Phil Collins: “In The Air Tonight” (1981)

Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, dum, dum. Smartest thing he’s ever done.

Kronomyth 0.1: Sans Andrea’s fault (or I’ll have a tom-tom collins).

“In the Air Tonight” introduced the world to Phil Collins the solo artist. Suffice it to say he made a good first impression. Phil’s first solo album was largely patterned after Peter Gabriel’s third solo album, and “In the Air Tonight” borrowed what was best about “Biko” (its quiet intensity) and added some amazing drums to it. Forty years later, the part where the toms come in at 3:15 still gives me chills.

The song is so affecting that it spawned its own urban legend about Phil confronting someone who had watched another man drown. The song, in fact, is about Phil’s divorce. Most of his songs are about his divorce. I’ll bet that wears thin fast in a cocktail conversation. (Phil: “You know she left me for the painter.” You, looking at your watch.)

The single version of “In the Air Tonight” is noticeably different than the elpee version, with a darker sound and more drums. I know, I just wrote “more drums” like that means anything. In the opening, you can hear what sounds like a snare drum with its wires loosened. There, that’s a little better.

The flip side, “The Roof Is Leaking,” points back to the tragic storytelling of Peter Gabriel’s second album (“Home Sweet Home,” “Indigo,” “Mother of Violence”). The instrumentation is very different than the A side, although it still favors a very open sound. While it would be a stretch to say that no two songs on Face Value sound alike, the distance between “In the Air Tonight” and “The Roof Is Leaking” is a fair indication of the album’s surprising range.

Original 7-inch single version

A1. In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins) (4:59)
B1. The Roof Is Leaking (Phil Collins) (3:16)

Atlantic Oldies Series 7-inch single reissue
A1. In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins) (4:59)
B1. I Missed Again (Phil Collins) (3:42)

The Plastic

Released on 7-inch single and special edition 7-inch single (with booklet) on January 5, 1981 in the UK (Virgin, VS/VSK 102), in February 1981 in Belgium and the Netherlands (Atlantic, WEA 79.198) and Germany (Atlantic, WEA 79 198), in March 1981 in Australia (Atlantic, 45 3790), in May 1981 in the US (Atlantic, 3824), and in 1981 in Argentina (WEA, 200115), Brazil (Atlantic, 10.153), Canada (Atlantic, AT 3824), France (Atlantic, 79198), Italy (Atlantic, U 79198), New Zealand (Atlantic, 45 3790), Peru (Atlantic, F-ALT 0039947.0), Portugal (Atlantic, ATL U 79198), South Africa (Atlantic, ATS 795) and Spain (Atlantic, 45-2071) with picture sleeve; reached #2 on the UK charts and #19 on the US charts (charted on May 30, 1981 for 17 weeks). Also released as 12-inch single in 1981 in Germany (Atlantic, WEA 79200).

  1. Re-released with “I Missed Again” on back-to-back hits 7-inch single in 1981 in Canada (Atlantic Gold Standard, GS 45840) and in 1982 in the US (Atlantic Oldies Series, OS 13231).
In the Air Tonight 45 rpm single
US Atlantic 3824 7-inch single

6 thoughts on “Phil Collins: “In The Air Tonight” (1981)

  1. Hi, is there a way to share or like your Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight” on Twitter. Love the “Biko” reference. If I can’t share your article, do you know of another “In the Air/Biko” reference I could share on Twitter?

  2. Thanks, Mary Ann! I’ve un-suppressed the social media links, which should do the trick.

    1. Dave, I still don’t see a Twitter icon associated with the post. I see it other places, like on the Contacts page, but not on the page of the actual post. Can you help? Thank you

  3. Dave, I see the Twitter icon on the Contact page, but not on the page of the post. Can’t you help? Thank you

    1. Thanks Dave, I tried to message you from the Contacts page, but I got an error message. I wanted to make sure you were aware of a website called Patreon. Take care

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