The Meaning Behind ‘In The Air Tonight’ By Phil Collins
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 30: Phil Collins performs on stage at the Barclaycard Presents British Summer Time Festival in Hyde Park on June 30, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
Phil Collins has built quite an outstanding catalog of songs that remain iconic even by today’s standards. The musician, who started his career as Genesis’ drummer, has truly lucked out (and perhaps the Genesis members as well) when he became the main vocalist for the group. Replacing Peter Gabriel’s role, he brought the band to greater heights of commercial fame; critics would argue that he’s the best replacement for the band indeed.
But the success of his career brought ill-fate to Collins’ personal life. After the band completed a lengthy world tour, Collins’ first wife, Andrea, gave him an ultimatum that if he’d go on tour once again, she’d leave him. ‘I’m a musician. I have to go away and play,” Collins told Rolling Stone. He then told her: “‘Just hold your breath when I’m over there.’ Then Genesis toured Japan. When I got back, she said she was leaving and taking the kids.”
After that heartbreaking incident, he temporarily left Genesis. Now, with plenty of time in his hands, he channeled his energy into songwriting. “One day I was working on a piece in D-minor, the saddest [key] of all. I just wrote a sequence, and it sounded nice. I wrote the lyrics spontaneously. I’m not quite sure what the song is about, but there’s a lot of anger, a lot of despair, and a lot of frustration,” he added. And that’s how he conceived the idea of “In The Air Tonight.”
Disrupted and dejected, Collins released all his emotions through the song’s lyrics. “The lyrics you hear for ‘In the Air Tonight,’ I just sang,” he told Mix. “I opened my mouth and they came out. I never wrote anything down and then afterward; I listened to it and wrote them down.”
“In the Air Tonight” became the drummer’s first solo hit, with his solo debut album also hitting the charts. The song was hauntingly mysterious; which invited some of the craziest theories of how Collins formed the magnum opus. An urban myth that surrounded the song tells us about Collins, who once saw a drowning man but refused to help him when he knew that the man had cheated on his wife. Of course, such theory was rejected multiple times by him, but the impact of his crafty songwriting truly marked the history of music; proving Collins’ superiority as a musician.
Listen to the song below.