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Phil Collins, a valuable face

Blame Peter Gabriel. For five years, Phil Collins was just the drummer. But when the lead singer for Genesis quit in 1974, the band could not find a suitable replacement, and Collins reluctantly stepped in — and a superstar was born.

It took a couple of albums with Genesis for Collins to find his voice, but by the time he produced his first solo album, "Face Value," which was released 35 years ago on Feb. 9, he had already emerged from behind the drum kit and unleashed his band from its progressive rock trappings a year earlier with the pop hit "Misunderstanding," from 1980's "Duke."

This shouldn't have come as a total surprise. Collins' musical palette was expansive, but he was weaned on the Beatles and Motown. He was a 13-year-old in the audience at the Scala Theatre in London during the concert sequences for "A Hard Day's Night" (for the doubtful, Collins points himself out in the crowd in the terrific 1994 documentary "The Making of A Hard Day's Night," which he narrated). Years later, as a professional drummer, he had another brush with the Fabs when he played, uncredited, on George Harrison's 1970 landmark "All Things Must Pass" album (memories are vague, but the song is believed to be "Art of Dying").   

When he joined Genesis in 1970 at 19, Collins solidified the unstable drummer's position and took the group to another level of artistry, according to his bandmates. He did sing the odd tune and frequently provided background vocals, but he had not yet developed as a songwriter. It took Gabriel's departure for him to fully flower.   

Before going solo, Collins actually joined another band. Brand X was an exciting jazz fusion outfit that featured top-notch musicianship, and yes, that included Collins, much underrated as a drummer. The 1976 debut, "Unorthodox Behavior," is probably their best and promised a rewarding secondary career for Collins. But his stay was short-lived, lasting only two albums because of conflicts working with his "real" band.

It wasn't until Collins was experiencing marital trouble that his first solo album took shape. His bandmates, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, decided to record solo albums of their own while Collins sorted out his personal mess. When it turned out he couldn't, he was alone and "had nothing to do." He started writing songs that, musically and lyrically, were miles away from Genesis. Most of them were heartfelt ballads. By the time he was done, he had enough songs for an album.

"Like the album made itself without me knowing it," Collins said in an interview at the time. "There was never any conscious time where I sat down and said, 'Right, I'm going to do an album.' It just sort of crept up behind me."    

"Face Value" turned out to be a huge hit (No. 7), with two Top 20 singles in "I Missed Again" and "In the Air Tonight," and spawned a massively successful — many have said overexposed — solo career. These days, some call the album his best work, even a masterpiece. The record features guest appearances by Eric Clapton, Stephen Bishop, and the Earth Wind & Fire horn section. Musically, there is a lot of variety to complement the ballads, including two instrumentals and a cover of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" that, in hindsight, was ill-advised.      

To celebrate his solo success, Collins has launched a deluxe CD and vinyl reissue campaign, which also coincides with his 65th birthday on Jan. 30. "Face Value" and his fifth effort, "Both Sides," were simultaneously released Jan. 29. More reissues are coming in February.

© Burlingtoncountytimes, by Mario Constantino

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