“In the Air Tonight” was Phil Collins first single, and could be argued that it is his most well-known song with the most incredible fiery drum solo that would set the standard of experimental rock and pop music for the rest of the 80’s.
“Well, if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand”, these are the exact words that start the first verse of “In the Air Tonight” and set the mysterious tone as well as the equally ambiguous and eerie mood of the song. “Well, I was there, and I saw what you did – I saw it with my own two eyes”. The song tells the story of Collins talking to an individual who he doesn’t trust, and how he wouldn’t even help in a life or death situation. “The hurt doesn’t show; but the pain still grows, it’s no stranger to you or me”, Collins is stating that they both know what pain is but just don’t show it. The song is 5:26 long and slowly but successfully tells a dark yet relatable story of betrayal and grief.
Collins wrote the lyrics spontaneously in a song writing session, he told The Rolling Magazine in 2016, despite the many urban legends and myths that were roaming around about the song when it was first released. Stories such as Collins watching a man who had attacked his own wife, drown. Or, in other versions Collins was only a young boy, and had watched a man drown in a river but was too far to help. However, the truth is that the lyrics were written when Collins felt heartbroken after his divorce with his first wife Andrea Bertorelli in 1980, which was what caused his year long hiatus from his previous band “Genesis” in 1979.
All the instruments in the song (except the violin, which was played by Shankar) were all played by Collins himself – from the synthesizer to the drums, which is arguably one the most famous drum solos in history. The song has been sampled in many other artists songs from Eminem’s “Stan” to “Oh Lord” by MiC LOWRY. It was also featured in the iconic 2007 Dairy Milk advert, which featured a gorilla playing the drum solo of the song.
The music video primarily features Collin’s face in black and white (which turns multi-coloured at the drum solo) singing the song, with the occasional cut to a shadowed figure. The video is extremely simple but has amassed over 100 million views on Youtube.
Release date: 9th January 1981
Songwriter/s: Phil Collins
Album: “Face Value” (1981)
Chart rankings: #2 in the UK, reached the top 10 in 13 other countries, and has sold over 3 million copies in the US.