Sep 09


FT + Popular68 comments • 6,953 views

#547, 23rd March 1985, video

The two Phils team up to warn a vulnerable pal off a wicked woman, this intervention requiring a jeepful of mid-decade production flim-flam. “Easy Lover” is full of wannabe hooks – a guitar jab here, a keyboard twinkle there – which collide more than they connect. It stomps and stumbles and hollers about chaotically before pulling itself together just in time for another round of “SHE’S AN EASY LOVER!” – and then it’s off again.

But this is exactly why “Easy Lover” is a cut above most stadium pop of the time – there’s an urgency to it which breaks through its chunky period fictures and grabs you by the expensively tailored collar. A lot of this is down to Philip Bailey: the arrangement tends to calm down a bit when his angry falsetto comes in, and it’s strong enough to carry the song. That frees Collins up to do his hard-knocked everyman bit without the music needing to slow down to fit. An unlikely duet, then, but a canny one.



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  1. 1
    Job on 17 Sep 2009 #

    Unlikely? Both relatively recently gone solo percussionists/singers of extravagant ’70s bands!

  2. 2
    Kat but logged out innit on 17 Sep 2009 #

    WHAAAAAAAAAA Tom this has to be a 10! This song is all killer no filler!
    + I don’t know how their voices work together so well but they DO
    + keyboard vs guitar FITE on each riff!
    + it’s the ONLY WAY-AY!
    + Before you know it you’ll be on your KNEES!
    + P Bailey is high up enough that you can sing along an octave down!

    Sorry dude but this is one of my favourite songs EVER EVER EVER and I am descending into mad keyboard rage over here hgaliheofisjfkifhsigkb.

  3. 3
    Tom on 17 Sep 2009 #

    I know this song is incredibly beloved of many of FT’s younger contributors! I just have never really ‘got’ it – I think, like a lot of the last few tracks actually, that it’s more fun the more you interact with it.

  4. 4
    MBI on 17 Sep 2009 #

    Listen to Collins pound those fucking cymbals, man! Bang! Crash! Just the sheer force behind this song! At least an 8 coming from me, man.

  5. 5
    Dan R on 17 Sep 2009 #

    Whisper it softly, I quite like this. Everything stacks up against it; the overproduced clatter of the studio funk, PC’s hideous voice, the meaningless lyrics (‘she’ll take your heart but you won’t feel it’?), and the unctuous bonhomie and the video. But it has a decent tune, the harmonies work rather well and, for all my cynicism about the production, the rhythm track survives even those clumsy bursts of overdriven guitar. It’s a harmless song, but it’s jarring to follow a glimpse of the future at number one with something that so utterly, dispiritingly, self-identically of the moment.

    The video of this has stuck with me more than the details of the song. Firstly, Phil Collins wears a revolting sand-coloured suit and thin tie. Second, very soon after Band Aid we get another number one with a video about the making of the video (a genre which would achieve its apotheosis with Michael Jackson’s ‘Liberian Girl’ video, three years later). It also features Phil Collins TWICE doing a Bobby Ball impression (just after 2’30” and 3’00” – can’t believe I checked that), which at the time stressed his unaffected ordinariness but now looks like a sign of his banality.

    A shout-out of course to the sample of this song in Fur-Q’s ‘Uzi Lover’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftaankMEXYY

  6. 6
    Steve Mannion on 17 Sep 2009 #

    I vaguely recall being really happy that this was #1 at the time so happy to leave the verdict there. Somewhere between ‘Beat It’ (good) and ‘Invisible Touch’ (annoying!) seems a fair description and as usual I like that there’s a lot going on. This may be the #1 I loved most as a child that I do not currently possess in any form tho – fascinating!

  7. 7
    Conrad on 17 Sep 2009 #

    What’s not to like?

    Ok, plenty. But it does work – great vocals, great hooks, great riffs, a production so miami vice you can almost smell the rolled-up jacket sleeves.

    Actually, the latter is what dates it and what makes it hard to love, and while I don’t own a copy (or have any urge to) if it came on the radio I wouldn’t retune.

    About a 7 I think.

  8. 8
    punctum on 17 Sep 2009 #

    The only number one performed by two singing drummers called Phil with part-time solo careers – although only Collins plays drums on the record – the utilitarian video for “Easy Lover,” depicting Bailey and Collins rolling up their sleeves and getting on with making the record in the studio, gave early notice of the re-emergence of frills-free “Real Music” in 1985, a catchment area which somehow managed to snare everybody from Dire Straits to Trouble Funk. No more trivial dressing up and colouring in of fading New Pop books – and, to echo my first year Home Economics teacher at grammar school, wasn’t it all a bit of an irrelevance when there are people starving in Africa?

    “Easy Lover” accordingly “rocks” with Collins’ cavernous Big Bang of percussion filtering out any subtlety or real swing – such things are left to Nathan East’s occasionally inventive bass. And while it provides partial redemption for Earth, Wind and Fire never having had a UK number one single in their own right (“September” and “Let’s Groove” both made #3, although Maurice White did produce Deniece Williams’ “Free”), it is, like so many number ones of this period, utterly functional – it comes in, hangs about and does its job for a little while (in the case of “Easy Lover,” for five minutes, although you don’t really notice it) and then wanders off, leaving minds unchanged and souls untouched.

  9. 9
    Matt DC on 17 Sep 2009 #

    This is kinda the archetypal Phil Collins record, and sort of the archetypal mid-80s record as well, to the extent that I had *no idea* that Philip Bailey had anything to do with it, let alone lead credit on the song.

  10. 10
    Chewshabadoo on 17 Sep 2009 #

    If ever I had something as trite as a ‘guilty pleasure’ this might be it.

    Listening to it again, it’s pretty flat in places though. A 7 maybe?

  11. 11
    Erithian on 17 Sep 2009 #

    It’s glossy, professional, far from unpleasant but ultimately fairly insubstantial, and while it passed the time nicely enough, it didn’t seem like a number one smash – which I know is praising with faint damns, but there you go. Collins was at his commercial peak at the time (a marquee name, as was to be proved by his transatlantic caper in July) and clearly a boost to Bailey even if Bailey’s was the face on the sleeve. BTW that “duet with” is a bit of a clunker isn’t it? – we’re years away from the rash of “featuring’s” and my chart log at the time has a simple / between the two names.

    I might have found it a bit meh, but it was hook-laden enough to have thwarted some big hitters. It jumped from 20 to 2 in its second week, overtaking “Material Girl”, and in its four weeks at number one it held off Alison Moyet’s beautiful reading of “That Ole Devil Called Love” at 2 for two weeks then became the first record to keep Frankie Goes To Hollywood off the top, as “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” failed to give them a four-timer.

  12. 12
    weej on 17 Sep 2009 #

    My main problem with this is how long it is. Lose two and a half minutes and it would be a good (albeit lightweight) pop song, but by the time it gets to the guitar solo and there’s still two minutes left I’ve utterly lost interest.
    By the way, the video is a bit odd, isn’t it? It’s like its own outtakes compilation. There seems to be an odd subtext that they’re having some kind of torrid love-affair with each-other too. Or maybe it’s just me.

  13. 13
    col124 on 17 Sep 2009 #

    This was always for me the best of Collins’ big ’80s hits, probably because Bailey’s singing is pretty solid and Collins seems into it–the drumming’s pretty great (the opening crashes in particular). but weej called it: sucker is just *too long* and after a while it just repeats itself. I think DJs used to fade it out around four minutes in, and I don’t blame them.

    Still I’ll gladly take it over “Ya Mo B There,” the Michael McDonald/James Ingram duet from the same period that seemed like “Easy Lover’s”‘s crass cousin. A 7 for me.

  14. 14
    johnny on 17 Sep 2009 #

    definitely a 10 from me. phil collins doesn’t often get the credit he deserves as a master arranger for others; witness this as well as his work with robert plant from the same year. this has everything a successful radio hit needed in 1985. for how much is going on here, there is no filler. best experienced as a terrible-sounding 128k mp3 booming loudly from a crappy stereo while making cheap vodka-based drinks with your roommate on a thursday night.

  15. 15
    Jonathan on 17 Sep 2009 #

    Yeah it’s like Rick Ross but in the ’80s. [10]

  16. 16
    anto on 17 Sep 2009 #

    Not much to do with this one except admire its taut slickness.
    When I said in the comments on Foreigner that several of the number ones of 1985 seemed very “grown-up” I meant stuff like this as much as ” I want to know love is”. Compared to Phil and Phils record the teeny stuff from 1982-84 like Wham or “Karma Chamelon” or Duran Duran sounds almost naive. “Easy Lover” sounds confident and professional.
    The work of 2 experienced musicians who know they a hit.
    However that comment in #3 makes sense. ” Easy Lover ” would sound right at home in todays charts. The production and slant of the lyrics would be different, but I could envisage Lady Gaga or Britney Spears having a #1 with this one.

  17. 17
    lonepilgrim on 17 Sep 2009 #

    I enjoy listening to this but can’t imagine wanting to own it. I think what lifts it above the majority of PCs other hits is that he’s in the background and that he seems genuinely excited to be working with PB.
    The video may have made more of an impact on MTV who were still getting used to the idea of featuring black musicians.

  18. 18
    Monica Howl on 17 Sep 2009 #

    #6, #7, #17 all say they like it but wouldn’t want to own it. Given the weightlessness – and, if you want, costlessness – of contemporary musical ownership, what does that mean? I agree; I quite like this but I wouldn’t want to own it. I certainly like it more than lots and lots of songs on my mp3 player. So what’s going on? Am I worried about someone grabbing my iPod and finding it? Do I not want to be surprised by it coming up unbidden on shuffle? Do I not want to add to Phil Collins already-substantial bank account? Or is there something else going on. I genuinely don’t know.

  19. 19
    Tom on 17 Sep 2009 #

    Maybe it’s the kind of record you want to encounter rather than listen to? (or invite onto your ipod)

  20. 20
    Izzy on 18 Sep 2009 #

    I like this, it’s got a real urgency to it and plenty of hooks, especially the huge gated guitar riff and the pause in the ‘She’s. An eaze. E-LOVER!’ towards the end. I suspect the comments about it going on too long are right though – I’m running it through on the internal jukebox now, and it just isn’t resolving. It’s a cracking track anyway, some top performances. I’d thought I might’ve gone higher, but right now it strikes me as the definitive 8.

    I was also hoping to mention Fur Q’s ‘Uzi Lover’ but I see I’ve been beaten to it. How quaint that that was once the reductio ad absurdam of rap!

  21. 21
    TomLane on 18 Sep 2009 #

    This went to #2 in the States. Collins at his peak here, probably could have glided any single high on to the charts. So, let’s be glad he picked a great singer and the two came up with a great song. It’s a perfectly breezy hybrid of Collins’ love of R&B and Bailey’s love of a good hook. A definite 9 from me.

  22. 22
    LondonLee on 18 Sep 2009 #

    I liked this back then much more than I do now and I went to watch the video expecting to have my old opinion of it confirmed or even improved, but instead it just fell flat for me. Something about it suddenly seemed so manufactured and by-the-numbers. Yes, it’s a catchy tune that motors along nicely but I find it coldly professional now. “Grown up” yes, but not in a good way.

    I hope I still like ‘Walking On The Chinese Wall’ though.

  23. 23
    swanstep on 18 Sep 2009 #

    Perfunctory, corporate pop that sounds like an audition for a household cleaning product ad soundtrack, i.e., for ‘the new EZ wiper’, or something. (Has it ever been used that way since?). Surprised to find people enjoying it so much. It’s not a patch on Phil C’s thing with Frida a few years earlier tho’, surely? Anyhow:

  24. 24
    MikeMCSG on 18 Sep 2009 #

    # 5 Steve you’re bang on with “Beat It” and this one directly followed PC’s re-write of “1999” (retitled “Sussudio”).

    I remember a lot of snide comments about the scene in the video where Collins is having what’s left of his hair combed and giving him a smidgeon of credit for leaving that in.

    Other than that I’m a bit short of words for this one -an efficient but sterile piece of pop rock that was quickly knocked up because they (correctly) felt PB’s album lacked a single- which then and now I listen to with complete indifference.

  25. 25
    Rory on 18 Sep 2009 #

    There was a study that did the rounds of the web a year or two ago, which I’m sure some of you saw, where someone ran an experiment on whether the same songs would rise to the top of the charts in two matched populations. What they found was just how random it can be, and how our notions of what constitutes a quality song can be so contingent on whether it chanced to be a hit. While some songs did comparably well in different charts, some smashes in one chart were nowhere to be seen in another. The kind of study to strike fear into the heart of any record company exec, band manager or aspiring pop star.

    All of which is a preamble to how well this song performed in the parallel-world charts of my youth:

    Phil Collins: 14-Jan-85*HP-73*WI-03 – Easy Lover (w/ Philip Bailey)

    Three weeks in the Australian charts and peaking at number 73. When I hear the name Philip Bailey, I think of “Walking On the Chinese Wall” before this. When I see that that it was number two in the States as well, it’s even more baffling that it was nowhere to be heard on our radios in 1985.

    So let’s have a listen…

    Standard AOR pop rock, a tad too long, sounds like it could be from 1980 rather than 1985. Harmless enough, but hasn’t got its hooks into me on first listen; I don’t feel inclined to re-listen now, but repeated radio exposure back in the day might have worn me down. 5.

  26. 26
    will on 18 Sep 2009 #

    This is everything I hated about the way pop was going in 1985, the year bands started dressing like accountants. It was the video that took the biscuit though – all that insincere bonhomie, Phil and Phil joshing like the great mates they were. I remember watching TOTP with my mother who didn’t really get the whole ‘making of the record’ vid. ‘But where is the easy lover?’ she asked, puzzled by the absence of a narrative.

    Other people have mentioned how adult the charts were in 1985 and this is how it seemed to me at the time. Even though I had been too young to be swept along by punk, by the age of 15 I had been indoctrinated by the movement’s ideals, specifically that pop should be young, forward-looking and definitely not involve balding ex-prog rockers. The fact that contemporaries of mine were singing the praises of Collins, Genesis, Dire Straits etc seemed nothing more than a betrayal of their youth. I began to retreat, in disgust, to the refuge of Peel and late night Radio One.

  27. 27
    swanstep on 18 Sep 2009 #

    So what’s the #2 watch for this? Did it keep Tears for Fears’ ‘Shout’ off the top of the UK charts? That’s too bad if so. TFF had two #1’s in 1985 in most places and seem to fit (overlord) Tom’s new pop template to a T. (and Shout in particular continues the overwhelming production mold established by Frankie and I feel for you). Too bad then if, as with ABC, the UK charts didn’t cooperate!

  28. 28
    Tom on 18 Sep 2009 #

    I’m rather pleased it’s “Easy Lover” of all things that’s exposing a generation gap on Popular.

  29. 29
    Erithian on 18 Sep 2009 #

    swanstep #27 – it was Alison Moyet and Frankie, see #11. “Shout” peaked at 4 below Foreigner, and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” will be the Number 2 Watch for the next entry.

  30. 30
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Sep 2009 #

    Thing is, this also fits a significant “new pop” template, the one Def Leppard and Mutt Lange brought to hair metal with Pyromania in 83: which was utterly off the radar of the uk commentariat radar, which despised and had banished metal from the discussion; was thus unaware of its rapid and unexpected studio evolution — it suddenly struck me that trevor horn, who certainly DID know of pyromania, bcz ts fingerprints are all over his Frankie work, COULD have pushed the envelope further actually — re nu-pop, rock guitar was out of favour, so he’d hired steve howe specifically to taboo-bust this for the frankie LP, which was a nice gesture, but howe was the wrong proggy really, too filigree, too pretty; something more in the line of the lumpen-gone-stellar layered sugarcrunch of lep, not name guitarists even, just solid journeymen willing to be used as sound-treatment, and THEN combined THIS with the shattering kaleidoscope mysticism of high period EWF (81-83)

    and then hired p.collins to wander round forlornly blokeishly as the middle-england everyman unable to connect but unable to tear himself away

    and covered a song off lamb lies down on broadway obv

    (boy it’s lucky ztt only got morley and not me when ‘m on a deadline)
    (weirdly enough i only heard this ever for the first time today! it’s nice, esp.the arrangement, but not as goodv as the idea sketched above)

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