Over the years, I’ve made no secret about my love of Genesis and Phil Collins.
The man is a creative genius, having taught himself drums at an early age, only to join British prog-rock band Genesis in the early 1970’s, only to take over as lead singer when Peter Gabriel split.
As Phil himself once said: "I’m not a singer who plays a bit of drums. I’m a drummer that sings a bit."
Indeed. He also has that average, balding bloke quality that won you over because of that amazing talent of his, from the vocals to his monster-styled drumming to his seemingly down-to-earth attitude. Despite some marital strife, alcoholism and difficult health problems, Phil Collins has pressed on – and usually with a cheerful grin. He is releasing his memoir, Not Dead Yet, this autumn.
Plus, he has a notable obsession with The Alamo, which I find particularly interesting. In fact, it so fascinated me that I convinced one-time Red Dirt Report cartoonist to include Phil in a series of "Fables of the 46" strips where Phil and the ghost of Davy Crockett hang out.
"Fables of the 46" Phil Collins artwork by Brad Gregg
Sure, I get ribbed a lot, but in my teen years, the Philster was the pop-rock god. There was no escaping his music and videos on MTV. And remember how he performed at BOTH Live Aid concerts on the same day – one at London’s Wembley Stadium and the other at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia – after jetting across the Atlantic on the Concorde? That’s passion. And for a good cause!
And, of course, that was in the crazy, amazing summer of 1985 when Phil was on tour promoting his amazing No Jacket Required album, which would go on to sell 12 million copies in America and 25 million copies worldwide, featuring the number one hits "Sussudio" and "One More Night," along with top 10 hits "Don’t Lose My Number" and "Take Me Home" (which included Sting and Peter Gabriel on backing vocals). He was musically innovative, while also creating earworms that still capture your attention decades later.
This era was huge for both Phil and for Genesis (which released the enormously popular Invisible Touch in 1986), with Phil winning Album of the Year at the 1986 Grammy Awards for No Jacket Required, among other awards that year.
Phil seemed to have endless amounts of energy during this period, even finding time to appear in a memorable December 1985 episode of Miami Vice ("Phil the Shill"), where he plays a corrupt game show host and performs a song called "Life is a Rat Race." Some good memories there.
And while Phil’s popularity waned in the years to follow, it seems as though the mostly-retired singer/drummer/actor/producer is putting himself back out there once again, by reissuing (via his "Take A Look At Me Now" series) most of his solo catalogue, including the addition of demos and live tracks. Yes, you get Face Value, Hello, I Must Be Going and the underrated 1989 release …But Seriously, among others.
But one of the most interesting aspects is how Phil Collins has recreated his iconic album covers. So, with the recent reissue of No Jacket Required – my favorite of the lot – the older, more wrinkled Phil Collins – aglow in orange (thanks to photographer Patrick Balls), as he was on the original LP (photo by Peter Ashworth), which I still have – looks out at you, the listener, the fan. The Phil-o-Phile. Yep, that includes yours truly.
And yes, one could convincingly argue that better music than No Jacket Required was released in 1985, but for me, this album remains seared into my brain. So catchy. So memorable. So Phil (even if he claims it’s one of his least favorite solo releases).
So, on to the music. Compared to my vinyl, the compact disc version remains crisp sounding and Hugh Pagham’s co-production abilities are on fire here.
Phil starts things off right with "Sussudio," a song you could not escape in 1985. Sure, there were plenty of "Sussudio" jokes at the time (I mean, what kind of name is that? Is it a name?) and those brassy Phenix Horns (who performed with Phil on his cover of the Beatles’ 1966 song "Tomorrow Never Knows") add so much heft to this bass-heavy and funky pop tune. Phil just sounds like he’s having a great time!
The Phenix Horns return on "Only You Know and I Know" and "Who Said I Would." That brass always adds an infectious layer to the synths, bass, guitar and drums Phil has laid out with Hugh Padgham at the helm, of course.
And Phil's longing vocal on "Doesn't Anbody Stay Together Anymore" are heartfelt, as they are on the moving "We Said Hello Goodbye," where Phil sings: "Turn your head and don't look back / Just set your sails for a new horizon / Don't turn around, don't look down / Oh there's life across the tracks." Classic Phil!
Taking another listen to "Long Long Way To Go," which features Sting on backing vocals, and has a hauntingly beautiful quality with socially-conscious lyrics (as we would see again on '89's "Another Day in Paradise").
The live version on disc two (aka "Extra Large Jacket Required") of "Take Me Home" gives me goosebumps. It’s a concert closer and Phil gets the audience to sing along to the unforgettable chorus.
And the 1984 single "Easy Lover," which Phil performed with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey, is performed here, with Phil’s drumming well on display. At the end of the song, Phil thanks bassist Nathan East, who co-wrote the song.
The demo versions of "Only You and I Know," "One More Night" and "Take Me Home" are about what you would expect. Synth-skeletons of what they would become with the final product.
What would have rounded out this reissue would have been the inclusion of the six, extended remixes of No Jacket Required singles, including "Sussudio," "Take Me Home" and others, as featured on the 1987 release 12"ers. And since that aforementioned Miami Vice song, "Life Is A Rat Race" is unreleased, this would have been a perfect release to include it.
And while Phil offers some updated liner notes, they aren't very detailed. There could have been more photos from the period. But maybe I'm getting greedy?
Regardless of what was overlooked, No Jacket Required takes you back to the heart of the go-go, Reagan/Thatcher Eighties, for better or for worse. For me, every song brings back fun, easygoing memories.
© Red Dirt Report, by Andrew W. Griffin