The 80s, as a decade, split rather neatly. There’s the early eighties, when the arrival of video and the aftershock of punk and disco turn the charts into a colouring book. There’s the late eighties, when the combination of club music and cheap high street pop radicalises the landscape again. And in between there’s the mid eighties, when…. when….. when people like Phil Collins got very big indeed.
Actually, that’s a bit unfair. But that big glossy slab of years in mid-decade was the time bit-players and hitmakers alike had their chance to become superstars, for good or ill. And in some ways Collins was the most extraordinary of all, the great survivor, who went from playing drums in one of the most famously flamboyant progressive outfits to becoming the very incarnation of everybloke.
Which made him hated, even before his music deserved it: few wanted to identify with the people who they identified as identifying with Phil – aspirational sales reps and middle managers caught up in the beginnings of Thatcher’s economic red shift. And once his music did deserve that contempt, the awful shadow of latter-day Genesis and “Another Day In Paradise” stopped fair consideration of the earlier stuff.
So let’s set the record straight: yes, some 80s Phil Collins hits were very good, and much of the rest is stodgy rather than dreadful. This cover being a solid example – it’s only when you succumb and play the Supremes’ version that it becomes hard to get through. And this isn’t just Phil being incompetent – he always knew exactly what his strengths and skills were. Whereas Diana and the girls played the song from the point of view of sharp operators revelling in the power their newfound mastery of the game handed them, Phil’s more frustrated – he’s only just found out there even was a game. So he’s turned his clumsiness into a feature, not a bug – which explains the song but doesn’t really improve it.