Tag Archives: The Eagles

Collins, Phil

A few years ago, I wrote about some of my musical guilty pleasures. Included on that list was the band Genesis. I’ve had Phil Collins on the brain for a few weeks now, and I’m not sure why. Then last week I read an article about how he’s planning on playing at the opening ceremonies of the US Open at the end of this month. It’s a big deal because Collins has all but dropped off the face of the Earth these past few years. The reason for this has varied, depending on who you ask: Collins can’t hold drumsticks anymore due to a crippling back/nerve issue, he wants to spend more time with his family, he’s near death after years of substance abuse, and he’s so rich he doesn’t need to perform or record music anymore. But the biggest reason given for his extended absence from the spotlight–he got sick and tired of all the criticism.

This leads me back to my post from 2012 on my Top 5 Guiltiest Musical Pleasures. Genesis made the list, but why? It’s wasn’t because of their bizarre and sometimes beautiful early prog-records with Peter Gabriel. It was because of Phil Collins. I grew up on classic rock radio and Collins’ work with Genesis and his first few solo albums were in heavy rotation back in the 1990’s. Even today, his biggest songs like “In The Air Tonight” are played almost as often as FM staples like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Hotel California.” Growing up, Collins and Genesis never struck me as particularly cool nor did they strike me as uncool. This was not the case among my peers. I had a friend in Junior High who used to get teased mercilessly because his mother was a very, very big Phil Collins fan. I liked this guy a lot, but there were so many other things about him people could make fun of, so why was his mom being a Phil Collins fan such an issue?

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Is this the face of the most hated man in popular music?

I have two theories about why people hate Phil Collins so much. The first is that Collins was simply just too damn successful. The ubiquitous nature of his music during the 1980’s and early 1990’s made people sick of him. The same reasoning can be applied to The Eagles, who also have gone from beloved to hated by the culture at large. Getting over-played on the radio isn’t the band’s fault, but the listening public can only take so much before a backlash begins. Modern radio with its limited song rotation certainly did nothing to help either Collins or The Eagles. By playing “Life In The Fast Lane” 50 to 100 times a day, people got sick of The Eagles. Likewise, Collins was overplayed both as a successful solo artist and as a member of Genesis. Collins was a double-threat releasing hit songs by himself and with Genesis, though many people might have trouble telling them apart, especially near the end of both his solo career and his life with the band. Collins became a symbol of the old guard, his success was so great he became locked in an ivory tower. This made him the perfect target for the younger bands emerging in the 1990’s who showed real disdain for him (specifically Oasis, who were merciless in their public criticism of Collins).

The second reason Collins has become so hated has to do with Collins the artist. Phil Collins has two modes: mindless pop and painfully earnest sincerity. People can handle one or the other, but when an artist tries to exist in both worlds people start having problems. A good example of this is “Another Day In Paradise.” The song was written by Collins at the end of the 1980’s and tackles the issue of homelessness. It’s a serious subject, one that is undercut by the fact that it’s being done by a millionaire who made his fortune off of bubblegum pop like “Sussudio.” Collins tried to make both serious art and product, essentially trying to exist in two different boxes. This was something that people simply couldn’t reconcile. Making matters worse, a large swath of the listening public finds earnest sincerity fake when it’s attached to a smarmy-looking millionaire.

But none of this is very fair to Collins, is it? After all, it’s not his fault that he was so successful. And it’s not his fault that he’s able to make simple pop music and music with a bit more weight behind it. I don’t think the man’s career is unblemished (it isn’t) or that he hasn’t recorded more than a few stinkers (he has), but I do think the level of hate for Collins is simply disproportionate to his contribution to popular culture. Even if you don’t particularly like him or his music, you can’t help but admit that “In The Air Tonight” is an interesting, cool, song. In fact, I can’t think of another song that’s like “In The Air Tonight” that became a massive hit.

So I’m removing both Genesis and Phil Collins from my list of Guilty Pleasures and instead owning the fact that I like a large portion of the music he’s created. There’s been a sort of ironic appreciation of his career over the past few years, but I want it to be known that there is not a drop of irony in my love for Phil Collins. Human beings are petty, sometimes jealous creatures, and my guess is we needed a whipping boy. I’m sorry that person had to be Collins, but at least he seems to have been able to take it. Imagine someone like poor Morrissey saddled with a Phil Collins-level of public malice! He’d have thrown himself under a bus or train decades ago. I suspect that there are more than a few people placed in that awkward situation of secretly liking something that’s seemingly universally despised. If you’re such a person, my recommendation to you is to cast off the shackles of conformity and own your opinion. Unless you like Nickelback, in which case you’re not right in the head.

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Al Anderson’s “Ridin’ In My Car” Was Not A Hit: What The Hell 1977?

They say that life isn’t always fair, and nothing proves this adage more than the music industry.  Like a lot of show biz, the music industry operates on the whims of a fickle public and the greed of miserly record executives.  Sure, there are amazing success stories of bands and singers who are legitimately talented AND make boatloads of cash & fans–but for the most part the music biz is a landscape of dead dreams bloating in the sun.  If there was a sure-fire formula for crafting a #1 hit record, then some tycoon somewhere would have figured it out, right?  A quick glance at the Billboard charts for the last 25 years reveals a bizarre and, quite frankly, baffling array of popular/hit songs that have nothing in common–other than the fact that they were created by human beings.

As a race, human beings are always looking for answers.  We desperately seek order in the chaos that surrounds us.  I have a hard time putting my head on to my pillow each night, because I live in a world where Al Anderson’s “Ridin’ In My Car” was not a hit record.  If there truly is a higher power, why would he allow his children to suffer “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone?  Why would he place the crown of  Best Selling Single of 1977 upon a song like “You Light Up My Life” and not “Ridin’ In My Car”?  It just doesn’t make any sense, and quite frankly, only serves to underscore my own nagging suspicion that were are, in fact, truly without a higher power’s protection*.

I hope you are VERY pleased with yourself, 1977.

Who is Al Anderson?  Well he’s a guy who joined a band called the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet (NRBQ) in 1971 as a guitarist.  This is a band that I only recently discovered, but who’s legacy I’d been (unknowingly) enjoying for years.  The band was formed in 1967 in Florida and proceeded to quietly release super-fun and catchy pop-rock records.  They’ve maintained a dedicated following over the years and have actually done some pretty high-profile stuff.  What kind of stuff?  Well, when they weren’t buys touring and releasing awesome records  they wrote some songs for a little show called THE SIMPSONS** (maybe you’ve heard of it?).

And yet, you’ve still never heard of them (they’ve only recently popped up on my radar).  Now, to be fair, you probably haven’t heard of Debby Boone either and  if you have you probably hadn’t thought of her in a while.  So perhaps I’m putting an over-importance on having a “hit” single.  Maybe, in the end, it doesn’t really mean anything.  For example, it’s a famous rock anecdote that  guitar-God Jimi Hendrix only had one hit single (the Dylan cover of “All Along The Watchtower”).  Does that mean that Hendrix is in the same class as Debby Boone? I don’t think anyone would argue that, and yet I still can’t shake the Capitalist urge to judge artistic merit based on sales/popularity.

This album also features a song called “I’ve Got A Rocket In My Pocket,” which also failed to set the charts ablaze.

Chances are you’ve never heard “Ridin’ In My Car,” so you’re probably wondering what’s so special about it.  It’s a great little gem of pop-craftsmanship, and quite frankly the only astounding or truly awe-inspiring thing about it is the fact that it was not a hit song.   The song was released in 1977 (I cannot find any further information on the release date online, further evidence that history is written solely for and by the victors)  on NRBQ’s fourth album ALL HOPPED UP.  “Ridin’ In My Car”, even upon the first listen, strikes a very familiar cord.  It’s one of those songs that, as you’re listening to it, it seems like you’re already intimately familiar with it.  Like a classic Beatles cut, it’s immediately accessible and catchy.   Lyrically, the song is about the sadness of lost love and the memories of a pervious summer.  The song’s basic conceit is that this guy associates driving around with this woman that…well, things just didn’t work out between them (she found someone else):

“When I’m home alone I can think of other things to do/But when I’m rolling in forward motion I think about only you.”

It’s very pure and simple (and kind of cute),  which is exactly what a good song should be.  And even though the lyrics aren’t super-complex, they’re memorable and clever.   I specifically smile every time I hear the first verse, which despite having a very straightforward rhyme scheme (“chance” and “romance”) the phrasing is absolutely perfect:

“Remember last summer when we had the chance

To find each other, start making romance

But it didn’t come off beacuse you found another

Without one hand of a clock, what good is the other?”

I’m pretty sure that if you’d given me 1,000 years I’d have never come up with that comparison of lovers and two hands on a clock face–but it’s spectacular.  I’m not saying that this song is the greatest song of all-time or that it makes a deeply profound statement….but it beats the hell out of that other song released in 1977:

“Rollin’ at sea, adrift on the water

Could it be finally I’m turnin’ for home

Finally a chance to say “Hey, I love you”

Never again to be all alone

And you light up my life

You give me hope to carry on

You light up my days

And fill my night with song”

Poor Debby Boone, I’m glad she’s finally getting a chance to say “Hey, I love you.”  How fantastic for her.  I’m not going to beat up on Debby Boone, hell I don’t even know if she wrote “You Light Up My Life.”  In fact, now that I listen to the song I can totally see why it was a #1 hit song–it’s completely stupid and devoid of anything approaching honest emotion.  And artistry?  Forget it, this is pap…pure and simple. When I listen to “You Light Up My Life” I’m not challenged with any of the complexities of an actual human relationship.  There is metaphor and imagery in “You Light Up My Life” but it’s so basic and cliched that I know exactly what Debby’s singing upon first listen.  I don’t have to hurt my brain trying to figure out how Debby’s been “adrift” and how this new love is both a “home” for her and filling her with “song.”  This is popular entertainment at it’s finest and it was thusly rewarded.

So, to come full circle, the key to a hit song is just being completely idiotic and basic as hell…right?  Well, going back to 1977 it turns out there were SOME very popular songs that weren’t completely-lobotomized: The Eagles (the fuckin’ Eagles, man) had a monster hit with “Hotel California” which is pretty esoteric/sonically interesting (i.e. the opposite of “You Light Up My LIfe”).  Also a hit that year was Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s strange, kinda cool Springsteen cover “Blinded By The Light.”  I wouldn’t consider that (very controversial at the time) song to be a watered-down, idiot’s song.  Studying the charts for 1977 reveals just how skitzo American music tastes were/are.    I mean, 1977 was a year when the charts were topped by both the Bee Gees “I Just Want To Be Your Everything” and Meco’s “Star Wars Cantina Song.”  So in the end, the pop/rock charts for 1977 do little to explain what happened (or why) but only serve to underscore why the United States is a Republic and not a Democracy–because “popular” and “right” are often mutually exclusive.

FOOTNOTES:

*And if there is a God after all, he has one hell of a sense of humor.

** See the 8th episode of the 11th Season “Take My Wife, Sleaze” which features the (original/episode exculsive) song “Mayonnaise and Marmalade.” 

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