May 09

PHIL COLLINS – “You Can’t Hurry Love”

FT + Popular96 comments • 7,225 views

#513, 15th January 1983

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.



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  1. 1
    Miguel Toledo on 11 May 2009 #

    Tom, I read your tweet yesterday, asking for reasons why Collins might have been so huge in the 80s. Even though many of his latter work sounds completely devoided of any hint of a soul behind the music, I still think some of his pop stuff deserves being revisited. The sonic landscapes in “Face Value” and Frida’s “Something’s going on” may pale when compared to the exhuberance of the ZTT stuff of the time, but they were achievements nevertheless, and had they had a lesser competition, they might have set the standard for their years. Later on Genesis suffers a bit from being the prime example of how awfully the first generation of rockers coped with the fact they were aging (see Mick Jagger’s solo records to find out how low they could go), but when it goes down to the music, “Land of Confusion” is still a perfect demolition machine, maybe colder and less grovy than its kindred spirits ZTT and MJ’s Bad, but nearly as remarkable as them.

  2. 2
    Billy Smart on 11 May 2009 #

    No, Tom – this is both stodgy AND dreadful! Theres a terrible soulless aridity at the heart of Phil Collins’ records – empty, processed, emoting.

    When I was ten, I had never heard The Supremes, it is true – and registered this as a clearly good song, but as soon as you’ve heard the original the eighties version becomes redundant. That’s not a criticism that I’d lay at ‘It’s My Party’, say, even though that’s also a manifestly inferior cover, there’s clearly an attempt to reconsider the song.

    And the multiple Collins in the video, the ‘novelty’ which did much of the job of selling it to 1983 pop-pickers is doubly irritaing gimmick: egotism as faux self-effacingness.

  3. 3
    Steve Mannion on 11 May 2009 #

    Sometimes I love the mid 80s more than the beginning or the end! But you’ve nailed exactly what’s wrong with this here so can’t argue with the score. I would’ve been fairly happy with any of his next four singles after this topping the charts (yes even ‘Take Me Home’ what of it). EDIT (I’ve not included ‘Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away’ here – just because i don’t know it and it stalled at #45, nor the duet with Bailey).

  4. 4
    Tom on 11 May 2009 #

    Oh, I think so too, and luckily we’ll have the chance to revisit Collins’ stuff again – as songwriter and performer – and put the positive case a bit more strongly.

    I’d forgotten “Land Of Confusion” – it is good!

  5. 5
    The Lurker on 11 May 2009 #

    I was all set to provide a spirited defence of early Phil Collins, only to find that you have been reasonably kind to him… As a teenager I was big fan of Genesis, and through that came to Collins’s solo work. I still think his first two solo albums stand up reasonably well – most of the songs on them are his angry or bewildered response to his (first) wife leaving him, with a few songs in which Phil adopts a character (eg the lonely stalker of Thru These Walls).

    YCHL is a bit of an anomaly on its parent album and kind of points the way to his subsequent albums, which tend to be full of ersatz soul numbers. I know it’s a cliche to say misery makes for better art, and I don’t wish to reopen a debate on authenticity, but I do think his songs were better when he was miserable! YCHL is better than most of those later songs – I think you’re probably right to say it sounds fine until you listen back to the original. All the same, I’d stretch to a 6.

  6. 6
    Tom on 11 May 2009 #

    #2 I think later Collins’ emoting became a lot more rote – like a lot of non-singers who hit big, he got rather seduced by a particular kind of delivery. But I wouldn’t level that charge at his earlier stuff – the bottled-up entitled rage on the divorce hits is real, even if it’s a bit ugly.

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    Billy Smart on 11 May 2009 #

    #2 watch: A week of David Essex’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’. Scarcely one of his great moments, but quite sweet all the same.

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    Steve Mannion on 11 May 2009 #

    my big Collins discovery of late has been ‘I’m Not Moving’. Face Value seems like a good LP overall. I don’t know why he liked using his face so big on almost all of his albums but at least it made sense on that occasion.

  9. 9
    Tom on 11 May 2009 #

    A reasonable answer to your question Steve is provided by looking at the sleeve of the LP on which he DIDN’T use his face.

  10. 10
    vinylscot on 11 May 2009 #

    This is obviously not a patch on the Supremes original. However, I don’t think Collins is covering the Supremes original. I’m pretty sure he’s actually covering the Stray Cats arrangement from the b-side of their “Rock This Town” single.

    However, it fails on that count too, as he has none of the exuberance and joyfulness of the Stray Cats. This may quite possibly where Collins “jumped the shark”, even for those previously well-disposed towards him.

  11. 11
    LondonLee on 11 May 2009 #

    I like the idea that Phil only just found out that pop/rock music could be a fun game and not all about soul-baring confessionals and “complicated” Prog epics. But that’s probably the exact point where it all went wrong for him, once him and his Genesis mates started trying the be funny (ie: ‘Illegal Alien’) they came across as smug arseholes who didn’t know how to tell a joke.

    Weird synchronicity dept: “I Know What I Like In Your Wardrobe” by Genesis just came up on my iTunes.

  12. 12
    rosie on 11 May 2009 #

    And so we come to Rosie’s annus horribilis, during the course of which I was battered, bruised, chewed up, spat out, washed up, and emerged sadder but wiser and on the rise again.

    Actually, despite the dismal New Year, it didn’t start out too badly. Towards the end of 1982 my neighbour Nancy had inveigled me into joining the Labour Party. I’d attended a couple of branch meetings and discovered that, contrary to my fears, I didn’t wake up to a baying Militant lynch mob outside my door if I said anything contentious. And being not fully attentive at the January AGM I found myself appointed branch secretary, a role which I threw myself into with gay abandon. One of my first tasks was to take a branch resolution to move it at the General Management Committee. This was a rumbustious affair with much plotting, double-dealing and back-stabbing going on in the hall and I, who hadn’t made a speech in public before, had to stand in front of them with knees wobbling, blood draining from face, lungs locking up in asthmatic protest, and speak into an unprotected microphone. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. I opened it again. “C-c-c-Comrades,” I forced out. A rare moment of unity gripped the throng and a hundred voices cried out as one. “NAME AND BRANCH!” they screamed.

    There are many old-timers in today’s Labour Party who yearn nostalgically for that level of grassroots enthusiams.

    Now, where were we? Oh, Phil Collins. I liked stuff like In The Air Tonight. I thought this one was a pleasant novelty, and being very familiar with the Supremes’ original wasn’t ever likely to take it too seriously. I don’t think Phil did, either. I might venture a 5, possibly a 6.

  13. 13
    c on 11 May 2009 #

    before the eighties nostalgia machine got into motion my concept of eighties music (being a sneery teenager of the nineties) was “phil collins”. So i don’t think you’re being unfair at all!

  14. 14
    lonepilgrim on 11 May 2009 #

    This cover now seems to me like part of the 80s process of the canonisation and neuterisation of ‘soul’ when marketed for a white audience. Examples include the Blues Brothers, the rise of Ace records, hipper than hip references in The Face and the Levis ads and led to the likes of George Michael’s and Annie Lennox’s patronising duets with soul ‘legends’.
    PC always sounds chippy and cross in his performances – even when he is attempting to sound romantic -which may be why he found such an audience with Mondeo man.

  15. 15
    LondonLee on 11 May 2009 #

    I wouldn’t lump Ace Records in with that, I spent a lot of my student grant on their reissues.

    The Blues Brothers was especially galling though, in the video for this Phil reminded me of some loud, rubgy-loving twat in the pub trying to show how hip he was by putting them on jukebox and doing a funny little “Mod” dance to amuse his mates.

  16. 16
    Erithian on 11 May 2009 #

    Rosie #12 – I can sympathise with that story. I’m not going to go into any detail on my brief foray into student politics, but it was no less disastrous. Oona King’s “House Music” is well worth a read on the subject of Labour politics – she’s out of the House but you reckon she’d come out of the current sleazefest smelling of roses.

    It’s pretty difficult to louse up a song like this, and that dum-dum-dum, dum dum der-dum rhythm is as old as rock’n’roll itself (without reviving that debate!) – so yes, he does a pretty good job of it although you’d always go back to the original.

    The transition from the muso doing those complex time signatures on Genesis tracks (I’m thinking “Dance on a Volcano” where I’ve tried drumming along on the table but the beats pop up almost randomly!) to the mid-80s megastar, via that one the gorilla plays on the advert, is intriguing. Even more so is the notion of Collins’ great popularity among the hip-hop/R&B community. It’s a minefield of a subject, but while it’s perfectly understandable for white music fans to be well-versed in black artists, you don’t tend to expect fandom to go the other way. One of my closest black friends sees no reason why he shouldn’t be just as fond of karaoke-ing classic 70s rock (Bad Company, Golden Earring) as James Brown or Barry White, but when Waldo wondered whether Jamaicans might have liked the Police, the R-word was deployed and things really kicked off. Let’s be careful out there, but – any thoughts?

  17. 17
    Tom on 11 May 2009 #

    #14 yes I was thinking of saying something similar so I’m glad you’ve opened this particular can. Be interested in Andypandy’s thoughts on this – how the soul subculture got co-opted (or invaded) the mainstream as the decade progressed.

    My instinct, incidentally, is that with hindsight it all seems a great deal less irksome than it did at the time: certainly no more harmful than people in the mid-90s saying “Cor isn’t Waterloo Sunset a great record”.

  18. 18
    JonnyB on 11 May 2009 #

    Fair review, methinks.

    There’s a part of me that’s always wanted to be a drummer. I am an absolutely fantastic drummer in my head, but unfortunately I’m horribly, embarrassingly incapable of translating that to my arm and foot movements. So I have always had this thing about Phil Collins – he is such a terrific, terrific drummer so WHY DOESN’T HE BLOODY PLAY THE DRUMS ANY MORE?

    You would have probably been able to file me under ‘He has betrayed the spirit of Genesis!!!’ had I not come to the eighties version of the band first. This was because, bizarrely, ‘Genesis’ (the album) was a set work on the ‘O’ level syllabus in… erm… 1986? Clearly, we all hated it, solely for that very reason. But listening back, it’s half a really, really good record. ‘Mama’ is a fantastic track, and you can see where he went from there.

    Looking at YCHL in isolation, the record does nothing for me, so a 4 seems a fair score, guvnor.

  19. 19
    Jonathan Bogart on 11 May 2009 #

    Erithian@16: No thoughts at all on that front — Stuff Black People Like being as individual and eccentric as every black person! I’m concurrently writing a final essay for a professor whose father was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance, and one of his first lectures was devoted to the irreparable loss that African-American culture has suffered since jazz declined in popularity, although he’s more Gil Scott-Heron than Charlie Parker.

    But a couple of thoughts on Phil Collins. I first knew him through the early-90s Genesis hits, and literally worked my way back through the 80s and 70s. I tend to say that I only like the Peter Gabriel Genesis (Selling England By The Lb. was one of my first random purchases when I started checking out rock’s back pages), but the truth is I’ve never given the Collins-led group much of a shot, and if pressed could only really name the-one-Eminem-references-in-Stan (I assume the bunny’s in effect here) as a Collins song. Not having been radio-aware in the 80s — and being American, as he seems to have been at least a bit more popular in the UK — he’s a bit of a blind spot. More so than Peter Gabriel’s solo work, which I have heard and whose white plastic-soul affectations are far more irritating to me.

    I haven’t heard this and don’t intend to: the Supremes’ is such a perfect piece of pop that any other version seems redundant.

  20. 20
    Pete on 11 May 2009 #

    I’ve often wondered how much of the sincere love of Collins from the rap stars of the last decade is attached to the music and how much around the association of this music as a status symbol of affluence in their childhood.

    From a musical perspective Collins is more than a solid drummer, and as a drummer he had a good ear for rhythm in his music and productions, which would attract from a sampling point of view. But he never struck me as outstanding amongst his peers.

    Collins ended up as Tom says, a poster boy for the 80’s boom generation (how is less clear to me even now). And don’t forget he is a Tory too – affluence politics and leaving the country with Noel Edmonds if Labour wins elections. And here and in much of his other music Collins shows an appreciation of black music without pastiching it. But yes, still seems bizarre to me, as much as it would seem bizarre to me ANYONE liking Collins that much.

  21. 21
    Jonathan Bogart on 11 May 2009 #

    One of my first impressions of Phil Collins was reading a blurb in Newsweek ca. 1994(?) of a poll that had then recently been taken in Britain as to who if anyone should replace John in a hypothetical reunion of the Beatles. His sons led the list, followed by (if memory serves) Collins, whichever of the Gallaghers it is wot sings, and I think Sting and Rod Stewart. All of which struck me as ridiculous, but Collins even more so somehow.

  22. 22
    Jonathan Bogart on 11 May 2009 #

    Oh and here’s the inevitable “he did a great job on all those 70s Brian Eno records” post.

  23. 23
    Tom on 11 May 2009 #

    I used to work with someone called Phil, which I assumed was short for Philippa BUT NO, her name was Phil Collins [surname], which she had changed by deed poll to reflect her love for the maritally-unfortunate sticksman. She also wore a locket with his picture in and had the finest example I have ever seen of a LadyMullet.

    I am not sure she was representative of his fanbase though.

  24. 24
    LondonLee on 11 May 2009 #

    That’s funny, I once knew a girl who changed her name to Mark Knopfler.

    Just kidding.

    The Isley Brothers did a lovely version of ‘If Leaving Me Is Easy’ which is where I think I first heard about rap and soul artists love of ol’ Phil.

  25. 25
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 11 May 2009 #

    as i spent much of this decade interviewing people who — by view of being the wrong age or colour, or just speaking the wrong language or playing a type of music that was ignored as a job lot (because the “wrong kinds of people listened to it, see line 1) — weren’t allowed into the cognoscenti-circle of discussion, i get a bit antsy at dismissals like lonepilgrim’s, which were only all-too commonplace in the late 80s

    what i see is a generation of professional musicians having several ways they’d have be DELIGHTED to have their work engaged with sneered at, viz:
    i: the old records being made available (and them getting paid for it)
    ii: younger successive pop artists performing with them
    iii: their work getting regular favourable mention in fancy young people’s magazines

    all these apparently have fatwa declared on them: in return, they get the delightfully unpatronising treatment of the hipper-than-hipper-than-hip declaring their life’s work to be Suddenly Bland and Neutered After All, bcz (oh noes!) people are paying attention to it in larger numbers than recently!

    this was an approach to the conundrum pioneered in the second half of the 80s by the music paper i wasn’t at (or only at for a matter of weeks) where (seriously, this wasn’t a secret in the rock-paper gossip of the time) black folks generally had to pass a VERY stringent set of just-made-up ideological rules before they got any kind of attention at ALL — the nme got pretty bad at this after c.1988, but the mm pioneered the shut-out

    the solution to bad writing about good music — and bad engagement generally* — is the establishment of BETTER writing and BETTER engagement: not the cowardly erasure of an entire generation of a tradition from music’s history of itself

    *and yes, lonepilgrim is of course largely right about some of the efforts he mocks (blues brothers sets my teeth on edge, despite aretha’s performance), and the Hornby-fication Effect generally, and no, i realise he isn’t remotely to blame for the antics of a bunch of silly rock journalists (and perhaps more to the point, rock-paper editors) more than two decades ago…

    (also: seriously, i must try and stop re-fighting the battles of my youth by proxy!)

  26. 26
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 11 May 2009 #

    phil collins should have joined the john-less beatles ALONGSIDE RINGO and done burundi-beat knockoffs: ants are a kind of beetle*! and being cast as the adam would have done wonders for p mcartney*!

    *this is possibly not true
    **ok i can’t think of anything worse than Macca Ant but SAME DIF pop pickers :/

  27. 27
    lonepilgrim on 11 May 2009 #

    #25 – I agree – like Lee at #15 I was enriched by the music that Ace released in the 80s and (unlike Lee(?)) was probably introduced to Aretha, Ray Charles and Cab Calloway through the Blues Brothers movie – so my attitude to those channels is not utterly dismissive (although you would not pick up that nuance from my original post).

  28. 28
    LondonLee on 11 May 2009 #

    I was a soul snob long before the Blues Brothers I’m afraid. But hell, if it made Solomon Burke some extra cash I can’t complain too much.

    I still get worked up during American Idol when someone announces they’re going to sing Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” or “Cry Baby” (which someone did the other week) and I have to scream IT WAS ERMA FRANKLIN!! IT WAS GARNETT MIMMS!! at the telly.

  29. 29
    Steve Mannion on 11 May 2009 #

    60s songs re-appearing (and often finding a bigger audience the second time around) was a trend in effect from the time I became conscious of Pop until a certain point in time I’m not sure of. Maybe it hasn’t actually happened yet although I feel this decade’s approach to and treatment of old Soul is different to what we regularly had in the 80s and 90s.

    As common as an artist simply covering an old song they loved for whatever reason (just how likely was it at the time that already-massive Collins covering the Supremes = surefire guaranteed smash hit?) would be the advert effect (kicking in around the mid-80s with Levis or are there earlier examples? I think The Hollies also benefitted from this) and the use of old songs on film soundtracks (another thing that seems to have dwindled in the 00s) which probably reached a peak at the turn of the next decade with ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘Unchained Melody’s huge soundtrack-related sales. SAW’s penchant for remixing golden oldies (Petula Clarke, the Four Tops) probably irked many who bought the originals (whether or not they irked me seems more arbitrary looking back. I did like some but we could’ve had twice as many re-releases and remixes and covers topping the charts tho so should be grateful for small mercies).

    But I don’t suppose this inability to shake off the 60s was really that troublesome when there was so much else going on and plenty of different ideas all jostling for attention in the hit parade.

    Having said all that I just remembered how the much later ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’, so nearly a chart-topper was covered and charted twice more within 12 years of it’s original release. I’m glad Collins kept his tributes to a minimum, even if his take on this one beats most of his 90s output itself.

  30. 30
    AndyPandy on 11 May 2009 #

    Tom at 17: white ‘hipsters’ using black music as a short cut to cool seem to have a time lag of anything up to 20 years from contemporary black tastes though eg playing 30s and 40s blues in the 60s, 60s soul in the 80s and 70s funk in the 90s.
    And not just a time lag to black taste too as according to legendary dj James Hamilton (who’d started playing to the original mods in mid60s London and carried on playing out dance music through to the 90s)in an 80s article* the 80s equivalent of the original mods were the jazz, funk, and modern soul fans he encountered at the weekenders etc

    Pete at 20: I believe that the idea that Phil Collins said he was going to vote Tory and leave the country has been shown up to be mischief making/an urban myth by someone who didnt like him. As in various articles he has said he never said such a thing and has defied anyone to come up with anywhere where he said it…

    *strangely however this contention was in a review of a very untypical occasion when a 60s club figure Georgie Fame (of all people) DID play to an 80s dance audience when in an attempt to promote his cover of Gilberto Gil’s 80s club hit “Toda Menina Baiana” he played in one of the rooms at an 80s dance weekender.

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