. . .
Of course, in 1981, we didn’t know just how much of a menace Phil Collins and Genesis were going to become. Genesis had tossed out a couple of hit singles that had done well in either the U.K. or U.S. — the awful “Follow You Follow Me,” the pretty good “Turn it On Again” and the really good “Misunderstanding” — but it wasn’t really until “In The Air Tonight” that anybody associated with Genesis had an undeniable world-wide smash.
And why not? I can remember just how weird “In The Air Tonight” sounded on the radio back in 1981: like nothing else I’d ever heard.
And I well and truly loved the slow menace of the opening verses, just Collins, a barely-functioning drum machine — augmented on the single by random drum hits — some atmospheric synths and Frippian guitar from Genesis sideman (and guy who kinda replaced Steve Hackett w/o becoming a full member of the band) Daryl Stuermer.
I can feel it coming in the air tonight
And I’ve been waiting for this moment or all my life
Can you feel it coming in the air tonight
Oh Lord, oh Lord
Written in the throes of a divorce, “In The Air Tonight” is a brutal, vicious song, Collins venting anger and bitterness as the song slowly builds and builds to . . . well, you know what it builds to: the reason for if not its existence, but most certainly, it’s persistence.
That drum roll. That beautiful, mind-bending fucking gated reverb drum roll.
It only takes up, what? maybe five seconds? But it not only breaks the song in half, it arguably broke popular music in half as well, as that drum sound became the go-to in pop songs for rest of the fucking decade, at least. And why not? People listened to the opening of “In The Air Tonight” to get to the drum roll. Welcome to the 1980s!!
Interestingly enough, because Collins was still seen as an albums artist and not a singles artist here in the U.S., the “In The Air Tonight” single peaked here at 19 when everywhere else it was a top ten single. That said, it was ubiquitous enough that it set the stage for Collins, Genesis, and hell, even Peter Gabriel to have a shitload of massive massive hits — check out the brand-new episode of Chris Molanphy’s awesome Hit Parade podcast on the subject — for the rest of the decade. Oh lord.
“In The Air Tonight”
“In The Air Tonight” official music video
The Certain Songs Database
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.
Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)
Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page