Single Stories: Phil Collins, “In the Air Tonight”

Monday, December 31, 2018
In The Air

We’re actually six days out from the anniversary of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” which was originally released on January 5, 1981, but we wanted to highlight it a little early – on New Year’s Eve, specifically – because of a little something that happened last year right around this time.

If you play 'In The Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins on December 31st at 11:56:40 the drum break will play right as the clock strikes midnight. Start off your new year right. Phil Collins (@PhilCollinsFeed) 

How do you not love this guy?

But let’s talk about the song in question for a bit. Released in 1981 as the first single from Collins' debut solo album, FACE VALUE, “In the Air Tonight” was an instance of anger inspiring art, with the song's lyrics having originated as a result of Collins' divorce from his first wife, Andrea, in 1979. In Dave Thompson's 2004 book Turn It On Again: Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, and Genesis, Collins is quoted as saying, “The lyrics you hear are what I wrote spontaneously. That frightens me a bit, but I'm quite proud of the fact that I sang 99.9 percent of those lyrics spontaneously.”

For as unabashedly pop as some of Collins' later work may have been, the atmosphere on “In the Air Tonight” is almost disconcertingly dark at times, which can be credited to the combined efforts of Collins and Hugh Padgham, who co-produced the track. Just to set the record straight, though, there's no truth to the urban legend that the lyrics are about Collins witnessing someone drowning and watching someone who was close enough to save the person do nothing to help. (Sorry, Eminem.)

We all know that “In the Air Tonight” is iconic now, but just in case you can't recall how it did in the first place, rest assured that it was a hit straight out of the box: it hit #19 on the Billboard Hot 100 and made it all the way to #2 on the UK Singles chart…and then to #4 in 1988…and then to #14 in 2007.

Yes, it's been in the air - and on the air - quite a bit over the years…and if you hit “play” at 11:56:40 tonight, then it’ll be in your head all year long.