By Brian Ives
Yesterday, news circulated that Phil Collins has agreed to write a “warts and all” autobiography. Despite never really finding favor with music critics, either in his solo career or with Genesis, he’s one of the most popular artists of all time. According to Rolling Stone, he’s one of only three artists to sell 100 million records both as a solo artist and as a principal member of a band: the others are Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. During his commercial heyday in the ’80s, Collins also had a great run of working with other artists; he played drums for Robert Plant on Plant’s first two post-Zeppelin albums, he produced two albums for Eric Clapton, as well as some of the biggest hits of the ’80s for Frida (“I Know There’s Something Going On”), Adam Ant (“Strip”) and Howard Jones (“No One is to Blame”).
Clearly, the guy has a great story to tell. So here’s a bunch of things we’re hoping to learn about from the book.
Why didn’t he join Yes? Collins has said that he tried out for Yes in the ’60s. Since that band only got their start in the ’60s, it follows that he might have been their original drummer had things gone differently. Of course, his history would likely have been radically different had that happened; on the other hand, maybe he would have become Yes’s singer in 1980 after Jon Anderson quite the band, and become superstar just as he did when he took over the microphone with Genesis. (And, coincidentally, Yes’s original drummer, Bill Bruford, was a touring member of Genesis when Collins first took over as lead singer.)
What’s up with Eric Clapton? In the ’80s, Clapton and Phil seemed pretty tight, guesting frequently on each other’s albums. Phil also produced Clapton’s 1985 comeback album Behind The Sun, as well as the followup, August. But in Clapton: The Autobiography, the guitarist said that in the mid-’80s, “I escaped to L.A. to record songs for a new album, which was to be a collaboration between Phil Collins and Tom Dowd. I had asked Tom to co-produce it, because I didn’t feel confident that Phil really knew my musical background well enough to do the job single-handedly, and with Tom involved I felt I could oversee the production.” Phil, who was likely a Cream fan as a kid, surely was familiar with Clapton’s history. And by the way, did Clapton ask that of Babyface, who produced his mega hit “Change The World,” a decade later? We’re curious how Phil feels about being slighted by the guy who he helped get back onto the charts.
More about his friendship with ex-Genesis bandmate Peter Gabriel: They seemed to stay close after Gabriel left Genesis, and Collins, the band’s drummer, took over as the singer. In fact, Collins played drums on Gabriel’s third solo album. But why wouldn’t Gabriel let him use cymbals with his drum kit on the album? And was it weird having your ex-bandmate hire you for a job?
How did he end up playing drums for Robert Plant? Plant has credited Phil with helping motivate him to start his solo career. And how did he end up playing drums for the Led Zeppelin reunion at Live Aid?
How did he schedule his time in the ’80s? Seriously! He alternated between the solo album/tour cycle and the Genesis album/tour cycle, while throwing in drumming and producing gigs in between.
Did he stay with Genesis longer than he wanted to? By the time he left the band, surely the temptation to go solo, full-time, must have been real. He had sold millions of albums and sold out arenas on his own for quite a while. And how did he actually break the news to his longtime bandmates Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks?
Finally, why on earth does he care what his critics think of him? He often apologizes for his ubiquity in the ’80s. In an infamous Rolling Stone profile from 2011, the writer said that Collins was retiring from music “because he’s had it with people thinking they know who Phil Collins is. And not in a good way. He has been called ‘the Antichrist,’ the sellout who took Peter Gabriel’s Genesis, that paragon of prog-rock, and turned it into a lame-o pop act and went on to make all those supercheesy hits that really did define the 1980s. So, he wants to move on… ‘I sometimes think, ‘I’m going to write this Phil Collins character out of the story,” he says. ‘Phil Collins will just disappear or be murdered in some hotel bedroom, and people will say, ‘What happened to Phil?’ And the answer will be, ‘He got murdered, but, yeah, anyway, let’s carry on.’ That kind of thing.'” Here’s the real deal: Genesis could go on tour today and headline the same arenas they did on their 2007 reunion tour, the same arenas from the ’80s and ’90s. Phil, as a solo act, could do the same. No one who would pay good money to attend those shows cares about any of that.