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Taking Collins Seriously

Taking Collins SeriouslyCritics sneer at him, and his record sales are not what they once were.

But Phil Collins managed to buck trends by winning an Oscar for his soundtrack to the movie Tarzan.

Now, one of the most recognisable musicians of the 1980s is back in the public eye.

He looks set to stay there with the release of an unlikely tribute album of his songs - performed by a raft of hip-hop and R 'n' B acts.

Collins has been in the entertainment industry since his childhood. In 1964, at the age of 13, he appeared as the Artful Dodger in a stage production of Oliver, and appeared in a concert sequence in the Beatles film A Hard Day's Night.

He got his first musical break at the end of his teens, when he became the drummer in the legendary prog-rock band Genesis in 1970.

At the time, the group was fronted by Peter Gabriel, who wrote elaborate concept albums.

Genesis had a cult following in the UK, and achieved critical and limited commercial success. When Peter Gabriel left to pursue a solo career in 1974, the band audioned 400 hopeful replacements with no luck.

So they let Collins have a go. Commercially, the move was inspired, and saw the band become a household name.

With Collins fronting the band, Genesis stripped their sound and brought greater focus on Collins' expressive and distinctive vocals.

The album And Then There Were Three went gold in 1978, and its follow-up Duke was even more successful.

In 1981 Collins released his debut solo album Face Value, which achieved greater success than any of Genesis' records.

The album was inspired by the break-up with his first wife Andrea. Their marriage had been on the rocks since the late 1970s, and she left him while he was on tour with Genesis.

His trademark was a raw, stripped-down sound, best characterised by the hit single In the Air Tonight.

By the time of its release in 1981, he was well on his way to becoming one of the most successful singers of the decade.

Between 1984 and 1990 he had a string of 13 straight top 10 hits in America, and similar success in the UK.

Titles including Groovy Kind Of Love, Easy Lover, Against All Odds and One More Night edged their way into the public consciousness, and made their creator millions.

Albums including Hello I Must Be Going, No Jacket Required and But Seriously found their way into millions of households.

By the time of the 1993 album Both Sides, however, Collins' popularity had peaked.

He was starting to look outdated, and bad publicity also caused problems.

Firstly, he released the single Another Day In Paradise - which highlighted the plight of the homeless - at a time when Genesis were in the process of evicting a group of travellers from land they owned.

Then, he was reported to have left his second wife by fax. The resulting divorce put Collins in the tabloids for months, and damaged his public profile.

He withdrew from the limelight, and concentrated on writing and recording. Deciding to move to Switzerland to "re-invent" himself, Collins left Genesis, fell in love, and in 1996 released a new album, Dance Into the Light.

It was not a resounding success, but Collins hardly needed the money. He still had a solid and loyal fanbase, and was in demand as a songwriter.

The demand led to his contribution to the Disney film Tarzan. At this year's Academy Awards he won the best original song Oscar for You'll Be In My Heart, from Tarzan's soundtrack.

Last year he married his third wife - 27-year-old marketing consultant Orianne Cevey - in Switzerland. Most recently, he has been parodied in an episode of South Park, and a tribute album of his songs is in the pipeline, performed by big names from the world of R 'n' B and hip-hop including Montel Jordan and Lil' Kim.

Project head Michelle de Vries said in February: "It will surprise at lot of people that black artists are into Phil Collins, but we get a lot of requests from the R 'n' B community to cover Phil's tracks, and knew he was really well respected."

With their backing, plus his bulging trophy cabinet, Collins could yet have the last laugh on his critics.

© BBC News

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