EntertainmentMusicPhil Collins, from genesis to stardom

Phil Collins, from genesis to stardom

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Although Hounslow was an unknown and remote suburb, being born a few kilometers from the center of London allowed the adolescent Phil Collins to know and experience the great musical and creative activity of the sixties. In a breeding ground from which Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Who or The Rolling Stones were born, Collins was a drummer who would soon find a band that needed his services.

After trying his luck in groups like The Freehold or Flaming Youth -bands that ended up disappearing-, Collins found himself one morning in 1970 reading the newspaper: “Genesis is looking for a new drummer”. That ad changed his life.

Genesis a la sombra by Peter Gabriel

The progressive rock band Genesis had formed in 1967. By the time Phil Collins joined as drummer in 1970, the group had already released two studio albums under the talents of the brilliant Peter Gabriel, leader of Genesis. Before Gabriel’s restlessness and experimentation made him embark on a solo path, they recorded albums on an annual basis: Nursery Crime (1971, the first with Collins on drums), Foxtrot (1972), Selling England by the Pound (1973 , the band’s first big hit) and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974, another hit). Later, Peter Gabriel left the group he had founded, causing a shock among the band’s followers.

In the shadow of Peter Gabriel, Genesis became one of the most important groups in progressive rock. The albums from the 1967-1975 period are a perfect example of this musical genre. Selling England by the Pound  has been chosen as the sixth best progressive rock album in history according to Rolling Stone magazine , which in its list of Best Progressive Rock Albums also places The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in ninth place and  Foxtrot in the fourteenth. Genesis competes on these lists with other great bands like Pink Floyd, Yes, Jethro Tull, Rush, King Crimson or Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

In his early years in Genesis, Phil Collins was the group’s drummer, and provided backing vocals for several songs on both studio albums and in concert. He was occasionally the main vocalist, in songs like ‘More Fool Me’ or ‘For Absent Friends’. The 800,000 copies sold of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway followed a world tour that ended after 104 concerts between November 1974 and May 1975. In August the soul of the band, Peter Gabriel, decided to start a solo career.

Leader of Genesis, the global band

The controversial departure of Peter Gabriel is a topic that lingers in the conversation today. It is possible that many find it hard to understand that the divorce ended on good terms, and that the relationship between Gabriel and the rest of Genesis was and is good. Sure there were differences at the time, with a group of 20-somethings experimenting musically, but it wasn’t a troublesome process like it was in (many) other rock bands.

After spending several months looking for a vocalist, the Genesis realized that they had the perfect voice at home. They had received four hundred responses to their announcement that they were looking for a singer, and at many of the auditions Phil Collins acted as backup singer for the candidates. In October 1975, recording the album A Trick of the Tail , they decided that this great voice had to come out of the background and let itself be illuminated by the spotlights: Collins would be the new lead vocalist of Genesis.

In 1977, after publishing Wind & Wuthering , a new problem arose for the group: guitarist Steve Hackett left the band. Again without bad feelings or discussions, but after all it meant two important losses in just two years. Far from disintegrating, the band decided to continue, and did so with an album with an aptly titled: …And Then There Were Three… , from 1978. This album -the third in the Collins era- gave Genesis their first Top 10 single . on the British music charts: the catchy ‘Follow You, Follow Me’. A new sound was born. The eighties were approaching and Genesis was going to find the key to commercial success.

After publishing  …And Then There Were Three… , Genesis began a path to success that seemed to have no end. Each album they presented was a major success. If with Peter Gabriel sales had never reached a million copies per album, with Collins they were all going to exceed that figure. After a world tour and a year off, in 1980 they welcomed the new decade with Duke , the album in which Collins definitively established himself as the soul of the group. The visual and stage shows that Gabriel used to put on in concerts were replaced by the monologues, jokes and stories that Phil Collins himself told.

With Phil Collins as leader, Genesis left progressive rock aside to embrace a much more commercial pop-rock. During the Peter Gabriel era the albums had been much more conceptual and the lyrics much deeper. Even so, the Collins era not only left catchy melodies and best-selling records, but also some very critical messages like in ‘Jesus He Knows Me’ (1991) and others full of mystery like in ‘Home By The Sea’ (1983), a song that talks about a thief who breaks into a house and gets trapped in it, surrounded by ghosts.

The eighties were a period of impressive musical production by Phil Collins, who seemed to live in a constant state of divine inspiration. He is the artist who placed the most singles in the Top 40 of the music charts during that decade. The list is endless. And in fact he was so inspired that he was able to start and maintain a solo career while continuing his songwriting activity with Genesis. He was made of gold.

Solo career: the rhythm of the 80s

Few artists have managed to do what Phil Collins. In 1981 he published a new album with Genesis, Abacab , a commercial success (more than five million copies sold), and also his first solo album, Face Value , which reached seven million copies. This album included the mythical ‘In the Air Tonight’, Collins’ first number one (the first of an endless list that spans over ten years).

During the eighties the English singer maintained an intense productive activity: publishing solo albums, with Genesis, making successful collaborations and even composing soundtracks. In 1983 his Hello, I Must Be Going! included the move ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, a new number one. That year Genesis released a self-titled album that was close to ten million records sold. In 1984 Phil Collins composed the tender and unforgettable ‘Against All Odds’ for the film of the same name and won a Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Performance. The same year, together with Philip Bailey, he released the single ‘Easy Lover’, a true commercial and popular success, with more than two million copies sold.

And then came the 1985/1986 season. It is impossible to find an artist who has produced such successful material and sold so much in such a short time. In February 1985 Phil Collins released his third solo album, No Jacket Required , and in June 1986, together with Genesis, Invisible Touch . Both titles, two essentials from the eighties, and two of the best-selling records in history. And both signed by the same man.

No Jacket Required quickly won all the Grammys that could be won (Album of the Year, Production of the Year, Best Vocalist…) and sold millions of copies around the world (currently it has already exceeded 26 million). He produced singles that reached the top of the music charts such as ‘Sussudio’, ‘One More Night’ or ‘Take Me Home’. The tour that followed the release of No Jacket Required took Collins to 85 concerts in 1985 – including the two Live Aid concerts, at Wembley and Philadelphia. After all the activity related to this successful -and already historic- album, Phil Collins did not rest and returned to the recording studios with his Genesis bandmates.

In October 1985, Invisible Touch began recording , which would be Genesis’s biggest hit. The album, full of rhythm and great songs, achieved something in the United States that no foreign artist or group had ever achieved in the country: placing five singles in the Top 5 consecutively. They were the songs ‘Invisible Touch’, ‘Throwing It All Away’, ‘Land of Confusion’, ‘In Too Deep’, and ‘Tonight, Tonight, Tonight’. Invisible Touch exceeded 14 million certified sales.

In 1988 a new soundtrack brought Collins awards and success, this time with the movie Buster – in which he starred. Although his acting abilities received mixed reviews, no one hesitated to embrace his musical compositions: the singles ‘A Groovy Kind of Love’ and ‘Two Hearts’ were two new hits in his career. ‘Two Hearts’ won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song and a Grammy.

Solo career: the seriousness of an adult during the 90s

Phil Collins faced the new decade by changing his tone. From the lively rhythms of singles like ‘Easy Lover’ (1984), ‘Two Hearts’ (1988) or ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ (1982) it went to the tone of ‘Another Day in Paradise’, the best-known hit from their fourth album, …But Seriously . The song addresses the issue of homelessness, and society’s indifference towards them. The theme had changed. Phil Collins was approaching forty and the decade of the eighties was coming to an end. The nineties appeared much more serious.

…But Seriously was another huge commercial success. Released in November 1989, it is an album that produced most of its singles during 1990. Its almost 20 million copies sold make it once again one of the most successful albums in history.

In 1991 and after five years of silence, Genesis returned with We Can’t Dance , an album highly anticipated by the band’s fans and which, once again, was a real commercial success. More than 13 million copies sold for the last Genesis album with Phil Collins. In 1996 he decided to leave the group to concentrate on his career. That same year his wife asked him for a divorce. His 1993 album From Him Both Sides can give us a hint of the personal moment that Collins was going through, with private songs and barely directed for commercial success. The radios did not receive this work by Collins well. It would matter little to him, after having become a billionaire during the eighties. Now he didn’t need record labels or sales. He could do whatever he wanted.

In 1999 he embarked on an exciting project with Disney: composing the soundtrack for Tarzan . After months of work, Phil Collins composed the 14 tracks that make up the film. Several of them appeared as singles and were very successful: ‘Two Worlds’, ‘Son of Man’, ‘Strangers Like Me’… The most famous hit , ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’, won the Oscar for Best Song. . Collins raised the long-awaited statuette for the third nomination (he had been nominated in 1985 and 1989). The Tarzan soundtrack album has sold over 3 million copies worldwide.

With the arrival of the new century Phil Collins published his last commercial success: the album Testify (2002), which produced the single ‘Can’t Stop Loving You’. Sales were no longer as in the past, and Collins’s career was slowing down. It was impossible to keep up with the eighties! In 2004 he made the fantastic Finally… The First Farewell Tour , which sounds like a farewell.

In 2006 a new divorce brought Phil Collins to the headlines. His ex-wife got $46 million in what is the most expensive divorce in history. The divorces that Collins has had to live have cost him 84 million. Surely it was business to marry him and then leave him.

To these personal blows, health problems were gradually added, especially from 2009. After decades spending his voice on stage and his dolls on drums, Collins announced in 2011 that he was retiring from the world of music. His trajectory at that point in his life was already spotless, and he had already secured a place in music history.

However, in the summer of 2017 Phil Collins surprised everyone by announcing a new world tour. Despite the name – Not Dead Yet Tour -, the truth is that Collins’ latest adventure is suffering from certain problems. Although it is scheduled to end in 2019, the artist has already had to be hospitalized for accidents and blows, and many of the concerts he is giving sitting in a chair.

It’s sad to see the end of a great artist’s career, but it also reveals his greatness. There are very few active musicians left after fifty years on the stage. Phil Collins is, in a chair, standing or lying down, one of the great artists in history. And his songs will accompany us for a lifetime.

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