What music do you think of automatically when you think of the 1980s and 1990s? Which artist was/is influential from that particular time period? Prince, Bon Jovi, The Police, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Rick Astley, Cindi Lauper, George Michael, Davie Bowie, Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls and Mariah Carey are all excellent choices, are all popular (and some influential!), and have all had success and impact within the confines of the 80s and 90s. But for me, I’ve always felt like there was an artist that was just as impactful, but nobody really talks about them. Not that they’re atrocious or difficult to listen to- in fact, this artist I’ve about to delve into a little bit, is for me, arguably one of the most underrated artists of the 2-decade span of the 1980s-2000s. Call them the forgotten artist, the underrated artist, whatever you decide; there’s no denying the impact, influence and cultural significance of English singer-songwriter Phil Collins and the music he brings along with him. Sure, right now, he’s not active in the music industry- his last album full of original material was in 2002, and his last album period, was in 2010 (an album full of covers of Motown songs from the 1960s and 1970s); but even now, his most famous work would have to be the music that forms the soundtrack of movies Tarzan and Brother Bear.
Though I’m sure that recognition isn’t intentional; Phil’s music that came out of the two movies are arguably some of his best, though much of his discography and his music in a general sense is good as well. Underrated, and at times, unsure whether he even fits into this musical landscape at all; we are blessed to have Phil’s music last for the length of time that it did. Now leaping into 2019, my local radio station continues to play Phil’s music on a regular basis. With his trademark signature voice, alongside his skillful drumming that anchors each song musically; Phil’s prominence in music in general ought not to be overlooked. Though he is an artist that many people love, many other people look upon Phil as someone who isn’t ‘up with the times’, writing songs with a ‘depressive outlook’ and thereby only connecting with a certain group of people. Nevertheless; we can still stand shoulder-to-shoulder and agree on this one fact- Phil’s songs still mean something to someone here in 2019, and his passion and enthusiasm in his melodies is second to none. Maybe he has relevance in this society now, maybe he doesn’t. But for the era that he was in, he touched and changed people, I’m sure for the better.
Sometimes I wonder why music relates to people years later, even beyond the years that said artist/band was active. Phil is an excellent example of this. Since releasing his 2010 album Going Back, full of Motown covers, he has since retired from the industry, and then has subsequently come out of retirement for a series of tours. No new music is on the horizon for Phil just yet, but my question remains- can an artist still be impactful and dare I say influential, to individuals and even music as a whole; if they are not active at the moment? Queen, ABBA, The Beatles, Elvis, all these people and bands are exceptions, because in fact, these are quality artists. But for someone who is famous for whatever style of music, usually after everything else fades and the band/artist is hanging up their boots; sooner or later the public will latch onto something new, and the artist in question may be forgotten, just on the basis that there are other artists out there that seemingly want people’s attention. And so this, I reckon, is what happened to Phil. He toiled and toiled, released countless of songs. And here in 2019, what is his legacy (I know he’s not dead yet, but I guess ‘legacy’ was a reasonable word to use!)? I’m sure for the general public, it’s his songs from either Tarzan, Brother Bear or both. But for me, there’s so much more. Sure, much of his discography, dare I say, is in fact a little depressing (a lot of relationship songs, full of loss, heartache, longing and even questioning of self); but all in all, Phil’s honesty about life and relationships is a great breath of air that the music industry really, really needs. No matter how ‘depressing’ Phil’s music sounds; it is nevertheless relatable, and I’m sure many, many people would be impacted by a lot of music that Phil has released, myself included.
Phil was the drummer of the band Genesis before he took the reins and started his own solo career in the early 1980s. While Phil’s involvement with the band Genesis continued to be, until their departure in the 2000s; for me it was always Phil’s solo material that cemented his place in the realms of music, and as the years went on, we all saw the vocal chops of a man who was the drummer of a very successful band of its time. Though for me I haven’t heard Genesis, if at all; what I do know is this- for Phil to step out of the shadows as a drummer and start a solo career takes courage and fearlessness, and what resulted from this journey from band member to front-man has come in the form of singles and radio airplay, and a lot of them. Even now in 2019, around ten or so years since his last album release Going Back, and 18 years since any original material in the 2002 album Testify; Phil’s delivery and emotion through his songs makes him, quite possibly one of the unsung artists, not only of the 1980s, but of all time. Even though upon face value (and if we don’t think so hard), we can only assume to believe that Phil’s famous songs are that of only Tarzan and Brother Bear; we should only look at his career and see that his catalogue of radio hits continue to impact now as it did back then, and that Phil’s music is indeed undervalued and even underappreciated, when compared to his contemporaries of his time.
Think about it- ‘In the Air Tonight’ is quite possibly one of Phil’s biggest hits of the 1980s, then you have songs like ‘If Leaving Me Is Easy’ (which features a great saxophone interlude), ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ (one of his rare songs that speaks of the necessity to slow down when it comes to love) and ‘Against the Odds (Take a Look At Me Now)’, the theme song of the 1984 movie of the same name, and covered by pop music icon Mariah Carey and boyband Westlife in 2000. ‘Sussudio’ is a dance number about a high-school crush on a girl that may or may not be returned, while ‘Take Me Home’ is a song full of imagery and drum beats that speak of either a man’s longing to travel home, the psychological manipulations of a government that is oppressive, or the implications and understandings of what a person in a mental asylum could feel. Shown as a picturesque music video where Phil is in these wonderous locations around the world (that may or may not be photoshopped!), ‘Take Me Home’, though catchy, can seem a little unsettling if we look carefully at the lyrics of the song. Nevertheless, it has been a great performer for Phil over the years, and alongside many of the other songs I’ve mentioned thus far, anchors Phil’s 1980s career both musically and thematically!
Phil’s music at times can seem a little too hopeless for my own liking, yet within his whole discography, we see an artist who still has songs full of hope and glimmers of encouragement amongst the sea of lost relationships and unsettled disputes between friends. For much of Phil’s catalogue is a reminder of the what if’s and the shoulda coulda’s; yet there are a couple of songs that really speak to the heart of life, from Phil’s discography. ‘Another Day in Paradise’ speaks on the issue of homelessness, loneliness, and even asking the Lord God Almighty what we as mere humans and people that see these goings on, what we should do in situations like ones we can feel like we’re uncomfortably in. Even covered by CCM group Big Daddy Weave on their 2008 album What Would It Be Like; ‘Another Day in Paradise’ speaks of how sometimes the here-and-now things may make us blind to what is happening around us. A song that can hopefully challenge us into positive action to help the needy; Phil also delivers happy vibes in ‘Two Hearts’, a song about the union between husband and wife, and how there are two hearts, but living in one mind, creating a sense of unity and like-mindedness when it comes when people are married.
‘Both Sides of the Story’ questions whether we think it ought to be wise to make any decision based only upon what I hear, when Phil himself emplores that we need to hear both sides of the story, no matter how ‘right’ we think one of the positions are, so that we can make a collective decision; while ‘Everyday’ is a reminder to cherish our days with our loved ones, to speak encouragement into the lives we impact on a daily basis. Phil even delivers a decent cover of the Cindy Lauper 1970s radio hit ‘True Colours’, that was since also covered by Australian country singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers, alongside more recently, Justin Timberlake (and actress Anna Kendrick) for their 2016 movie Trolls. Though for me not as vibrant or as compelling as Kasey Chambers’ cover version (whom I originally thought wrote the song!); Phil’s version of ‘True Colours’ nevertheless evokes a similar emotion regardless of the version. We must find our own identity before we embark on our journey of helping our fellow man, while also reminding others to be comfortable to figure out who we are, knowing full well that whatever our identity turns out to be, we are loved unconditionally by our friends and family regardless. ‘True Colours’ is thereby a song that aims to convey this truth- and Phil’s version is as compelling as ever!
If you were to ask me what the turning point (obviously for the better) for Phil was throughout his whole career, I’d have to say his involvement with the 1999 movie Tarzan and how he wrote the music and lyrics for songs on the soundtrack of the movie- in essence, Phil’s next slot of songs came from the movie, and charted heaps on radio. Becoming a go-to songwriter if you want something written with an emotional hook for a Disney movie, Phil also lend his pen and voice to the movie Brother Bear as well…but I digress. For me, I’ve always felt like Tarzan was underrated for its time. With actors like Tony Goldwyn, Minne Driver, Glenn Close, Rosie O’Donnell and Wayne Knight being involved in the voice cast of the movie, alongside Phil’s musical imprint, the 1999 film received countless accolades and a few awards at the Oscars as well. The movie gave Phil a further 4 more singles to add to his career of many- songs like ‘Strangers Like Me’ and ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ were both charting on the Billboard and the Adult Contemporary charts, while the other two songs ‘Two Worlds’ and ‘Son of Man’ managed to hit German radio. For me, I reckon ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ is by far one of my favourite songs attributed to a Disney movie, and also one of my favourite songs by Phil out of all of his songs throughout his career…bold statement? Most definitely- but that just means the song itself is emotive and powerful, as we’re reminded through this melody that our loved ones will always be with us, in our hearts, regardless of the circumstances we may face. The song is reflective of the movie, in which Tarzan the man was adopted by gorillas, and a reminder that family doesn’t always have to equal to flesh and blood. Most times it can and it should, but here in today’s society and culture, family means different things to different people. I’m sure ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ is a song that speaks to people on many different levels. With both ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ and ‘Strangers Like Me’ receiving great quality covers of the songs as well (Peter Hollens and Everlife lent their musical expertise to ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ and ‘Strangers Like Me’ respectively); Phil continues to bring animation to life through song in melodies like ‘No Way Out’ and ‘Look Through My Eyes’ in the 2003 movie Brother Bear.
About an Inuit American who mercilessly kills a bear who unintentionally kills his family, the American, in turn, is turned into a bear himself by the Spirits; in order for him to learn what it is like to live in another’s shoes and experience another’s life. While the movie wasn’t as successful as Tarzan, Phil himself delivers flawlessly the songs full of hope and encouragement, something that is unique and even unfamiliar to Phil himself, considering most of his musical catalogue is full of unfulfilled dreams and solace. Phil also released a studio album between the productions of Tarzan and Brother Bear called Testify (2002) and features the title track, this one reminding me of something that can be easily declared as a quasi-worship-style song. Though I know it isn’t, hearing ‘Testify’ is a reminder that though not initially conceived as a song that can be sung in a worshipful mindset, ‘Testify’ itself nevertheless is a reminder for us all to testify and share our own stories and experiences, and to express our love for fellow man and our fellow creator. Other standout songs from the album include the cover ‘Can’t Stop Loving You’, originally by country legend Leo Sayer in 1978, while songs like ‘Don’t Get Me Started’ showcases Phil’s own personal take on politics and society in general, and ‘The Least You Can Do’ is about a messy breakup, and how the persona wants just one thing from his ex- to tell him sorry, and answering the question ‘why’. A song like ‘The Least You Can Do’ is as relatable as they come, and while the song itself doesn’t offer a happy ending as such, it does remind us that closure to any relationship, be it an amicable split or a messy one, is crucial for people to move on with their lives. With Testify being Phil’s most recent album with any form of original material; we are nevertheless given melodies and songs to bring a sense of nostalgia in ‘Going Back’, his 2010 album full of Motown melodies and covers, as we’re reminded that Phil himself can branch out into different musical backdrops, if need be.
Aside from his musical career with both Genesis and his solo material, Phil Collins has made quite a name for himself for things outside of music as well. He has received the Royal Victorian Order (a knighthood that began in the 1890s), as well as having more top 40 singles (as combined as a solo artist and with Genesis) than any other artist within the 1980s decadal period. Only one of three artists (the others being Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson) who have successfully transitioned from being part of band to being a solo artist- by means of selling more than 100 millions records worldwide, both as a band and solo; Phil’s reputation as a man who has delivered quality songs throughout his career, is perhaps one of the only things that makes people more and more interested in his music. Though not popular today because of his lack of being involved in the music industry again, his music is nevertheless rich lyrically and much needed today as well. But, I guess if you’ve done a substantial amount of your career in a band, as well as being a solo artist, then I guess having some time off is ok. For to look back at Phil’s music and contribution to music in general, one can say that Phil’s impact on society and songs that are indeed lyrically rich and deep, but all the while presented in a happy, jovial way, is one such reason as to why Phil’s relevance to society now is as it was back then. But here we are in 2019, and Phil still hasn’t played any more music- which is a shame, considering that in an interview, he expressed his inability to play drums or piano anymore, because of a lifesaving operation on his vertebrae. Nevertheless, it is still a sad thing that Phil can’t pick up his drumsticks, nor can he sign his signature. Still, his legacy as a songwriter need not be denied; and many of his songs are testament to the unfiltered way of creating songs, that needs to happen in society now, but was common back then.
Does Phil Collins and his music, make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (other than popular melodies like ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’, ‘In the Air Tonight’, ‘Two Hearts’ and ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, to name a few) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!