I've always felt Phil Collins
gets a bit of a bad rap when it comes to his relevance as an important pop/rock artist of the '70s and '80s and beyond. He's never been a critical darling like Peter Gabriel
, the Genesis
frontman who preceded him and has always taken a stranger, more critically respected path. Nonetheless, I think his best work of the '80s consistently reveals a masterful songwriting sense and an impressive commitment to perfection and passion in his performances.
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At the advent of the '80s, both Phil Collins and his multiplatinum band, Genesis, had begun to employ horns vigorously and effectively in their best songs. This fine tune from 1981's Face Value
represents a great example of such instrumental diversification, but more than that it shines as one of Collins' most nifty and non-schmaltzy melodies of his long solo career. The singer's energetic and even somewhat forceful vocal performance helps to maximize the solid songwriting at work here, as both the chorus and lengthy bridge stand quite favorably next to almost any pop music the '80s had to offer.
Most rock music fans probably found far more merit in this dark and moody track from Face Value
than the singer's later '80s work, which, admittedly, favored sappy ballads. As a result, this tune continues to receive airplay on rock radio and as emotional accompaniment for sporting events. Furthermore, it retains a surprisingly powerful edge through its threatening, almost nasty tone that is highly unexpected from the generally amiable Collins ("If you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand"). But of course this song's main calling card has always been the opportunity for bitchin' air drums near the end.
Another drum-centered affair for Collins, this song also falls firmly in the rock category primarily because of its anger and intensity. However, it also retains a strong link to Collins' work with Genesis, as the opening keyboard strains highly recall that band's sound. All of these ingredients enhance yet another passionate vocal performance from Collins, and more importantly, the artist's arrangement of his melody - another memorable one - works absolute wonders. This song barely cracked the pop Top 40, which is particularly a shame if it had any influence on Collins' decision to soften his sound in the future.
Such smoothing of Collins' edges may seem apparent on this ballad, but luckily it stands as one of his best songs anyway. The track from the 1984 film of the same name turned out to be Collins' first No. 1 pop hit, and it is more than worthy of that position both in terms of popularity and quality. Collins has always had a gift for theatricality, and the fact that he had not used that talent for balladry until now might have just had to do with the fact that he hadn't worked up to it yet. After all, there's no cynical quest for pop success here, just a wrenching love song written, arranged and performed beautifully.
By the time 1985's smash hit No Jacket Required
was released, Collins had almost completely transformed himself from a rock artist to a full-fledged pop crooner. Nonetheless, this underrated tune helped him keep one foot in the former territory, mainly because of its power-chord-fueled yet melodic chorus. In the verses, Collins produces yet another Genesis-sounding gem of a melody, and the bridge (minus some ill-advised saxophone) finds a way to create a welcome detour that just makes the song better. Unfortunately, once again, pop success eluded this track, which may have urged Collins to tone down the guitars.
Even though I had a co-worker friend a few years back who annoyingly serenaded the entire office with a mocking rendition of this song's chorus, I still feel compelled to include it here in commemoration of its soaring pop music prowess. Once again, Collins scores nicely with a highly accessible melody that, along with some gentle, tinkling keyboards, allowed him maximum chart performance on Billboard's pop, adult contemporary and mainstream rock charts. Such sweeping appeal and versatility spills generously from the track's slowly building verse and then explodes into its perhaps excessively sing-along chorus.
For this atmospheric ballad from 1989's ...
, Collins made a smart (and serious) decision to enlist legendary guitarist Eric Clapton
to provide tasteful accompaniment. As usual, Collins delivers a memorably pleasant if unchallenging melody here, but what really makes the track special is the heartfelt arrangement that skillfully wrings every possible bit of emotion from the performance. Clapton certainly gets some of the credit for that, but really Collins deserves accolades for his consistent ability to overcome his somewhat middle-of-the-road tendencies with passion and veteran musician savvy.
Although this song didn't chart as a single until 1990, I'm going to squeeze it in for this list because
was released at the end of 1989 and I, for one, had certainly given it some thorough listening before the new decade began. I realize that does little for my retroactive coolness factor, but hell, some things are just hopeless anyway. As for the song, I remember it well as an evocative ballad that captured a universal sense of romantic longing, especially with the aid of its wistful music video. It also effectively marks the end of Collins' work as a rock artist, but at least it's no compromise of quality.