Sunday, January 23, 2011

Essential Albums of the 80s: Phil Collins - No Jacket Required (1985)

Because it was so great to have a balding 30-something British man as one of the biggest pop stars of the '70s (i.e. Elton John), the Western world decided to do it again in the '80s. Phil Collins didn't look like your typical pop star, but he certainly was a big one, scoring seven #1 hits in the US during the '80s, many of which were also UK #1s.

His biggest solo success came with his third album, No Jacket Required, a commercial and critical success that won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and the Brit Award for Best British album while going platinum 12 times in the US and 6 times in the UK.

The album mixes upbeat tracks like the synth-charged "Only You Know and I Know" and the #1 single "Sussudio" with slower, quieter tracks like the tender ballad "One More Night," another #1 hit. Also notable is "Long Long Way to Go," a darker, downbeat song described as Collins' most political work, for its references to global conflicts, which Collins sets up in contrast to his own problems, which he acknowledges are small by comparison. The song's tone echos his prior hit "In the Air Tonight," which is also reflected in top 10 hit "Take Me Home," a song that like that early '80s classic, starts quiet and gradually builds and features a surprisingly layered drum rhythm for a pop song. That shouldn't be a big surprise when you consider that Collins' other musical hat is as drummer (and lead singer) for his band Genesis, although it surprise some to know that Collins embraced drum machines on the album, which are used alongside live drumming on several tracks, including "Don't Lose My Number," another top 10 hit.

I wasn't a major Phil Collins fan in the '80s, although I did purchase his 1989 album, ...But Seriously, and was familiar with his earlier work mostly because I had some friends who were big fans. Listening to this now, I found the album to be surprisingly satisfying. I love its stuck-in-the-80s keyboard and drum machine textures, which don't feel out of place among the decently crafted pop songs.

Best: Sussudio, Long Long Way to Go, Only You Know and I Know, One More Night, Take Me Home

Further Listening

Genesis - Invisible Touch (1986). Following the major success of No Jacket Required, Collins returned to his band Genesis to make what would become their most commercially successful album, which scored five US top 5 hits, including the #1 title track. Although more mainstream than their earlier works, it still maintained some of the band's traditional progressive rock textures--more apparent if you listen to the longer original versions of the songs than the shorter single versions. I've always particularly liked the sinister track "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" with its anxious blend of keyboards and layered rhythm tracks. Best: Tonight Tonight Tonight, In Too Deep, Invisible Touch.

Phil Collins - ...But Seriously (1989). Collins concluded the '80s with another solo album, ...But Seriously, which was another major success for him. Like No Jacket Required, it was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy Award, and generated four US top 10 hits, including the homeless issues ballad "Another Day in Paradise," a #1 hit in many countries. I'm also partial to the rather grand "I Wish It Would Rain Down," which was one of the earliest #1 hits on my personal chart. Best: Another Day in Paradise, I Wish It Would Rain Down, Do You Remember?

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