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Phil Collins: My Life in 15 Songs

The singer on the critics who hate him, the rappers who love him and why he’s also a little sick of “Sussudio”

Phil Collins; My Life in 15 Songs

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For a long time, Phil Collins was everybody’s punching bag. Old-school Genesis fans blamed him for turning the group away from its prog-rock roots. Critics dismissed his 1980s hits as derivative schlock, and the fans he won that decade largely turned away from him in the 1990s. “People assess you by your hits,” he says, lounging in the master bedroom of his Miami Beach mansion. “So when the radio plays ‘Against All Odds’ or fuckin’ ‘Separate Lives’ again and again, they become your flagship.”

But now, Collins, 65, is having the last laugh: A new generation is discovering his music, and artists from Lorde to Pharrell Williams have cited him as a major influence. (Adele even reached out to him about co-writing songs for 25.) “They don’t have the bias that we all grew up with,” says Collins, who, with 150 million albums sold, is one of the top-selling artists of all time. “When people stop thinking about you, you can be rediscovered.”

A decade ago, upset at his declining reputation, and struggling with a drinking problem and a nasty divorce, Collins retired from public life. But there’s good news on that front too: Collins recently quit drinking and has decided to “unretire” and record new songs. In January, he started reissuing his solo albums in deluxe packages — a perfect occasion to take us through 15 highlights from a nearly 50-year career. “I’m proud of what I did,” he says, “but also a little ashamed of the things that happened along the way.”

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1987 --- Original caption: 1987- Picture shows singer, Phil Collins, singing enthusiastically on stage in concert. He is leaning back and holding the microphone up to his mouth. He is shown from the waist up wearing a white button-down. --- Image by © CORBIS

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“Easy Lover” (1984)

I always loved Earth, Wind & Fire, and in 1984 I was asked if I would produce Philip Bailey's solo album. People were leaning on him, racially — "Don't come back with a white album. You're one of us." So Philip got Nathan East to play on it also. We hit some rocky ground early on, but we worked everything out. Near the end of the sessions, Philip said, "We haven't written anything together on this album."

So we just started having a jam one night, and went round and round and turned it into a verse and a chorus. We recorded it that night so we wouldn't forget it. That song doesn't sound like any particular era. It's just fantastic. The hip-hop brigade fell in love with me after "Easy Lover." They were like, "Where'd that come from? That ain't black music and that ain't white music. That's kind of an interesting color of beige."

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1987 --- Original caption: 1987- Picture shows singer, Phil Collins, singing enthusiastically on stage in concert. He is leaning back and holding the microphone up to his mouth. He is shown from the waist up wearing a white button-down. --- Image by © CORBIS

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“Sussudio” (1985)

Why do you have to bring me down by asking about this one? It’s from one of my least-favorite records, No Jacket Required. I wanted to work with different people at the time, people that could do things I wasn’t capable of doing. So I got ahold of Dave Frank [from the New York synth-pop duo the System], and I said, “Do you fancy having a go at this?” And he programmed the whole song. There’s a killer horn section.

At the time, I wasn’t being me. I’ve grown up a bit now and much prefer to play songs that are me. I only play a bit part in that one.

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1987 --- Original caption: 1987- Picture shows singer, Phil Collins, singing enthusiastically on stage in concert. He is leaning back and holding the microphone up to his mouth. He is shown from the waist up wearing a white button-down. --- Image by © CORBIS

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Genesis, “Invisible Touch” (1986)

This is one of my favorite Genesis songs. There was a Sheila E. record out at the time, I think it was Glamorous Life, and I wanted to write my own version of that. I had decided to stay in the band even though my solo career had taken off. When you're in a band, it's family. There's the road crew and their families to think about. If you just flippantly say, "I'm leaving," they're like, "We've just bought a house with a mortgage." You can't do that to people.

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1987 --- Original caption: 1987- Picture shows singer, Phil Collins, singing enthusiastically on stage in concert. He is leaning back and holding the microphone up to his mouth. He is shown from the waist up wearing a white button-down. --- Image by © CORBIS

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“Another Day in Paradise” (1989)

This is one I got a lot of flak for because I'm a multimillionaire. It was inspired by an incident in Washington, D.C. We were driving around in a limo and I saw all these boxes on Capitol Hill. It was snowing, and I said, "What's going on here? Is there some sort of demonstration?" Someone said, "No, that's where these people live." I just thought, "This is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. How can this happen?" It put a bee in my bonnet.

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1987 --- Original caption: 1987- Picture shows singer, Phil Collins, singing enthusiastically on stage in concert. He is leaning back and holding the microphone up to his mouth. He is shown from the waist up wearing a white button-down. --- Image by © CORBIS

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Genesis, “I Can’t Dance” (1991)

This began as a guitar riff of Mike’s. We’d all taken our Fine Young Cannibals pills, imitating the way that Roland Gift sings, and joking about jeans commercials. It’s not about being unable to dance. It’s about guys that look good but can’t string a sentence together. Each verse is a piss-take at the scenario of a jeans commercial. It was good fun, but the audience thought, “What does he mean that he can’t dance?” They didn’t see the humor, and it killed the fun.

A few years later, I was doing promo for my [solo] album Both Sides. I told my manager, “I think I’ve done enough [with Genesis]. I’m living in Switzerland and I’m really happy domestically.” All bands dissolve. They aren’t meant to last forever.

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1987 --- Original caption: 1987- Picture shows singer, Phil Collins, singing enthusiastically on stage in concert. He is leaning back and holding the microphone up to his mouth. He is shown from the waist up wearing a white button-down. --- Image by © CORBIS

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“You’ll Be in My Heart” (1999)

This part of my career [i.e., recording a song for Tarzan] has always baffled my fans. They go, "What the fuck has Disney to do with Phil Collins and Genesis?" But I grew up with Disney films in my life. People without kids may not understand. The whole experience was a thrill for me, and I won an Oscar for Best Song. But with or without the glory, I would have taken the experience.

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1987 --- Original caption: 1987- Picture shows singer, Phil Collins, singing enthusiastically on stage in concert. He is leaning back and holding the microphone up to his mouth. He is shown from the waist up wearing a white button-down. --- Image by © CORBIS

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Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, “Home” (2002)

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony called me up and said, "We've done a version of your song 'Take Me Home' and we'd like you to be in the video." I said, "No, I'm not in America." They said, "They can come wherever you are." I said, "Don't make me say, 'No, fuck off.'" But then I heard the song, and I quite liked it, and they agreed to come to Geneva. How could I disappoint these guys? They were nice lads.

My songs are often sampled by rappers, and it's deeply flattering, but I'm easily flattered. The [1996] Urban Renewal album [where hip-hop artists like Lil Kim and Ol' Dirty Bastard covered Collins tunes] was also very flattering. It shows that people outside the U.K. have minds of their own.

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1987 --- Original caption: 1987- Picture shows singer, Phil Collins, singing enthusiastically on stage in concert. He is leaning back and holding the microphone up to his mouth. He is shown from the waist up wearing a white button-down. --- Image by © CORBIS

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“Going Back” (2010)

I had wanted to record an album of covers since I started making music. I could do Beatles covers, but Motown covers … that's where I live. It's a bit of a karaoke album. When you hear "Uptight," you want to hear Stevie Wonder come in and sing. But it's like, "It's my record. I can do what I want."

I retired years ago, but I am now officially unretired. My new studio arrived yesterday. I just need to wire it up, which will be another month or so. I've got a couple of ideas of people to work with. If people show interest in these reissues, it would be silly not to make more music.

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