“The career of Phil Collins is one, which, by any measure, stands among the most prolific, creative, and impressive in the history of modern music. It is a career that really has been many careers – drummer, singer, composer, producer – from art rock beginnings to huge pop stardom, from big band leader to soundtrack master. It has been an exceptional musical life spanning over three decades, some 100 million solo albums sold (250 million including his work with Genesis), seven Grammy Awards, and an enviable string of hits” (SHOF).
His “ascent to the status of one of the most successful pop and adult contemporary singers of the '80s and beyond was probably as much of a surprise to him as it was to many others. Balding and diminutive, Collins was almost 30 years old when his first solo single, ‘In the Air Tonight,’ became a number two hit in his native U.K. (the song was a Top 20 hit in the U.S.)” (Ruhlmann). “There was a time, of course, when Phil was ubiquitous and inescapable – one of the dominant musical presences across the entire planet” (SHOF). “Between 1984 and 1990, Collins had a string of 13 straight U.S. Top Ten hits” (Ruhlmann).
“While…songs like ‘In the Air Tonight,’ ‘Against All Odds,’ and ‘Another Day In Paradise’ ably represented the more serious side of Phil's work, such smashes as ‘Sussudio,’ ‘You Can't Hurry Love,’ and ‘Two Hearts’ helped establish a sunny, upbeat, and light-hearted public persona – one that proved hard to dilute” (SHOF).
The Early Years:
Phil Collins “got his first drum, one of those noisy tin ones, at the age of 5. His first proper kit came when he was 12, and whether in front of the mirror or the TV he would be drumming along to any music he could” (Russell).
“A natural performer Collins attended stage school” (Russell) and became “a child actor/singer who appeared as The Artful Dodger in the London production of Oliver! in 1964. (He also has a cameo in A Hard Day's Night, among other films” (Ruhlmann).
“He soon formed a band called The Real Thing and played his first gigs. He was playing with anyone he could, and eventually joined a group called The Freeholdafter being the only one to reply to their Melody Maker advert. The Freehold saw Collins make his recording debut with a self-penned number called Lying Crying Dying” (Russell).
“After a while, supporting John Walker of The Walker Brothers, Collins and his guitarist friend Ronnie Caryl formed Hickory who soon found themselves with a concept album, the backing of Phonogram, and a new name, Flaming Youth.
Their album Ark II, was premiered at the London Planetarium and received lots of favourable press, but musical differences and a lack of commercial success soon meant it was time to answer another Melody Maker ad, this time from a struggling young band from Surrey, called Genesis” (Russell).
“Genesis had been gigging up and down the country without much success, and were still recovering from the departure of guitarist Anthony Phillips. They had also decided a change of drummer was required and after an eye opening audition at Peter Gabriel's parents' house, Collins was in” (Russell).
“Playing for a while as a four piece, including the odd gig with Ronnie Caryl on guitar, Genesis soon felt the benefit of their new percussionist, his much needed sense of humour and an unlimited enthusiasm for playing injected a new energy into the group. As Tony Banks said ‘He was by far the best musician in the band.’ Then with the arrival of Steve Hackett on guitar the final piece was in place” (Russell).
“For the next five years Collins played drums, sang, wrote and arranged songs, played sessions, and generally helped Genesis become one of the leading lights in the Progressive rock field…He even had time to join jazz-fusion rockers Brand X, with whom he recorded several albums” (Russell).
Collins Takes the Lead:
“When Gabriel quit the group in 1975, …Collins stepped up to the microphone…A Trick of the Tail and its follow up Wind and Wuthering…put Collins well and truly in the spotlight” (Russell). By 1978, Collins had truly stepped into the lead role as Follow You, Follow Me would become Genesis’ first real hit. “By now he was writing more so it was only a matter of time before the solo career arrived” (Russell).
“In 1980 he played drums on Peter Gabriel's third solo album and at the singers request left his cymbals at home. The resulting 'in your face' bombastic drum sound was put to good use by Collins on his debut solo single In the Air Tonight” (Russell).
His first solo album, Face Value “made Collins an instant solo star” (Russell), but he didn’t abandon Genesis as they had continued success with a pair of album-rock-oriented albums bookending his debut solo album. 1980’s Duke launched Turn It on Again and Misunderstanding as rock staples, and 1981’s Abacab yielded hits Abacab, No Reply at All, and Man on the Corner.
Collins second solo outing, Hello, I Must Be Going, came in 1982, led by “an uptempo cover of the old Supremes song You Can't Hurry Love. Many old time Genesis fans found all this three minute pop song stuff hard to swallow, but the sales of both band and solo artist kept on rising. And as Collins once said ‘You don't wear the same clothes you wore ten years ago do you?’” (Russell).
“Now running two parallel careers at once, it seemed Collins was everywhere” (Russell). He won a Grammy for the song Against all Odds” (Russell), from the 1984 soundtrack of the same name. He also “dueted with Earth, Wind and Fire’s Phil Bailey for the Easy Lover single, which was another UK No.1 in Mar 85. He also had a US No.1 with Separate Lives, a duet with Marilyn Martin in Sep 85” (Russell).
In between the latter two songs, Collins released his third solo album, No Jacket Required, in 1985 and it proved to be the best-selling album of his career, fueled by two #1 hits and two more top tens in the U.S. – One More Night, Sussudio, Don’t Lose My Number, and Take Me Home.
“For the Live Aid concerts of 1985, he played a set at Wembley Stadium, jumped on The Concorde and flew to America, where he played in the much anticipated but, as it turned out, very disappointing Led Zeppelin reunion. Even Phil couldn't work miracles. He did however stamp his mark all over the Band Aid single ‘Do They Know its Christmas’” (Russell).
And Then Genesis Hit Big:
In 1986, Genesis reconvened for a follow-up to their 1983 multi-million selling eponymous album. That album saw the band’s first U.S. top 10 hit with That’s All. The follow-up album, Invisible Touch, landed five songs in the top five of the U.S. charts – the chart-topping Invisible Touch, Throwing It All Away, Tonight, Tonight, Tonight, Land of Confusion, and In Too Deep. It looked like everything Collins touched turned to gold. “Collins was one of the biggest stars around, either with Genesis or on his own” (Russell).
Two More Blockbusters – Solo and with Genesis:
Collins “starred in the 1988 movie Buster” (Collins) and sent two songs, A Groovy Kind of Love and Two Hearts, from the soundtrack to the top of the U.S. charts. “His next solo effort was released the following year, …But Seriously was again No.1 everywhere” (Russell), with four more top five U.S. hits, including #1 Another Day in Paradise as well as I Wish It Would Rain Down, Do You Remember?, and Something Happened on the Way to Heaven.
In 1991, “Genesis then had their biggest ever album. We Can't Dance sold over 15 million copies” (Russell) on the strength of songs No Son of Mine, I Can’t Dance, and Hold on My Heart. “The resulting tour filled the worlds biggest stadiums, and maintained the position as the world's top live act” (Russell).
Settling into His Solo Years:
By 1993, Collins had called it quits on his Genesis days, but wasn’t about to stop putting out solo albums. That year, he released Both Sides, his “first [solo] album not to produce a major hit single or go multi-platinum” (Russell).
1996’s Dance into the Light followed the same pattern. By now, Collins rock-oriented following was largely replaced by a new-found home at adult contemporary radio, where he continued to rake up major hits. The most notable of these was 1999’s You’ll Be in My Heart, from the Tarzan soundtrack which he spearheaded for Disney. The song piled up a whopping 19 weeks at the top of the adult contemporary chart, making it that chart’s biggest hit ever at the time. It also “earned him a prestigious Oscar award. They even threw in another Grammy and a Golden Globe” (Russell).
Collins’ “love of big band jazz resulted in an album of his own songs rearranged for big band, called, A Hot Night in Paris. It swung, got you snapping your fingers, but didn't really trouble the pop charts, though it charted high in the US Billboard Jazz Charts” (Russell).
Projects in the new millennium included 2002’s Testify, another Disney movie soundtrack (Brother Bear) in 2003, and a compilation album (Love Songs) in 2004.