In the Air Tonight
Writer(s): Phil Collins (see lyrics here)
Released: January 5, 1981
First Charted: January 17, 1981
Peak: 19 US, 19 CB, 6 GR, 17 HR, 11 RR, 1 CL, 2 AR, 2 UK, 2 CN, 3 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): 3.5 US, 1.1 UK, 4.9 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 472.7 video, 499.81 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Phil Collins’ profile grew substantially in the decade before he released his first solo album. He started as the drummer with prog-rock band Genesis in 1970 and became their lead singer after Peter Gabriel’s departure in 1975. Over the next few years, the band developed a more album rock-friendly sound with hits like “Follow You, Follow Me,” “Misunderstanding,” and “Turn It on Again.” In 1981, Collins released his first solo album, launching himself as one of the premiere artists of the ‘80s as he alternated solo releases with continued work with Genesis.
“In the Air Tonight” was the lead single for Face Value. It was a #1 hit in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden and peaked at #2 in the UK. WK In the United States it barely scraped the top 20, but became his signature song despite numerous hits as a solo artist and with Genesis which charted higher. WK
A popular urban legend developed that the song was about witnessing a person drowning. The story goes that Collins wasn’t in a position to help, but that he saw someone else who could have saved the person and chose not to. He tracked down the person’s identity, invited him to a concert, and sang the song with a spotlight trained on the man the entire time. SF Humiliated, the man committed suicide after the show. SN Eminem even referred to the story in his song “Stan.” There have been many variations of the story, but Collins has denied them all. WK
He explained that he wrote the song after his divorce in 1980. He sang the lyrics spontaneously during an in-studio songwriting session. As he said, “I’m not quite sure what the song is about, but there’s a lot of anger, a lot of despair, and a lot of frustration.” WK The “rock oddity classic” WK creates a mood “of restrained anger until the final chorus when an explosive burst of drums releases the musical tension.” WK It has been called “the sleekest, most melodramatic drum break in history.” WK
First posted 11/16/2019; last updated 12/26/2022.
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