Phil Collins: Terrible Or Terrific?

Tuesday, June 04, 2013
Photo vis ThinkNice
Phil Collins seems to be a pop culture conundrum to me--in the grand scheme of music history, is he terrible...or terrific? 

It's a question I've struggled with ever since the 1980s, when I first became aware of who Phil Collins was. On the one hand, he's a tremendous drummer...and I know at least one drummer who admires his skills, particularly on projects outside of Genesis such as Brand X, which was a jazz fusion group active in the mid-70s and later again in the 1990s. On the other hand, Collins can be downright irritating--his sappy solo hits evoke strong emotions and usually not of the sympathetic variety; he's been called "The Most Hated Man in Rock and Roll." I found his 1989 hit "Another Day in Paradise" among a blogger's worst songs ever written list, who so aptly described the reasoning for his choice with five poignant words: "Shut the f*** up, moron." 

So this post is my half-assed attempt at determining if Collins is painfully uncool...or You know what I mean. No offense to the Collins fans out there; this is purely my opinion. Here we go.

Terrific: He appeared as an extra in A Hard Day's Night. That's pretty cool, right? He was 13 at the time and is sitting in the audience during the television concert sequence, and also narrated and added commentary to the documentary You Can't Do That: The Making of A Hard Day's Night.

Terrible: "I Can't Dance." Collins' whiny vocals in this song really grate on my nerves ("'Cause IIIIIIII can't dance, IIIIIIII can't sing") as does the "dancing" by the group--they just look like dorks. And seeing Collins on a beach with a pink tank top, baggy jeans and long hair (despite a receding hairline) is really unsettling. I don't care if it was the early 90s--this is just awful. 

Terrific: A little 1988 movie starring Collins called Buster. Buster was about Buster Edwards, a petty crook who was involved in England's Great Train Robbery of 1963. I was truly prepared to hate this movie and thought that it would be yet another misguided attempt to turn a singer into a movie star. Surprisingly, it's not all that bad and costars Julie Walters. 

Terrible: "Sussudio." What does su-su-sudio mean anyway? Collins admitted in the 80s during its release that the word has no meaning. And yet it manages to stick in your craw all day like lint to velcro. So. Damn. Annoying.

Terrific: "In the Air Tonight." No need to go into much detail why. It will forever be associated with Miami Vice.

Terrible: "Illegal Alien." Without a doubt, one of the worst pop/rock songs ever written, accompanied by an awful racist video. Collins tries to sing the song with a Mexican accent and the band wears mustaches and sombreros. One verse in particular was so controversial that it was omitted for radio play and from the video:

"Keep your suspicions, I've seen that look before
But I ain't done nothing wrong now, is that such a surprise?
But I've got a sister who'd be willing to oblige
She will do anything now to help me get to the outside"

Yeesh. Phil, what the hell were you thinking? Can you imagine if they tried to release this song today? 

Terrible: "Don't Lose My Number." This song makes about as much sense as a gorilla wearing a ballerina costume. The lyrics throughout are addressed to some dude named Billy--who the hell is Billy anyway? It's as if Collins assumes we should know. The video is even worse, mixing Western and Mad Max themes. 

Terrific: The video for "Land of Confusion." Featuring the puppets of Spitting Image, this one will give you the heebie jeebies. Creative and unsettling.  

Photo via A Blumes With A View
Terrible: This photo. Something about his baldness and shorts reminds me of George Costanza's Art of Seduction pose from Seinfeld

Terrific: "Easy Lover." I love this song. 

Well I guess the conclusion we've come to here today is...Collins is both terrible and terrific!


  1. But what about his work with Genesis?

  2. You are right about Collins being both terrific and terrible. Stonking drummer, occasional genius song writer and a big voice. Not surprising he acts so well in Buster as he started on the stage, Oliver! for example. Shades of Davy Jones.

  3. I'll never forgive him for screwing up the Led Zeppelin reunion at Live Aid.

  4. great drumming on eno's rock albums

  5. Better Taste than YouJune 06, 2013 3:32 AM

    Phil Collins with Genesis was terrific, solo was terrible, especially Easy Lover. I liked Sususudio better, and I don't like it.

  6. Illegal Alien was freakin' BRILLIANT! I guess satire in a song is too much for your small mind to comprehend, so you resort to the boring canard of "Racism!"

    Hell, I know Hispanic people that LOVED that song.

  7. Phil Collins was and is awesome. ?He accomplished more in a few years than most (I suspect including the author of this piece)will accomplish in an entire life.

    Stupid article.

  8. He was awesome with Genesis. Inventive, complex rock with Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett. The pop route has certainly made a lot of money, though.

  9. Whoa, so odd that some kiddies need to get their Underoos in a huge wad. This post was done tongue-in-cheek (but I guess I should be flattered that some folks think it is a full-fledged "article.") Where's your sense of humor? Also, it is not anti-Collins, but some people obviously only want to look at the "terrible" points. I like Genesis and still have my "Invisible Touch" album...on cassette!

  10. I'm Team Collins! I do agree with some of your selections as terrible, although I probably enjoy them a little more than you: Illegal Alien and Land of Confusion aren't songs I really enjoy. But I especially love Billy Don't Lose My Number. I just do! :)

    The Genesis album Invisible Touch still gets regular play around my house, and I listen to his greatest hits from time to time, although I'm more likely to blast Mike and the Mechanics!

    I definitely agree that he's a good actor. Surprisingly good.

    Also, One More Night = Fantastic. OK, gonna pull out my CDs now!

    Fun article!

  11. Phil Collins had hair??! ;-)
    I completely agree about "Su-su-sudio" -ugh! "No reply at all" always bothered me with it's stop-start pattern, but whatever.
    I always thought "In the Air tonight" was wonderfully atmospheric. And I loved the "Take Me Home" song and video in 1986, because that year I was heading to England for 6 months, and it got me all excited about my big trip. :-)

  12. Ha! A conundrum indeed! You summed it up perfectly babe.. or am I just as torn as I was before reading? LOL. Oh well.. I guess I figure he has enough "Good stuff" in the bank for me to still be a fan.

  13. Phil Collin's eclectic sound, from Disney to the Beatles, always has intrigued me. The "Land Of Confusion" video (with the British puppets) was a sharp political stab, and the cover of the Beatles "Tomorrow Never Knows" is awesome. I still don't get what a Sussudio is, and some of it does seem whiney, but "In The Air Tonight" helped define the ambiance in "Risky Business" and I think even the 80s... Yeah, Phil Collins is definitely in the "great" category...

  14. Collins has the chops as both a drummer and a singer, less than great on the songwriting front (Peter was the writing genius), and let's not forget his personal farewell to his wife by faxing her a "Dear Joan" letter that was less than kind. He had his farewell forever tour on the retro circuit last year. Personally, I doubt I would go if he was touring. It seemed to be about shaking the money tree after "Then There Were Three".

  15. He is a great talent. And with all artists there are some good performances and others need help. Phil is consistantly good.

  16. Billy Don't Lose My Number was like a cheesier version of Steely Dan's Rikki Billy Don't Lose That Number, wasn't it?


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