1001 Songs Challenge,  1980s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #556: In the Air Tonight (1981)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…


Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight (1981)

We’re heading back to the UK today, dear reader, and we’re sort of catching up with old friends Genesis. We heard two previous entries from the group when Peter Gabriel was the lead singer. After Gabriel’s departure in 1975, it was the drummer – Phil Collins – that took over on vocals. As we reach the 1980s though, Collins decides to delve into some solo work with his debut album – Face Value – coming in 1981. From that record, 1001 Songs have decided to go with In the Air Tonight

In the Air Tonight has popularly been interpreted as a song about murder but the reality is very different. Phil Collins wrote the song as a way of coping with divorce from his first wife, Andrea Bertorelli. The music is said to have come first and Collins just started singing along to it, improvising line after line. He has said more than 90% of the lyrics were sung on the spot having not been written down before. As a result, Collins has said he doesn’t know for sure what the song is about but ill feeling and anger towards his former wife seems evident. There is talk here of watching someone drown rather than helping them, references to “silence”, “pain” and a “pack of lies”. The drowning element doesn’t sound like someone with built-in and long-standing rage for such an action, but more an impulsive outburst of aggression, a heat of the moment exclamation likely to be regretted as soon as such words or thoughts are generated. This does come across as an individual drowning in their own crashing waves of mixed emotions – both sadness and anger brought about by a difficult parting. 

Phil Collins is one of those artists that deserves credit for their versatility. He carved out a more successful career as a solo artist but would return to Genesis to continue his work there as well. In the Air Tonight clearly struck a chord with audiences as it climbed to no.2 in the UK charts, held off only by John Lennon’s Woman with grieving fans buying the Beatle legend’s records in their millions following his murder in December 1980. Collins wouldn’t look back though and many great tracks would follow such as Another Day in Paradise, arguably his best, but that debate is for another blog.


Favourite songs so far:

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

The Doors – The End (1967)

The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)

Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)

Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now (1978)

The Police – Message in a Bottle (1979)

Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)

Ultravox – Vienna (1980)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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