Phil Collins: In The Air Tonight

TDR Classic Song and Artist: PHIL COLLINS, "IN THE AIR TONIGHT." I've been thinking about Phil Collins and one of the Greatest Songs of the Golden Era of Rock, the 1981 Hit "In The Air Tonight." There are a few songs that the first time you heard them resonated on in your life, for me this was one. It's haunting, you can visualize a guy out in a car, maybe in light rain, Radio on, but there's something bugging him, he's been betrayed, he caught his wife cheating and wants revenge. There was some criticism of the theme at the time, but a lot of people could identify with his feelings.

Fortunately for Phil, "In The Air Tonight" was the first single of his first Solo Album, "Face Value," after leaving the band Genesis...when he made the move, several folks in the business thought he'd made a huge mistake leaving such a successful group, but they were quickly proved wrong. Phil wrote the tune himself and then partnered up with Hugh Padgham to produce it. What he had in his head was an atmospheric production inspired by the work of Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel, his predecessor in Genesis who had scored big solo. The track was a series of ominous chords played by a "Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 over a simple drum machine pattern (the Roland CR-78 Disco-2 pattern," with processed electric guitar sounds and vocoded vocals, "an effect which is increased on key words to add additional atmosphere."

Another effect had to do with the amazing drum sounds; Phil and Hugh used the talk-back effect on the Solid State Logic 4000 mixing board usually used by the engineer to talk back to the artists, because the mic can be far away or close and have the same volume because it's compressed. They had accidentally recorded some drums with it on and were blown away by the effect. Hugh immediately rewired the board to make the talk back totally usable for the session.

The Original Demo Track had a Drum Machine, but when Atlantic Head Ahmet Erdagun came to the Studio he said "Where's the Back Beat?" and suggested Phil have a Drum Crash at what's become known as the "Magic Break," that happens after the first 2 minutes releasing the musical tension and building to a Thundering final finish. Ozzy Osborne in a coherent moment has called the drum fill: "The best ever – it still sounds awesome."

"In The Air Tonight" was an instant hit going #2 in the U.K. and Top 20 in the U.S., but the digital single went 3X Platinum selling an incredible 3.5 Million down-loads. It was also a world-wide hit, but I don't have room for all the various countries numbers. I realize this has been quite a Technical Post, I did the research because there are many musicians following us and I know they'll be interested in how this particular recording was done, but I wonder if some of the other readers who love the music but don't care how it's created really feel about it. I'd like to invite your comments both yea and nay on this for future reference.

It was serendipitous that MTV was Brand New when the record was released in 1981 and the video directed by Stuart Orme received heavy play out of the box on the channel. "In The Air Tonight" is Phil Collins signature song, and here he is doing it Live in a terrific video with excellent picture and sound from his Farewell Tour. Rock On!


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