Liking Phil Collins

Originally published February 2010. Reposted in light of the Genesis reunion which has stirred up the old Phil hatred online.

“Do you like Phil Collins? I’ve been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that, I really didn’t understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual. It was on Duke where Phil Collins’ presence became more apparent. I think Invisible Touch was the group’s undisputed masterpiece. It’s an epic meditation on intangibility. At the same time, it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding three albums. Christy, take off your robe. Listen to the brilliant ensemble playing of Banks, Collins and Rutherford. You can practically hear every nuance of every instrument. Sabrina, remove your dress. In terms of lyrical craftsmanship, the sheer songwriting, this album hits a new peak of professionalism. Sabrina, why don’t you dance a little. Take the lyrics to Land of Confusion. In this song, Phil Collins addresses the problems of abusive political authority. In Too Deep is the most moving pop song of the 1980s, about monogamy and commitment. The song is extremely uplifting. Their lyrics are as positive and affirmative as anything I’ve heard in rock. Christy, get down on your knees so Sabrina can see your asshole. Phil Collins’ solo career seems to be more commercial and therefore more satisfying, in a narrower way. Especially songs like In the Air Tonight and Against All Odds. Sabrina, don’t just stare at it, eat it. But I also think Phil Collins works best within the confines of the group, than as a solo artist, and I stress the word artist. This is Sussudio, a great, great song, a personal favorite.”

This is yuppie serial killer Patrick Bateman in the movie version of American Psycho expressing his enthusiasm for Phil Collins to two prostitutes (he goes on at greater, more tedious length in the the novel) right before he has three-way sex with them which he videotapes while Sussudio plays on his high-end stereo and he admires his own body in a mirror. Now, bad reviews are one thing, but you know your critical reputation is low when you’ve become such a metaphor for everything bad about the 1980s that everyone gets the big joke that your music is perfect for a narcissistic psychopath with a black hole where his personality should be, an ideal soundtrack for his life of empty materialism and status obsession (with a little ultraviolent murder on the side). He’s also a big fan of Huey Lewis and Whitney Houston.

It almost makes me feel sorry for poor old Phil but then I remember those videos of him and Genesis in their badly-fitting suits with the jacket sleeves rolled up like every old fart rocker that was stinking up the charts that decade and I think of committing shocking acts of violence myself. There was a time when Phil had a certain amount of artistic credibility (he also played drums for Brian Eno, John Martyn, John Cale, and Robert Fripp) but he’s so reviled now that defending any of his work — particularly in the 1980s — feels a little like pointing out that Mussolini wasn’t all bad because he made the trains run on time. The “yes, but…” I’m referring to is his first solo album Face Value which — and I know you’re all rushing for the exits at this point — happens to be a pretty great record.

It helps that the album came out in 1981 when he was still just the singer/drummer in a Prog band with his own little solo effort (which he didn’t expect to sell all that much) and hadn’t yet become Phil Collins, the prick who crapped all over “You Can’t Hurry Love” and said he’d leave the country if Labour got in power, and without all that baggage it’s a enjoyably loose and unassuming record and he doesn’t sound like a smug twat. The songs are mostly about the break-up of his marriage and, without wanting to sound like Patrick Bateman, the ballads are often quite sensitive and touching (Sabrina, take off your shoes) particularly “If Leaving Me Is Easy” which is especially gorgeous. I’ve always liked the funky instrumental “Hand In Hand” too (with horns by Earth, Wind & Fire) which has the added bonus for some that he doesn’t sing on it and just plays some rather cracking drums.

So, as George Michael said, listen without prejudice, I swear it won’t make you want to murder anyone.

Download: If Leaving Me Is Easy – Phil Collins (mp3)
Download: Hand In Hand – Phil Collins (mp3)


The Starship Boney M

Originally published May 2017

There are albums I always associate with working in the record dept of WH Smith in the late 70s-early 80s, mostly because we sold a shit-load of them at Christmas, like the Grease soundtrack and Neil Diamond’s The Jazz Singer (which I sold a copy of to Sue Lawley!) Another was Boney M’s 1978 album Nightflight To Venus which we shifted piles of that year. 

Boney M were incredibly popular but they were also terrible. A manufactured group from Germany who made really awful dance pop with ridiculous songs like “Ma Baker” and “Rasputin”. 

Most of the people buying it were older, probably parents getting it as a Christmas present for their kid or for themselves. I don’t remember any teenagers buying a copy, this being 1978 when there were lots of other things going on musically that were more appealing.

Normally we could play what music we wanted at work, but at Christmas we had to play records that were popular and seasonal. As a result I got to hear Nightflight To Venus several times and I have to say I thought the title track was surprisingly good. Being 16 at the time I kept such embarrassing thoughts to myself but I am beyond such things now. Though even now liking a Boney M record still strains the concept of a guilty pleasure to it’s extremes.

I still like it despite (or maybe because of) it being a total, lawsuit-worthy rip-off of “Dancing With The Devil” by Cozy Powell. With its pounding tribal drums and vocoder effects it probably sounds cooler now than it did in 1978.

Download: Night Flight To Venus – Boney M (mp3)

My Chiffon Is Wet, Darling

Originally published March 2016

I don’t know if it was because things were so grim that people needed cheering up more, but there were a lot of novelty hits in the 1970s. 99.9% of them were terrible, but this one was marvelous and “My chiffon is wet, darling!” is still one of my favourite lines in pop.

“Disco Tex” was a fellow called Sir Monti Rock III and the group was the brainchild of The Four Seasons’ producer/writer Bob Crewe. This was a hit in 1974 before Disco went overground and became a cultural juggernaut so it was ahead of that curve, and its camp flamboyance was ahead of Sylvester and The Village People in being a hit that came out of gay club culture — both Rock and Crewe were gay and the record was made to sound like a live performance in a gay disco. Which just shows that even the silliest novelty record can have some sociological significance.

Download: Get Dancin’ – Disco Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes (mp3)

The Dark Side

Originally published July 2008

I was going to write a thoughtful post about enjoying records that are considered a bit naff by some people. And not in any smug, ironic way either, but genuinely and honestly appreciating them as good music. But as I was trying to articulate those thoughts and how they relate to this record I just kept hearing this evil voice inside my head shouting YES! IT’S BARRY FUCKING MANILOW! AND I LOVE IT!! REALLY LOVE IT! I RECORDED THIS FROM VINYL! VINYL THAT I OWN!!! THAT I BOUGHT WITH MY OWN MONEY!!! I LIKED IT THAT MUCH!! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT? HUH? HUH??? — and I think, deep down, that’s what I really wanted to say.


Download: Could It Be Magic – Barry Manilow (mp3)

Auto Eroticism

Originally published September 2016

Unlike a lot of men I’m not really a car person. Living in London I didn’t need to drive and didn’t learn how until I was 30 when I moved to Florida where you have to if you want any sort of life. As a result I don’t really equate them with freedom or girls like in the Springsteen songs and see them mostly as things to get you from A to B. Not that I don’t appreciate a beauty of a classic car like an E-type or Mustang (and wouldn’t say no to owning one), but I don’t get erotically aroused by them like the bloke in Queen’s “I’m In Love With My Car”.

There are a lot of pop and rock songs about cars but few make them as blatantly sexual as this. Written by drummer Roger Taylor, it’s hysterically over the top but there’s something gloriously ecstatic about it that I’ve always loved. With its lines about “pistons a pumpin” and “my hand on your grease gun” it’s almost, um, Ballardian in its erotic fetishization of cars.

I first heard this when it was the b-side of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and kids at school would sing “I’m In Love With My Bike” to it. We knew all the girls loved a nice Chopper.

Download: I’m In Love With My Car – Queen (mp3)