|"In the Air Tonight"|
|Single by Phil Collins|
|from the album Face Value|
|"The Roof is Leaking"|
|Released||9 January 1981|
5:34 (album version)|
4:57 (single edit)
|Phil Collins singles chronology|
"In the Air Tonight" is the debut solo single by the English singer-songwriter and drummer Phil Collins. It was released as the lead single from Collins' debut solo album, Face Value, in January 1981.
Collins co-produced the single with Hugh Padgham, who became a frequent collaborator in the following years. The song was an instant hit, quickly climbing to No. 2 on the UK Singles chart but was held off the top spot by the posthumous release of John Lennon's "Woman". It was also an international hit, achieving top 10 status in Australia, New Zealand and several European territories, reaching No. 1 in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden. It peaked at No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, and was later certified Gold by the RIAA, representing 500,000 copies sold. The song's music video, directed by Stuart Orme, received heavy play on MTV when the new cable music video channel launched in August 1981. It remains one of Collins' best-known hits, often cited as his signature song, and is especially famous for his climactic drum break towards the end, which has been described as "the sleekest, most melodramatic drum break in history".
Collins wrote the song amid the grief he felt after divorcing his first wife Andrea Bertorelli in 1980. In a 2016 interview, Collins said of the song's lyrics: "I wrote the lyrics spontaneously. I'm not quite sure what the song is about, but there's a lot of anger, a lot of despair and a lot of frustration." In a 1997 BBC Radio 2 documentary, the singer revealed that the divorce contributed to his 1979 hiatus from Genesis until the band regrouped in October of that year to record the album Duke.
The lyrics of the song take the form of a dark monologue directed towards an unnamed person:
Well if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand
I've seen your face before, my friend, but I don't know if you know who I am
Well I was there and I saw what you did
I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin
I know where you've been
It's all been a pack of lies
The recording is notable for its atmospheric production and macabre theme. It has been described as being "at the vanguard of experimental pop" in 1981 and "a rock oddity classic", having been influenced by "the unconventional studio predilections of Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel". Musically, the song consists of a series of ominous chords played by a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 over a simple drum machine pattern (the Roland CR-78 Disco-2 pattern, plus some programming); processed electric guitar sounds and vocoded vocals, an effect which is increased on key words to add additional atmosphere. The mood is one of restrained anger until the final chorus when an explosive burst of drums releases the musical tension, and the instrumentation builds to a thundering final chorus.
Collins has described obtaining the drum machine specifically to deal with personal issues relating to his divorce through songwriting, telling Mix magazine: "I had to start writing some of this music that was inside me." He improvised the lyrics during a songwriting session in the studio: "I was just fooling around. I got these chords that I liked, so I turned the mic on and started singing. The lyrics you hear are what I wrote spontaneously. That frightens me a bit, but I'm quite proud of the fact that I sang 99.9 percent of those lyrics spontaneously."
Musically, it's an extraordinarily striking record, because almost nothing happens in it ... It's the drum sound in particular that's amazing. You don't hear it at all for the first two minutes of the song ... then there's that great doo-dom doo-dom doo-dom comes in, and the drums come in half way through the song, setting the template for all the Eighties drum songs after that. - Stuart Maconie
The means by which Collins attained the drum sound on this recording was long a source of mystery. The exact process was a result of serendipity: an unintended use of studio technology giving unexpectedly useful results.
In this case, the Solid State Logic 4000 mixing board had a "reverse talk-back" circuit (labeled on the board as "Listen Mic"). Normal "talkback" is a button that the mixing engineer has to press in order to talk to the recording musicians (the recording and the mixing parts of a studio are, otherwise, completely sonically isolated). Reverse talkback is a circuit (also button-activated) for the engineer to listen to musicians in the studio. In order to compensate for sound level differences--people can be close to the reverse talkback microphone or far off--this circuit has a compressor on it, which minimizes the differences between loud and soft sounds. While recording "Intruder" for his ex-bandmate Peter Gabriel's third solo album, at some point Collins started playing the drums while the reverse talkback was activated. Engineer Hugh Padgham was amazed at the sound achieved. Overnight, they rewired the board so that the reverse talkback could be recorded in a more formal manner. Later models of the SSL 4000 allowed the listen mic to be recorded with the touch of a button.
When recording engineer Padgham was brought in to help develop Collins' demos that would become Face Value they recreated the "Intruder" sound using the reverse talkback microphone as well as heavily compressed and gated ambient mics. Padgham continued working with Genesis for Abacab later in 1981 and the same technique (generally referred to as gated reverb) was used, and the powerful drum sound has become synonymous with later Genesis projects and Collins' solo career ever since.
The original single version of "In the Air Tonight" features extra drums that play underneath the song until the signature drum crash (referred to by fans as the "magic break") appears. These were added at the suggestion of Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun. In 2007, Collins wrote:
Ahmet came down to the final mix in the cutting room in New York (...) The drums don't come in until the end but Ahmet didn't know that at this point, because on the demo the drums hadn't come in at all; it was only drum machine all the way. And he was saying, "Where's the down beat, where's the backbeat?" I said, "The drums come in in a minute." "Yeah, you know that and I know that, but the kids don't know that; you've got to put the drums on earlier." So we added some drums to the mix and put it out as a single.
Speaking about the song's rapid ascension in the music charts, Collins wrote the following in 2007:
It was a surprise. The single came in at No. 36, I did Top of the Pops with Dave Lee Travis, and in one of the down moments he said, "This record is going to be a top three." I didn't believe him, because it had been made so haphazardly, but the next week, there it was at No. 3. And then Mark Chapman shot John Lennon and that was that.
An urban legend has arisen around "In the Air Tonight", according to which the lyrics are based on a drowning incident in which someone who was close enough to save the victim did not help them, while Collins, who was too far away to help, looked on. Increasingly embellished variations on the legend emerged over time, with the stories often culminating in Collins singling out the guilty party while singing the song at a concert. Collins has denied all such stories; he commented on the legends about the song in a BBC World Service interview:
I don't know what this song is about. When I was writing this I was going through a divorce. And the only thing I can say about it is that it's obviously in anger. It's the angry side, or the bitter side of a separation. So what makes it even more comical is when I hear these stories which started many years ago, particularly in America, of someone come up to me and say, "Did you really see someone drowning?" I said, "No, wrong". And then every time I go back to America the story gets Chinese whispers, it gets more and more elaborate. It's so frustrating, 'cause this is one song out of all the songs probably that I've ever written that I really don't know what it's about, you know?
You know the song by Phil Collins, "In the Air of the Night" [sic]
About that guy who coulda saved that other guy from drownin'
But didn't, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him?
The music video animates the photograph of Collins's face from the cover of the Face Value album, slowly fading in through the introduction until it fills the screen, singing the first chorus. The video then cuts to Collins sitting in an empty room at night. Twice a spectral figure appears in the window, but only the second time does Collins get up to look at it, then is shown walking to the one door of the room.
Collins's face returns for the second chorus. He is then shown leaving the room and entering a hallway full of doors. The first one is locked, then the second opens and Collins sees himself looking at the window again, only now the spectre has turned into his own reflection.
The third door is locked, but as the fourth one opens, the drum break sounds and the viewer is returned to Collins's face again, this time in thermal coloring, which gradually reverts to black and white. Collins recedes into the darkness as the song repeats and fades.
"In the Air Tonight" remains a popular selection on classic rock radio stations. It is the song most often associated with Collins' solo career, and he has performed it at many events, including Live Aid, where he played the song on a piano on the same calendar day in both Philadelphia and London. He also performed the song at The Secret Policeman's Ball, which was his first live performance as a solo artist. "I remember doing 'In the Air Tonight' at Live Aid," he recalled, "and [Pete] Townshend saying, 'Are you going to do that fucking song again?' as it was the only one I ever played."
"In the Air Tonight" has also been licensed extensively for use in films, television and advertisements for various products.
The song has been sampled by many artists, including Shaquille O'Neal in his song "Edge of Night", Nas in his song "One Mic", and Tupac Shakur on his tracks "Starin' Through My Rear View" and "Letter to the President". Other tracks which include samples of "In the Air Tonight" include DMX's "I Can Feel It", Krayzie Bone's "Silent Warrior", Joe Budden's "Rest in Peace (In the Air)", Sean Kingston's "Can You Feel It", Young Buck's "New York City", Big Audio Dynamite's "Innocent Child", Lil' Kim's "In the Air Tonite", Kesha's "Love Into the Light", and Av LMKR's "In The Air".
It was used in 2009 by Canadian rapper Roi Heenok in his song "La Mama Coca."
According to video game music composer David Wise, he sampled the percussion track of "In the Air Tonight" for "Bayou Boogie", a track in the 1995 SNES game Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest.
It was also sampled by MiC LOWRY on their single "Oh Lord".
The song sampled by The Overall Ole in the song "Gig Paty Gig!".
U.S. author Mohja Kahf obtained permission to cite two lines from the song in her novel, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (Perseus Books, 2006). When the novel's protagonist, a young Syrian American woman named Khadra who is coming of age during the 1970s and 1980s in America, performs the Muslim ritual pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca and views the Ka'ba for the first time, the author writes that: "Khadra tried to keep the joyous talbiya [ritual chant] in her mind and on her tongue: Here I am, O my Lord, Here I am! Labbaik, allahumma, labbaik! But she kept getting it crossed with Phil Collins in her head crooning, 'I can feel it coming in the air tonight, Oh Lo-ord ... I've been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lo-ord ...'"
VSK102 UK Single Release (Martin H)
Sleeve includes a black and white 12 page cartoon storyboard drawn by Collins' brother Clive Collins.
A cover of the song appears on the Nonpoint album Recoil and in the film Miami Vice (2006), and a video was made to promote the track using clips from the film. Nonpoint's version was also used in teasers for the fifth season of Dexter in 2010.
the single's place in 1981 at the vanguard of experimental pop
... Phil Collins' 1981 soft-rock classic 'In the Air Tonight.'(subscription required)