Phil Collins dominated the ’80s. For a while, you couldn’t turn on a TV or radio without hearing his voice or seeing his face. And it made him hated. People called him smug, his pop sterile, and his ordinary bloke persona insincere. It didn’t stop them from buying his records though. His hits defined the decade – cheesy though they may have been, they were also super sophisticated, with a richness of sound and a proficiency in instrumentation that knocked spots of the competition. These days, he’s still dividing public opinion as much as ever. His consolation? 150 million worldwide album sales. Love him or hate him, these are the 10 best Phil Collins songs of all time.
10. Dance Into the Light
As The Guardian writes, Collins was a latecomer to the musical globetrotting phase. A full 10 years after Paul Simon threw down the gauntlet with his career-defining album Graceland, Collins decided to take a stab at world music with Dance Into the Light. It’s not quite as good as anything on Graceland, but it’s still an excellent effort, with a celebratory horn-driven reggae swing that’s impossible not to bob along to.
9. Don’t Lose My Number
Say what you like about the man, Phil Collins knows how to craft a pop song. 1985’s Don’t Lose My Number is build around one of the chewiest hooks of his (and probably anyone else’s) career. The lyrics, which Collins has admitted to being improvised, are intriguing, even if no one, including Collins, has a clue about what they mean. And then there’s that unforgettable melody. Despite not being released as a single in the UK, it was a hit in the US, peaking at No. 4 on the charts.
8. Take Me Home
The fourth single from No Jacket Required might not be much more than a repeating drum pattern and some simple chord progressions, but its simmering emotional power (not to mention some excellent support from Peter Gabriel and Sting on backing vocals) elevates it to greatness. Its lyrics, which were inspired by “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” tell the story of a patient in a mental institution who dreams of freedom. Released at the peak of Collins’ ’80s popularity, it sailed to No.7 on the Billboard Hot 100.
7. This Must Be Love
As Medium writes, This Must Be Love came at a bittersweet moment in Collins’ life. His first marriage was ending and he’d fallen for the woman who’d shortly become his second wife. The song captures his cautious optimism as he moves forward with the new relationship. The fact the relationship crashed and burned a few years later is irrelevant: Collins didn’t know it would at the time, and with lyrics like “Happiness is something I never thought I’d feel again/But now I know/It’s you that I’ve been looking for,” none of us would have suspected either.
6. I Don’t Care Anymore
Phil Collins’ love life has been nothing if not eventful. He divorced one wife by fax (allegedly) and reunited with his third wife after their divorce only to issue an eviction notice against her after she secretly married another man. But the first cut is the deepest, at least judging by his second LP, Hello, I Must Be Going. Like the rest of the album, I Don’t Care Anymore focuses on Collins’ acrimonious divorce from first wife Andrea Bertorelli. And boy, is he feeling bitter. “‘Cos I remember all the times I tried so hard,” he sings. “And you laughed in my face ‘cos you held all the cards/ I don’t care anymore.” It’s a punch in the guts, with Collins showing his impressive talent by playing every instrument bar guitar.
5. Easy Lover
In 1981, Earth, Wind, and Fire contributed to Collins’ debut album, Face Value. In 1984, the band’s singer Philip Bailey teamed up with Collins again on Easy Lover. Despite its cheesy video, it helped endear Collins to a new audience. “The hip-hop brigade fell in love with me after ‘Easy Lover,’ he later recalled. “They were like, ‘Where’d that come from? That ain’t black music and that ain’t white music. That’s kind of an interesting color of beige”. Released on Bailey’s 1984 album Chinese Wall, it scored the duo a No.2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
According to Rolling Stone, Collins came up with the name Sussudio while he was improvising lyrics with a drum machine. “I kinda knew I had to find something else for that word,” he said. “Then I went back and tried to find another word that scanned as well as ‘sussudio,’ and I couldn’t find one.” So he stuck with Sussudio, even though really, he should have gone with 1999, so similar is it to Prince’s 1982 Top 20 hit of the same name. Similarities aside, it’s a pitch-perfect record.
3. Another Day in Paradise
It was only fitting that the ’80s, a decade so thoroughly dominated by Phil Collins, closed with one of his songs at No.1. And what a song. On Another Day in Paradise, Collins stops bleating on about his own problems and starts tackling societies. Inspired by seeing hordes of people living out of cardboard boxes in Washington, D.C., Collins implores the listener not to ignore those in need. He does it with the help of David Crosby, who adds some typically lovely backing vocals to Collins’ own.
2. Against All Odds
Against All Odds was recorded for the 1984 Jeff Bridges movie of the same name. Strangely enough, Collins’ former Genesis bandmates Peter Gabriel and Mike Rutherford also contributed songs to the movie. Not that many people remember though. Against All Odds overshadowed every single other song on the soundtrack. In the end, it even managed to overshadow the film. A No. 2 Billboard Hot 100 hit, it went on to pick up an Oscar nomination. It didn’t win, but that’s what happens when you go up against Stevie Wonder.
1. In the Air Tonight
In the Air Tonight was Collins’ first solo hit. Some people have claimed it was written after the singer watched a man refuse to save another man from drowning. The truth is, as usual, more prosaic – he improvised the lyrics while playing around with a drum machine at home. He aims a few missiles at his ex-wife, but there’s no overarching theme. Neither does there need to be. Collins’ gift for melody was so strong at that time, he could have sung the telephone directory and turned it into a hit. And then, of course, there’s that drum break. “That’s going to be on my headstone,” he’s quipped. “He came. He wrote ‘In the Air Tonight.’ He. . . died.” He’s got a point. For all the hits that came before and all the hits that came after, In the Air Tonight remains his most enduring and greatest achievement