Deep Album Cuts Vol. 121: Phil Collins

This week Phil Collins is kicking off the U.S. leg of his Not Dead Yet Tour, a long-awaited and perhaps final return to the stage. After his incredible ubiquity throughout the '80s, Phil Collins's solo work got a pretty bad rap for a long time, compared to his work with Genesis and especially compared to his former bandmate Peter Gabriel's solo career (I did a Peter Gabriel deep cuts playlist a while back and want to do one of both eras of Genesis at some point).

Collins's reputation has bounced back somewhat over the years, but I think a lot of it has to do with "In The Air Tonight" and little else, much in the same way the long pop culture shelf life of "Don't Stop Believin'" lifted Journey's overall popular standing but ultimately hasn't been about much more than that song. As we get decades and decades out from the time period in which an act had many many hits, I think they tend to get boiled down more and more to one particularly beloved song. Someone will even call them one hit wonders someday. But Phil Collins had a lot of hits, and the songs that weren't hits were more interesting than they're often given credit for.

Phil Collins Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Thunder And Lightning
2. Behind The Lines
3. The Roof Is Leaking
4. Droned
5. Hand In Hand
6. It Don't Matter To Me
7. Like China
8. Do You Know, Do You Care?
9. Only You And I Know
10. Inside Out
11. Who Said I Would
12. I Don't Wanna Know
13. Find A Way To My Heart
14. Saturday Night And Sunday Morning
15. We're Sons Of Our Fathers
16. That's What You Said
17. Don't Get Me Started
18. Blame It On The Sun

Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 from Face Value (1981)
Tracks 6, 7 and 8 from Hello, I Must Be Going! (1982)
Tracks 9, 10, 11 and 12 from No Jacket Required (1985)
Tracks 13 and 14 from ...But Seriously (1989)
Track 15 from Both Sides (1993)
Track 16 from Dance Into The Light (1996)
Track 17 from Testify (2002)
Track 18 from Going Back (2010)

As someone who grew up exclusively playing drums in bands, and then eventually started messing around with keyboards and drum machines and making music on my own, I relate heavily to Phil Collins. But I don't think any drummer-turned-frontman besides maybe Dave Grohl can really identify with just how unlikely the ascent of Phil Collins was. This is a guy who joined a rising prog rock band for their 3rd album, reluctantly took over lead vocals from their departing frontman for their 7th album, quietly put together a solo album after their 10th album, and then spent the next decade juggling two phenomenally successful careers. And all this without what anyone would consider the voice or face of an obvious pop star.

The Phil Collins solo records started out pretty musically distinct from Genesis records, although the differences got more and more negligible by the time that No Jacket Required and Invisible Touch ruled the pop charts throughout 1985 and 1986. The best example of that is "Behind The Lines," a song first recorded by Genesis on Duke and then again by Collins a year later for Face Value. Working on the Genesis track, Collins said, "we ran the tape back at double speed, and suddenly this other song appeared." Reimagining it as an upbeat funk track, he hired Earth, Wind & Fire's horn section for the Face Value version, and "Behind The Lines" kind of helped create the funky minimal Phil Collins solo sound.

I wanted to preserve the whole run from "Behind The Lines" to "Hand In Hand" because it's a really cool, ambitious little suite for side 1 of a big multiplatinum album. In 4 tracks, you go from the disco revamp of a prog rock song to a desolate ballad featuring banjo (and guitar from Eric Clapton) to an odd experimental track with violin and tamboura to a big uplifting instrumental featuring a children's choir. A lot of different stylistic ground is covered throughout Collins's records, but that stretch on Face Value is really the best showcase of his unique talents. "Saturday Night And Sunday Morning" is another one of his best jazzy instrumentals. ...But Seriously was released in 1989, the year after CDs began to outsell vinyl, and the album's CD release featured 2 songs not available on the LP. That means that nearly half of the people who bought the album at the time didn't hear "Saturday Night And Sunday Morning," making it a particularly deep cut.

"Hand In Hand" and "It Don't Matter To Me" are the biggest Collins live staples out of his album cuts, and "Who Said I Would" has appeared in a lot of setlists this year. "Like China" amuses me a lot because his British accent is so pronounced on just that song that you realize how much he's singing in a fake American accent on nearly everything else. "Inside Out" was one of my favorite Phil Collins songs growing up, and I was surprised to realize that it was not one of No Jacket Required's 4 huge official singles. It just charted in the top 10 of the U.S. rock chart as a non-single, when I supposed rock stations considered it a more palatable alternative to pop-leaning singles like "Sussudio" and "Don't Lose My Number."

Of course, as Phil Collins's career went on, a lot of the criticisms about his music being bland or overly sentimental started to be a little more true. But there are some pretty nice songs on the later records. The only album he's made in the last 15 years, Going Back, was an album dedicated entirely to '60s soul covers, much to the chagrin of people who always hated his "You Can't Hurry Love" cover. But I think Phil Collins has always come across as really genuine in his love of R&B and put his own personal spin on it, and it felt right to close the mix with "Blame It On The Sun," which was also on my Stevie Wonder deep cuts playlist (much like another song appeared on both my Stevie and George Michael playlists).
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