INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Guardian DECEMBER 3, 2013 - by Dave Simpson
IS PHIL COLLINS THE GODFATHER OF POPULAR CULTURE?
From Joy Division and Brian Eno to the Cadbury's gorilla, the former Genesis drummer's vast influence far outweighs the derision he frequently attracts.
Few pop figures have become as successful and yet reviled as Phil Collins. Last week's news that the "housewives' choice" local radio staple was considering a return to music brought a predictable chorus of derision. "Please God no!" pleaded one Guardian commenter. However, it's about time we recognised Collins's vast influence as one of the godfathers of popular culture. Here are some reasons why:
Phil pioneered minimalist electronica - Many people may think of Phil Collins as a balding ballady doyen of pop slush, but he's one of pop's key pioneers. James Blake's minimalist electro-soul album may have won this year's Mercury Music prize, but Phil mixed anguish, stripped-down synths and drum programming as long ago as 1981's Face Value. Blake's eerie, lonely Limit To Your Love is basically Phil's If Leaving Me Is Easy with postmodernist knobs on, while the Mercury winner's recent single Retrograde is surely a distant relative of Phil's In The Air Tonight.
The "Phil Collins drum sound" is a popular music staple - The "gated reverb" drum sound was first developed when Phil played on Peter Gabriel's third album: engineer Hugh Padgham gave Gabriel's drumming an electronic boost. Subsequently taken into the mainstream with In the Air Tonight, the audio-processed snare drum is among the most widely imitated and sampled in pop history, heard on virtually every record made in the '80s. You can even hear a very similar effect on Joy Division's revered 1980 album, Closer, although admittedly this is more likely down to producer Martin Hannett's own experiments than Ian Curtis and pals harbouring a hitherto secret love of Phil.
Phil's drumming has inspired everyone from Led Zeppelin to a gorilla - Phil was recently prevented from picking up the sticks by a spinal injury, but even shifting two-hundred-and-fifty million albums of AOR (album-oriented rock) to fans of slushy ballads hasn't stopped him being recognised as a drumming great. Sticksmen as diverse as the jazz drummer Buddy Rich, Foo Fighters' Taylor Hawkins and Led Zeppelin's two drumming Bonhams (the late John and his son Jason) have praised his genius behind the kit, whether in Genesis or in the 1970s jazz-fusion band Brand X. Phil is also surely the only drummer to have influenced a tub-thumper from another species - when In the Air Tonight appeared in a 2007 chocolate ad featuring a drumming ape.
Phil starred in one of the most pivotal pop films ever - It's a blink-and-you-miss-him moment, but Phil's influence on popular culture begins as early as 1964, when, as a child, he played a part in a Beatles film. Thirteen-year-old Phil was among the hordes screaming at the Fab Four in A Hard Day's Night, and his association with the group ever didn't end there: in 1970 - aged nineteen - he played congas on George Harrison's song The Art Of Dying.
He almost starred in one of the best-loved children's classics - Phil was among the children storming the castle in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Alas, footage including him didn't make the final cut - because he was wearing an unsightly bandage, and not because the director knew that he would go on to record Easy Lover.
Phil saved Genesis from the prog-rock abyss - When Peter Gabriel surprised the rock world by quitting Genesis in 1975, the band were left facing an impending army of punk rockers laughing at their flares and the prospect of having to replace a gifted singer-songwriter who wore a fox's head. However, up stepped our Phil from the drum stool to the microphone. Out went grandiose album tracks with funny names such as Harold The Barrel and in came pop hits such as Follow You, Follow Me, while the band outraged their hardcore following by appearing on Top Of The Pops.
Phil is a godfather of avant-garde rock and ambient music - If Phil never records another note (put those arms down, please), he can rest having played on some groundbreaking albums. He drummed on Brian Eno's avant-rock Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) and played some beautifully minimal stuff on Eno's Another Green World and Before And After Science. You can even hear him on Eno's Music For Films, and given that the ambient king once told his fellow baldie that he had reused his drum sounds "about eight hundred times", there could even be ghosts of Phil floating about somewhere in Eno's epic productions for U2 and Coldplay.
Phil's music has spanned a multitude of genres - Phil can drum in any style from big band to hard rock, and his repertoire and influence take in everything from punk to heavy metal. He's played with Thin Lizzy and Robert Plant, inspired Public Image Ltd (who adapted his drum sound wholesale on 1981 post-punk The Flowers of Romance) and produced Adam Ant. Other unlikely artists touched by the hand (or stick) of Phil include John Cale, Robert Fripp and John Martyn. Most bizarrely, Genesis were the primary influence on the Australian prog band Fraternity, whose singer, Bon Scott, would later join AC/DC. Yes, even Whole Lotta Rosie may contain traces of Phil's DNA.
Phil inspired a classic scene in American Psycho - One of the most darkly hilarious scenes in the film of Bret Easton Ellis's controversial novel finds serial-killing AOR obsessive Patrick Bateman instructing two prostitutes to perform for him while he dissects our man's music with meticulous precision:
"Do you like Phil Collins? I've been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that, I really didn't understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual. It was on Duke where Phil Collins' presence became more apparent. I think Invisible Touch is the group's undisputed masterpiece. It's an epic meditation on intangibility. At the same time, it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding three albums. Christy, take off your robe"
Phil is an icon of American rap and R&B - And, of course, as has been widely made known for the past decade, Phil has become one of the most hallowed icons of black American urban music. Urban Renewal, the 2001 tribute album (you read that correctly) to the great man, finds the likes of Lil' Kim, Kelis and the Wu-Tang Clan man Ol' Dirty Bastard paying unlikely homage to our man. Surreal as this seems, our American counterparts are baffled by the criticism he receives: they grew up listening to Phil's 1980s and 1990s stuff on MTV and then sampled it in hip-hop and R&B. Indeed, it's been said that by subtly changing the back beat, even some of Phil's slushiest ballads can be transformed into classic-sounding hip-hop.