
According to fact-checking website Snopes, other versions of the story allow Collins to track down the person who left his friend drowning, give them front row tickets to the concert he created In the Air Tonight then shine the spotlight on the person while he performed the song.
The caption was referenced in an episode of Family Guy, rapper Eminem mentions it in his song Stan, and Snopes lists a dozen variations of the same story – all purportedly detailing the real story behind In the Air Tonight.
Collins told the BBC that the urban myth is popular in America and is getting more and more boring for the musician.
“Every time I go back to America, the story gets Chinese whispers, it gets more and more elaborate,” he said.
I waited for this moment
The intrigue, the drum beat, the sound and the passion of the song all contributed to its longevity and helped make Collins one of the biggest stars of the 80s.
In The Air Tonight has made the top five in dozens of countries and has sold around five million copies worldwide, although it was squeezed out of the UK’s top spot by the posthumous bachelor of John Lennon, Woman.
Over the next two decades, he would have 28 top-50 UK singles, including three number 1s.
Simultaneously, his group Genesis also managed 22 top 50 singles in the UK.
Remarkably, In the Air Tonight has re-entered various charts around the world a dozen times, recently reaching No. 9 on Billboard’s Hot Rock and Alternative Songs chart in the US last year on the back of a reaction video. from YouTube to song.
But all that success, among other factors, helped spark a backlash that saw Collins fall out of favor and laugh at so in the middle of the road that his album covers should have had a white stripe instead of pictures of his. face.
Charges of tax exile and slang matches with Oasis’ Gallagher brothers didn’t help, and Collins’ career became a punchline for everything that sounded wrong in ’80s music.
He’s even used as an example in the American Psycho movie to illustrate serial killer Patrick Bateman’s love for ’80s superficiality over substance.
But in recent years, Collins’ back catalog has been re-evaluated.
Media outlets such as The New York Times, Rolling Stone and The Quietus have written lengthy articles in defense of Collins or, in the case of sports and culture website The Ringer, have asked the loaded question “Does this guy deserve it to be hated? “
Collins fans include Kanye West, Taylor Swift, and Lorde. He is held in high regard in hip-hop circles where his music is regularly sampled. And his talents as a drummer and singer have been championed by various corners of the music industry.
Among all the ups and downs of Collins’ career, In the Air Tonight has lasted.
It’s a rare song that on its own is the sound pioneer of an era, but it’s an even rarer song that continues to have an impact 40 years later.