The Heckler

The Heckler: those who doubt the brilliance of Phil Collins are snobs

Don’t they realise pop music is supposed to be naff?

12 December 2015

9:00 AM

12 December 2015

9:00 AM

Three boos for those rotten spoilsports who started an online petition against Phil Collins coming out of retirement (there’s already enough suffering in the world, they said). Fools. Don’t they realise pop music is supposed to be naff? It’s the soundtrack to our tawdry lives. How could it be anything but schmaltzy? Don’t they know there’s nothing quite so uncool as a bloke with really cool taste in music? Like a large penis, a large record collection is something that only impresses other men.

Phil Collins fulfils all the basic job requirements of a middle-aged, middle-of-the-road rock star. He writes undemanding songs about falling in and out of love. He can carry a tune. He can bash out a few chords on the piano. Unlike most pop stars, he doesn’t take himself too seriously, so why is he so derided? I reckon it’s because his best songs are about male heartbreak, and heartbreak is something no man likes admitting to. A tearful girl is a romantic heroine. A tearful man is a drunken loser.

Like millions of menopausal saddoes, my heart was broken to the strains of Phil’s first solo album, Face Value. This supremely soppy LP went quintuple platinum in the UK and sold millions more in the US, yet I’ve never seen a copy of it in any record collection other than my own. What happened to all those records? Where is everybody hiding them? The other day, I spotted a CD of his Greatest Hits in my local charity shop. I was too embarrassed to buy it (it felt like buying a porn mag) but when I went back the next day, it had already gone.

The reason Phil sells so many records (I feel we’re now on first name terms) is that his suburban ballads are really rather good. They don’t ask too much of us. They’re like Pizza Express or Pret a Manger. And while most of them are fairly forgettable, the odd number is a masterpiece: ‘If Leaving Me Is Easy’; ‘Against All Odds’; ‘Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away’… Admit it: if these songs were by Lou Reed, you’d love them (or admit to loving them).

Funnily enough, black people aren’t nearly so hung up about Phil Collins as white folk. ‘Easy Lover’, Phil’s collaboration with the African American soul singer Philip Bailey, went to number one in the UK and number two in the US (it was kept off the top by Foreigner’s ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ — now THERE’S an act to be embarrassed about). Not long ago, I was driving home with a black friend of mine who works as a bouncer when ‘In The Air Tonight’ came on the radio. I thought he’d change the station. He asked me to turn it up.

Even Phil’s fiercest detractors admit he’s a bloody good drummer, and unlike almost every other pop star he can actually act a bit. (Trivia question: what do Phil Collins and Robbie Williams have in common? They’ve both played the Artful Dodger.) Back in the last millennium I blagged a trip to LA to interview Phil for the BBC about his title role in the Great Train Robbers movie Buster opposite Julie Walters (it’s a fairly awful film, but Collins, like Walters, was superb). Interviewing someone doesn’t really count as meeting them, let alone getting to know them, but you can still tell a lot about them by the way they behave. Phil wasn’t remotely starry. He was down-to-earth and matter-of-fact — rather like his music. Like microwaved meals and shopping centres, there is a place for this sort of stuff in the pantheon of British culture, and anyone who says there isn’t is an awful snob and a crashing bore.

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Show comments
  • usernamed

    HA! I think if he wasn’t so self-important as a man then people would warm to him more, put this together to explain:

    • Caractacus

      He’s the third best selling solo artist in history, won Oscars, Grammys, Brits, Golden Globes, dozens of other awards. I’ve been a fan of his for 23 years, and I’ve never heard him be self important. Not once.

  • Callipygian

    so why is he so derided?
    Because he wrote about how he could feel it coming in the air tonight. *That’s* why.

    • polidorisghost

      What am I doing here?
      I’m just gonna have to listen to that song.
      Glad you liked the flowers C.

      • Callipygian

        Which song? ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ or ‘Double Vision’? The latter is a good rocker.

        I always love flowers. My hubby brings them home all the time. Doesn’t trim them, or put them in the vase with water & feed, though: that’s left to me. Sometimes I cut a rose or two from the garden but we need to plant new bushes as there are only two and they don’t produce much. Most of my flowers are not really the cutting kind (bougainvilleas, shrimp plant, canna lilies, etc.).

  • aj1880

    Great article. I am always surprised when people think all Phil did was love songs. Solo, he did a lot of great stuff that is not in any way a traditional love song but rather solid, unique pop songs. A few examples: I Missed Again, In the Air Tonight, I Don’t Care Anymore, Take Me Home, I Cannot Believe It’s True. When you listen through Genesis post-Gabriel, he sang, wrote and/or co-wrote tons of songs that are downright non-mainstream. Mama, songs off Duke, songs off ABACAB. There are too many to mention. Everyone thinks Genesis were only “weird” when Gabriel was in the band, but they were pretty weird, ever-changing post-Gabriel. My point is, Phil both solo and in Genesis has a pretty diverse mix of mainstream love songs, funky pop songs and weird prog stuff. Very diverse. People bust his chops because he’s just being himself – no artifice, no illusions. He has so many accomplishments it’s pretty astounding. And as a drummer, forget it. Anything Brand X. Google Phil Collins Firth of Fifth drum cam. The guy is beyond an amazing drummer. Neal Peart said he learned to play weird time signatures by watching Phil. Enough said. The man is amazing. So excited he’s coming out of retirement.

  • siphil

    You talk about Foreigner being embarrassing (they’re not, Lou Gramm has one of the best voices in modern rock) and confess to liking Phil Collins’ godawful dirges.

    You are one mixed up guy…

  • IainRMuir

    This sort of thing always amuses me.

    My preference is mainly classical but, in some quarters, I can barely open my mouth before someone accuses me of being a snob. Any snobbery on my part is nothing compared with divisions within the pop/rock world.

  • rosebery

    A reason to not like Phil Collins is his approach to marriage v career – plenty of web references to this. A reason to appreciate his talent – he is/was rate very highly as a drummer, especially by other drummers. He is also a passable singer – I saw him him come front stage, in front of the closed curtain, at a car crash of a Genesis gig in the early 70s. Whatever was going on behind him, he joked a bit and sang a bit, unaccompanied. Car crash Genesis gigs were not uncommon in those days. In the 80s I had the seemingly obligatory copies of No Jacket Required and Easy Lover so, on balance, I suppose I’m a fan.

    • Caractacus

      Every single member of Genesis put their career before their marriage and they all suffered because of it. Peter Gabriel had a nervous breakdown over it. Steve Hackett just upped and walked.

      They were young and in the end their hard work paid off. Phil is the third best selling solo artist in history. Genesis in the top ten best selling bands in history. And his marriage woes gave us some of the best breakup songs ever. You can’t listen to those songs and think he actively wanted those things to happen.

  • MikePage

    Pop isn’t what you describe. According to some measures, Enya has sold as many albums in the US as Collins, but you don’t rush to her defence. Quite right.

    This kind of stuff is mashed potato music: nothing wrong with it, part of a balanced diet. But if someone lived on it, you’d be right in suspecting they don’t really like food.

  • UncleTits

    How can we tell that this article was written by someone with all the social anxieties of a metrosexual? His main issue with Phil Collins, and why he probably thinks that he is being brave by bigging up this multi-platinum selling artist, is the ever-impending metrosexual threat of social-ostracism for liking someone who is ‘out’. William, you didn’t gain any credibility for belittling the man with that “he can carry a tune” bollox.

    Surely the fact that Philip Bailey topped the charts with Collins is down to the excellent song and also for the same reason that his excellent band “Earth, Wind and Fire” were such a massive success: White people are not hung up about Black musicians. And, guess what, Black folks come in all shapes and sizes and many of them like white artists too. Dear me.

  • hohum

    I blame the BBC. Radio 1 takes itself far too seriously these days especially after they axed “Top of the Pops” and got rid of smashy and nicey DJs.

  • hervicus

    The best Phil Collins albums are Duke and Abacab, where more varied songwriting inputs are also ably blended into the mix by his Genesis colleagues Banks and Rutherford.

  • Caractacus

    I couldn’t agree more. Phil’s my hero. I first heard his music when I was 9 years old and he gave me the keys to understanding music and my current music collection (currently taking up the best part of 6 terabytes, covering literally everything). The man’s an amazing writer, singer and drummer and he’s still just a cheeky cockney modest, hard working sparra. Video on Youtube of him performing with the school band at his son’s school in a free concert for the kids, Great stuff. I saw him in his First Final Farewell concert and he blew my mind and hopefully now I’ll be able to see the Second Final Farewell concert too.

    Plus, his coming out of retirement means the Holy Grail is now possible once again, a full Genesis reunion. Please guys. We’re waiting.

  • Lisette Muntslag

    I love Phil Collins…timeless music and the best drummer ever….music that washes the dust of everyday life from my soul….his brilliance inspired me in more ways than one….thank you lord for his brilliance….too bad society doesn’t make them like that anymore…..

  • wyclif

    Do you like Phil Collins?