Despite having one of the 1980’s most successful pop careers, drummer and vocalist Phil Collins has always remained humble and understated, two characteristics that have helped anchor a marathon career that started all the way back in the ‘70s. Though he began his musical career as part of the band Genesis, he eventually struck out on his own at the age of 30. While the music industry considers this age to be that of a late bloomer, Collins jumped right out of the gate with a hit album, Face Value, which turned out to be more successful than any Genesis release.
Starting in 1984, Collins produced 13 top ten U.S. hits all in a row. By 1990, he had solidified himself as one of pop’s most dynamic writers, able to produce swoon-worthy romantic power ballads and haunting tracks that resonate in your ear long after they’re over. For a good portion of his career, he balanced his time between his wildly successful solo work, and his dutiful work with Genesis (they asked him to come back after his departure).
His breadth of work is both dynamic and eclectic, and the beloved singer-songwriter remains one of pop and adult contemporary’s most talented and decorated artists. Check out our top picks for the best Phil Collins songs below.
12. I Wish It Would Rain Down
Released in 1989 on his “…But Seriously” album, Phil Collins mourns lost love with hit song ‘I Wish It Would Rain Down.” With “rain” acting as the main motif in the song, the weather-related track was made even more popular by the inclusion of a commanding guitar solo by Eric Clapton. The emotional ballad remained at the top spot on Canadian charts for over a month and climbed all the way to #3 in the U.S.
Recommended: More songs about rain.
11. Do You Remember?
For ‘Do You Remember?’ Phil Collins cued up a drum track to create a “hypnotic” effect alongside gospel-tinged backing vocals that give the single an R&B vibe as well. Another crooning ballad about lost love, this time we find Collins reminiscing about a former flame and wondering if he should give it another try. Also appearing on his popular “…But Seriously” record, the syrupy tune features backing vocals by fellow hit singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop and spent some time on Billboard’s Hot 100, rising all the way to #4.
10. Strangers Like Me
This uplifting number was written for Disney’s smash hit 1999 film, Tarzan. Collins hopped on board the Disney train during the peak of what is known as its “Renaissance” period, which lasted from around 1989 to the start of the 21st century. A retelling of the classic story, Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, one of the film’s major themes is exploration. That is what ‘Strangers Like Me’ focuses on. With a fast-paced, shuffling beat Collins sings about experiencing all the world has to offer and reveling in its beauty.
‘Sussidio’ was a number one hit for the singer-songwriter. While it remains one of Collins’ biggest tracks, it’s surprisingly one of his least favorite. Appearing on his 1985 No Jacket Required album, he felt that much of that record wasn’t representative of who he really was as an artist, so he’s always felt performing hits from it need a bit of acting on his part. A fun tune about that feeling you get from high school crushes, the lyric “sussudio” is actually not really a word. It’s simply a syllabic phrase he randomly sang while working out the song. Phil could never find any actual words that would fit that part, so he kept the nonsensical lyric and it worked.
8. One More Night
Another soft ballad from our romantic pop singer, ‘One More Night’ finds Phil pleading for another chance with a girl so he can show her he’s the one for her. Not only was this tune a huge success for the star, but it’s featured on one of his most popular albums, No Jacket Required, which eventually became Diamond Certified. That happens when music sales reach over 10 million units, which Collins did with the singles from the hit record. While Collins is known as an accomplished singer-songwriter, he’s also a drummer at heart, which is why so many of his tunes groove so well. While he could play the real thing, he also loved messing about with drum machines, and many of those grooves and rhythms are featured in his work, including this yearning number.
7. A Groovy Kind of Love
Collins is a bonafide superstar when it comes to music, so it’s a surprise for many to find out he actually got his start in the acting world. Long before he churned out hits and Disney film theme songs, he was a child actor. When an opportunity came along in adulthood for him to star in a film called Buster, he pulled double duty, both acting and creating the film score. Set in the ‘60s, he included several tunes in the film from that musical era. One of those songs was a cover of ‘A Groovy Kind of Love,’ written for a British group by a high school teacher and student (they’d both go on to become successful professional songwriters). For the soundtrack, he also enlisted the help of Motown giant Lamont Dozier, who assisted with the production of some of the tracks for the film.
6. You’ll Be In My Heart
This emotional track really tugs at the heart strings. Written for the Disney film Tarzan (Collins wrote several tracks for the movie), ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ was so well received by movie goers it scored the pop star an Oscar for Best Original Song. A beautiful message lies at the heart of the song’s beloved legacy, which focuses on maintaining a spiritual connection with loved ones even if you can’t be with them physically. Later on, Collins’ daughter Lily commented that he wrote that for her as a lullaby when she was a baby, and he ultimately transformed the moving, anthemic number into the Disney musical giant we know and still love today.
5. Another Day in Paradise
You might think Collins’ work with Disney would have scored him the most awards, but it was actually his pensive, philosophical number ‘Another Day In Paradise’ that went on to become such a hit at awards shows. The single release marked his last #1 hit in America, but it has become arguably his most authoritative top hit to date. It climbed all the way to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of the ‘80s, and stayed there for an entire month well into the ‘90s, which made it a smash hit across decades. A song that asks people not to turn their backs on the needy, the poignant tune received several award nominations at the Grammys. The record the single is featured on, “…But Seriously,” won Record of The Year. The song took home the award for Best Single at the Brit Awards. While listeners raved over the tune, critics had the opposite reaction. Despite music critics not showing it favorable reviews due to its content which has at times been considered to be controversial, ‘Another Day in Paradise’ remains one of Collins’ most successful releases.
Recommended: More songs about rich and poor.
4. Easy Lover
Co-written with Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind, and Fire, ‘Easy Lover’ appears on Bailey’s solo album, Chinese Wall. The 1984 release features a lot of Phil’s work. Not only does he play drums on the record, he also helped produce it. By the end of the process, Bailey was still looking for a song to add to the track listing that was hit material. Realizing he and Collins hadn’t collaborated yet, they took an evening in the studio to see what they could come up with. They transformed a simple piano riff and the lyric hook “choosy lover” into an early hip hop-tinged hit that took the top spot in the UK and the second spot on American charts. The fun, groovy tune has a timeless feel to it and became a huge hit in disco style clubs. This created crossover appeal for Collins, who gained a whole new cross section of fans after the single’s release.
Recommended: Try this one at your next karaoke bash. Here are more duet karaoke songs.
3. Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)
When Phil was approached by film director Taylor Hackford to write a song for his movie, Against All Odds, he had just the composition, and it was already written. ‘Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)’ was actually originally called ‘How Can You Sit There.’ The deeply emotional power ballad didn’t make the cut for his Face Value record, so it sat in the Collins vault for a while. But when the film opportunity came along, the price tag was very generous (10 million to be exact), so he couldn’t pass on it. The forlorn song fit well for the film. He wrote it during a time when he was going through a painful divorce. ‘Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)’ became one of many hits of the ‘80s, and won him a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance.
Recommended: Our pick of great ballads (like this one).
2. You Can’t Hurry Love
A huge hit for The Supremes in the ‘60s, the insurmountable Motown songwriting team of Lamont Dozier and The Holland Brothers wrote this fun, powerful song. ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ is based on an old gospel hymn, ‘You Can’t Hurry God.’ And close to 20 years after The Supremes reached stardom with it, Collins released a cover of the track on his album Hello, I Must Be Going. Phil was deeply influenced by Motown music. He even paid tribute to Motown on his record, and gave a nod to The Supremes in his music video for ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ by simulating a trio performance of three “Phil Collinses.” He would even go on to collaborate with Dozier on a couple different tunes. His cover was selected as the theme song to the 1988 movie by the same name.
Recommended: Our pick of the top Supremes songs.
1. In The Air Tonight
While Phil made a name for himself writing uplifting, at times sugary, pop hits, his album Face Value embodies a slightly darker theme. Released after his first divorce, most of the songs from the record deal with his emotions due to the separation. ‘In The Air Tonight’ is quite possibly the English singer’s most haunting track, and it is often considered to be his most commercially successful release as well. Critics and listeners have long speculated what the song’s title actually stands for, with theories reaching near-urban myth level. Collins finally cleared up the confusion in interviews by stating “in the air tonight” means all of his emotions and thoughts about his ex-wife and their divorce were constantly floating around him, making it impossible for him to avoid. The big time UK hit was Collins’ debut solo single. He offered it up to his previous band, Genesis, but they passed on it.
Recommended: This classic also appears on The Hangover soundtrack (remember when?!)