This weekend, the man behind one of the most famous drum breakdowns in pop history turns 70! Yes, against all odds, "In The Air Tonight" writer, Phil Collins is now a septuagenarian. To celebrate the fact that he is, as he titled his 2016 autobiography, 'not dead yet,' I Like Your Old Stuff has collated 70 extraordinary facts about the acclaimed singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.
1. Phil Collins was born in the Putney Maternity Hospital on 30 January 1951. His mother had initially gone to West Middlesex Hospital for the birth, but when she didn’t like their attitude Collins said: “she crossed her legs, left and headed to Putney.”
2. In his autobiography Not Dead Yet, Collins talks about the good old days when his family would gather around a Ouija board for an evening’s entertainment instead of watching TV.
3. Collins has admitted to being a bedwetter to “an embarrassingly old age.” The situation wasn’t helped by the family’s East Sheen residence not having a shower inside the home.
4. Drumming from an early age in the family’s front room, Collins recalls the police once visiting to tell him there had been a neighbourhood noise complaint.
5. As a child model, Collins posed for knitting pattern designs.
6. Making pocket money as an actor, one of his earliest starring roles was in a Humpty Dumpty play aged six.
7. Another money-making booking as a nine-year-old was promoting Smith’s chips across the UK, performing in the "Do The Crunch" live marketing campaign.
8. Collins starred as The Artful Dodger in ‘60s London performances of Oliver!. The role was also played on London stages by The Monkees’ frontman Davy Jones, The Small Faces’ vocalist Steve Marriott and Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell.
9. Since his mum ran a toy shop when he was a kid, Collins smugly claimed to “have the pick of the new toys when they arrive(d).”
10. Phil Collins appeared alongside The Beatles in their 1964 debut film, A Hard Day’s Night. Appearing briefly in a crowd scene, he was later interviewed in a behind the scenes documentary included on A Hard Day’s Night’s DVD release in 2000.
11. The drummer suggests smoking as a teenager “stunted my growth.” “I was on a pipe by 16,” he claimed.
12. The first gig Phil Collins ever attended was The Yardbirds at London’s Marquee Club in 1965. It was the day Jeff Beck joined the band and Phil was just 14 years old.
13. As a teenager, Collins would unpack the chairs at London’s Marquee Club to get free entry to gigs.
14. Although drumming was taking up more and more of the teenager’s time, Collins still managed to make an appearance in the 1967 film Calamity The Cow.
15. In 1969, Collins applied for the drummer position in Manfred Mann’s Chapter Three, but didn’t get the gig.
16. Collins once called Ark 2, a record he made in 1969 with his pre-Genesis band Flaming Youth, the worst record he’d ever made. “It was full of pretentious concept space opera,” he said in 1999. “I recently heard it by mistake and it was embarrassing.”
17. When Yes were looking for someone to fill departing drummer Bill Bruford’s role in 1969, their regular Marquee fan Collins was an option to replace him. “I went backstage to see [frontman] Jon Anderson, he said ‘Give me a call back Tuesday’,” Collins recalled. “Never called him back. And I often wonder how my life would have been different had I gone for that and got it.”
18. Just a few years after appearing in a Beatlemania film with his heroes, Collins joined George Harrison in the studio to play congas on an All Things Must Pass recording. Unfortunately for Collins, the version of "Art Of Dying" featured on the 1970 triple album was recorded on a different day to his session.
19. Collins joined Genesis in time for touring their second album, 1970’s Trespass. While the band wasn’t yet a success, the new drummer later suggested they “had a little band of cult followers.”
20. In Not Dead Yet, Collins suggests Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel’s move into flamboyant outfits around the time of 1972’s Foxtrot reaped unexpected financial benefits. After Gabriel dressed up as a fox in a dress for a Dublin gig, “Mrs Fox… immediately puts a nought on Genesis’ booking fee.”
21. Collins recalls in his autobiography the dire environs while Genesis were recording 1974’s prog opus The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway in Headley Grange, Hampshire. “I have a shitty room with hot and cold running rats…”
22. In an interview with Q Magazine, Collins suggested that the studio was dealing with the aftermath of hosting Houses Of The Holy sessions. “Led Zeppelin had been just before us,” he noted. “They’d wrecked the place, basically, and so we came in and tidied up after them.”
23. During the making of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, frontman Peter Gabriel was offered the chance to work on a screenplay with The Exorcist director, William Friedkin. “Rather childishly, we gave him an ultimatum,” Collins recalled in 2007. “He chose Friedkin.” While the band let him back in to complete the album, he quit soon after. “That was okay, because we knew we could go on without him.”
24. Collins suggested Genesis become an instrumental act after Gabriel left, but agreed to record vocals for the song “Squonk.” The rest of the band seemed shocked at how well he filled the frontman role. As he noted in his autobiography Not Dead Yet, finding a singer who was actually moonlighting as their drummer was akin to finding “a fiver down the back of the couch.”
25. Despite Genesis’ commercial success, Collins has a strangely negative view of his famous group. “When I listen to an old Genesis record, nine out of 10 I tend to be embarrassed by it,” he said in 1993.
26. In the ‘80s, Princess Diana identified the Collins-fronted Genesis album A Trick Of The Tail as her favourite rock album.
27. In Not Dead Yet, Collins recalls offering to fill The Who’s vacant drummer position after the 1978 death Keith Moon. “Oh damn,” guitarist Pete Townshend told him. “We just asked Kenney Jones to do it.”
28. In January 1981, Collins released his debut solo single "In The Air Tonight". It was held off the number single position in his native UK due to the posthumous release of John Lennon’s single "Woman".
29. The drummer’s 1981 album Face Value was recorded in the wake of his first wife having an affair with the Collins’ painter and decorator. Collins recalls punching a wall at their home when he first discovered the adultery. “The hole was there forever,” he sighed in 1993.
30. In Not Dead Yet, Collins claims the "In The Air Tonight" lyrics were written on the back of the bill from the guy who subcontracted the offending painter and decorator.
31. For the Top Of The Pops performance of "In The Air Tonight" on 15 January 1981, Collins popped a paint can on the Roland drum machine beside him. It’s been suggested it was a wry message to his wife Andrea Bertorelli about the affair. His ex later said, “Other singer-songwriters like Adele write albums about their heartbreak, but they don't name and shame like he did."
32. One big fan of Collins’ solo debut Face Value was ABBA vocalist Anni-Frid ‘Frida’ Lyngstad. With ABBA on permanent hiatus, Lyngstad signed up Collins to produce her 1982 album, Something’s Going On.
33. One of the songwriters involved in Something’s Going On was future Roxette member Per Gessle, who found working with Collins and Lyngstad a fantastic experience. “Working on the song "Threnody" with Phil Collins on Frida's album was just amazing, it was a huge step for me,” Gessle told I Like Your Old Stuff. “My song was chosen as the B-side to the single "I Know There’s Something Going On", which sold something like five million copies. I was lucky - it ended up paying my rent for two years!”
34. In further proof Phil Collins has played with pretty much everyone, he joined Kate Bush during a performance of her song “The Wedding List” at the Prince’s Trust Rock Gala in 1982. The performance also included The Who’s Pete Townshend and Ultravox’s Midge Ure on guitars.
35. Second solo album Hello, I Must Be Going, released in 1982, took its name from a line sung by Groucho Marx in the film Captain Spaulding.
36. In 1984, the pilot episode of uber-‘80s TV show Miami Vice featured "In The Air Tonight". The drummer himself featured in the second season’s episode, Phil The Shill. “That was good fun,” Collins said. “Don Johnson – he’s a nice guy.”
37. The title of 1985 album No Jacket Required was a reference to an incident when Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Phil Collins were turned away from Chicago restaurant The Pump Room as the drummer didn’t meet the dress code.
38. While the title of No Jacket Required’s opening track "Sussudio" was initially a made-up placeholder word Collins used on a demo, his oldest daughter Joely Collins named her horse after it.
39. The video for the No Jacket Required closing track, "Take Me Home" – a song which has historically ended Phil Collins' live shows – was shot in locations around the globe on the No Jacket Required Tour. The clip features landmarks including Buckingham Palace, the Eiffel Tower, the Hollywood sign and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
40. "Take Me Home" was also notable for its guest vocalists, with both Sting and Collins’ former Genesis colleague Peter Gabriel helping out on backing vocals.
41. No Jacket Required stayed in the UK album charts for more than three years.
42. In 1985, Collins famously took a Concorde across the Atlantic so he could play both the London and Philadelphia Live Aid events in the one day. In his autobiography Not Dead Yet, Collins blames sweaty fingers for a “real clanger” while playing piano during his performance of "Against All Odds" at the Wembley event. “It’s the bum note that’s heard around the world.”
43. Collins met Cher on the flight to his Philly Live Aid engagement, who asked him if she could be part of the show. Despite not being booked for the event, she ended up singing "We Are The World" as part of the finale.
44. One of two drummers performing with the reunited members of Led Zeppelin at Live Aid, Collins has since distanced himself from the famously messy reunion: "Robert was not match-fit with his voice and Jimmy was out of it, dribbling. It wasn't my fault it was crap."
45. In the late ‘80s Collins was shortlisted to be part of a proposed live-action filming of Goldilocks And The Three Bears (mooted to feature the musician alongside Bob Hoskins, Danny De Vito and Kim Basinger).
46. Lesser-known Phil Collins appearances on recordings in the ‘80s include Adam Ant’s "Puss 'n Boots" (1983), Paul McCartney’s Press To Play album (1986) and Tears For Fears’ The Seeds Of Love album (1989).
47. In 1989 Collins appeared in The Who’s Tommy Live With Special Guests event alongside Elton John, Steve Winwood, Billy Idol and Patti LaBelle.
48. After witnessing her dancing at Prince Charles’ 40th birthday in 1988, Collins called 63-year-old Queen Elizabeth II “a pretty good jiver.”
49. In the early ‘90s Collins was also up for bad guy roles in the films Blown Away and Speed, but lost out to Tommy Lee Jones and Dennis Hopper respectively. “I auditioned for a lot of movies I didn’t get,” he admitted.
50. Collins made a cameo in 1991’s Peter Pan film Hook, but found co-star Dustin Hoffman to be obnoxious.
51. Collins’ 1989 song, "Something Happened On The Way To Heaven" was originally written for the film The War Of The Roses, but the director turned it down.
52. Tribute covers Collins has recorded include Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s "Burn Down The Mission" (1991), The Beatles’ "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End" (1998) and Curtis Mayfield’s "I've Been Trying" (1994).
53. In 1993, Collins starred in the little-seen Australian film Frauds opposite Hugo Weaving (Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Matrix, Transformers). The Sydney-shot film was released to negligible public interest, despite being shown in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. “It’s a great little film and I was better in it [than in Buster],” Collins said.
54. On another occasion, Collins’ acting dreams were dashed by third wife Orianne Cevey. "I was also sent a script by HBO about Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, The Butcher Of Rostov, who killed and cannibalised 50-odd kids," Collins stated. "As soon as I got the script I thought, ‘I’ve got to play this guy!’ But my wife wouldn’t let me do it."
55. Speaking of serial killers, Patrick Bateman, the anti-hero of the Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho, provides a detailed monologue about Collins’ ‘80s musical output during a sex scene. Of the film adaptation starring Christian Bale, Collins said, "It was funny. I'd watch it again."
56. In the 1990s, Collins took his youngest daughter Lily to see the Steve Martin romantic comedy Father Of The Bride. He later admitted to crying during the film.
57. Despite her dad’s waterworks, Lily Collins has since gone on to become a successful actor. She has starred in films including Mank, Mirror Mirror and The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones.
58. Working on the Disney soundtrack Tarzan in the late 1990s, Collins recorded the songs in six languages and played all instruments.
59. His work on the Tarzan soundtrack snared Collins an Oscar ("You’ll Be In My Heart" – Best Original Song), a Golden Globe ("You’ll Be In My Heart" – Best Original Song) a Grammy (Best Soundtrack Album) and an American Music Award (Favourite Adult Contemporary Artist).
60. Collins has said his greatest fear is crocodiles.
61. Collins was the subject of the 2001 R&B tribute album Urban Renewal, which featured artists such as Lil Kim, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Kelis reinterpreting his classic songs.
62. In 2005, Phil Collins attended Prince Charles’ nuptials to Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall. He was joined by celebrities including comedians Joan Rivers, Stephen Fry and Rowan Atkinson.
63. The cocktail Phil Collins is a twist on the Tom Collins, with gin swapped out for schnapps. Its ingredients are 2 oz peach schnapps, 1/2 oz lemon juice, 4 oz club soda, 1 maraschino cherry and 1 orange.
64. In 2006, Collins did a voiceover for the computer game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories.
65. Thanks to a 2006 Cadbury commercial featuring a gorilla drumming to Collins’ "In The Air Tonight", the song returned to charts around the world and hit number one in New Zealand (beating its original 1981 high of number six). Collins was quoted as saying, “Not only is the gorilla a better drummer than me, he also has more hair than me!”
66. What Australian number one single from 20 years ago namechecks Phil Collins? In January 2001, Eminem’s single "Stan" crashed into the ARIA top 10, rising to the top spot by March. Unfortunately, the official lyrics suggest Eminem didn’t quite have Collins' song title correct: ‘You know the song by Phil Collins, "In The Air Of The Night"?’
67. In October 2020, Phil Collins issued US President Donald Trump with a cease and desist order after "In The Air Tonight" was played at an Iowa campaign rally. Collins joined Neil Young, Dexys Midnight Runners, Panic! At The Disco, The Rolling Stones, Linkin Park and the estate of Tom Petty in contesting Trump’s use of their music during his failed bid for a second Presidential term.
68. It’s A Wonderful Life is the drummer’s favourite film. “It’s got a great, warm story, a great sentiment.”
69. Collins’ collection of memorabilia from the Texas Revolution was once valued at A$120 million, with much of it since donated to the city of San Antonio. Collins has written a book about The Alamo and been on archaeological digs around the site. “I’ve dug up cannonballs, teeth, all kinds of things,” he said. Collins has been named an honorary Texan for his work on preserving the history of The Alamo.
70. In 2010, Collins suggested his epitaph would be: “I think my headstone will be, “He came, he did ‘de-de, de-de, de-de, de-de, duh-duh’, he divorced his wife by fax, and then he left’."
Happy 70th birthday Phil!
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