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Phil Collins, David Foster among honorees at Songwriters Hall of Fame

Phil CollinsEven though he has written songs that have become etched into pop culture, from "Against All Odds" to "In the Air Tonight," Phil Collins insists he has no special formula for writing a hit.

"It's all a stroke of luck, it's a complete accident," he said in an interview this week. "I've never purposely crafted a song to be a hit my life."

But luck rarely strikes so often. So, on Thursday, the Songwriters Hall of Fame will give the former Genesis frontman its highest honour, the Johnny Mercer Award, during ceremonies in New York City.

It's the second major honour this year for the 59-year-old Collins; in March, Genesis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Collins has already been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, but getting this special honour was such a shock, he didn't quite believe it. When he got the email, he called his manager and asked if he would be presenting the award instead.

"That's something that I never thought I'd be qualified to get; I still don't think I'm qualified to get," he said.

Collins will join a star-studded cast among the honorees. Taylor Swift is getting the Hal David Starlight Award for emerging songwriters, while the inductees for the hall will include Canadians David Foster and Leonard Cohen, Earth, Wind & Fire, Jesse Stone, Laura Nyro, Jackie DeShannon, Johnny Mandel, Matt Dennis, Bob Marley and Sunny Skylar.

The hall will also honour "Bridge Over Troubled Water," written by Paul Simon, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary. Other special tributes include one for producer Phil Ramone and publisher Keith Mardak.

Foster, the Grammy-winning producer who has worked with Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand and Josh Groban, cited "After the Love Has Gone," a song he co-wrote for Earth, Wind & Fire, as one of the defining moments of his career.

"It was the first Grammy that I had won," the 60-year-old said. He also noted his collaborations with Peter Cetera on Chicago's hits and "The Prayer," which he co-wrote with Carole Bayer Sager.

"You know what's unique about this song is it gets played at weddings and funerals," he said.

Like Collins, Foster said there's no way to write a hit song: "It's impossible ... anyone who says they have the formula is full of (it)."

"You write 100 songs to get one good one," he said.

Collins said he didn't labour over the lyrics for one of his biggest hits, "In the Air Tonight."

"That song was totally improvised. ... Those words just came out of my mouth at the time I was writing the song. It's ironic that that's the song with the biggest story and yet it's a song with the least story at the source."

Collins hasn't released an album in years, but he is gearing up for the release of "Going Back" in September. This project will not include his songwriting skills, though; it's a remake of his favourite boyhood songs from the Motown vaults and other soul songs.

"I didn't want to bring anything new to them; I wanted them to sound as authentic as possible. I wanted people to put on the record and say, 'I've got the wrong record here, this sounds like a '60s record,'" he said. "And I hear the critics loud and clear saying, 'Well why do it if you're not going to change it?' ... I have no argument for that other than the fact that I wanted to sing these songs and I think they're great."

Collins said he's still trying to craft his best tune yet. But, he added, it's very unlikely that he'll release an album of new material again.

"I'll write the songs that I know are good, and I may make a copy for my kids, or put it on the Internet somehow," he said. "What's more important to me is that I spend as much time at home with my children, which I have not been able to do most of my life. So that to me is the priority, not making another record."

© Canadian Press, by Nekesa Mumbi Moody

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