Yet, by his own admission, the one thing that hasn’t come so easily to him is musical credibility. Until now, that is. Holding court in a sumptuous hotel suite close to his home in the Swiss municipality of Fechy, he shrugs and says, “For years I was selling millions of records but was regarded as a great musical evil by many people who wanted to stick pins in effigies of me. Now that’s changed. Living in Switzerland I’ve been unaware that there’s been this great sea change. Then, just recently, I was out in New York with Genesis where we were being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Iggy Pop came over to me to pay his respects and I’m thinking, ‘Iggy Pop!? The Godfather of Punk! This wouldn’t have happened ten years ago.’ I guess, after all this time, a lot of people are finally shaking off their prejudices about me and feeling OK about admitting they like my music. If so, that’s a wonderful thing. It doesn’t make me the coolest man on the planet. But it’s a start. Even so there’ll always be people out there like Noel Gallagher who firmly believe I’m the anti-Christ.”
It’s hard to be precise about when exactly it became socially acceptable to admit to a love of Phil Collins records. Quite possibly the critical rehabilitation began once it become common knowledge that he was a bona fide hero among the rap/hip hop community, with die-hard fans including Ice-T, Pharrell Williams, Wyclef Jean and Timbaland. In recent years, hip hop’s elite have generously sampled Collins’ solo records. An acclaimed 2001 album entitled Urban Renewal brought versions of Collins’ songs by the likes of Lil’ Kim and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
“The making of that album was an event in itself,” says Collins. “The record company would give the money to these rappers to record the track, then they’d promptly go out and get arrested. To me, it was amazing that my music was so respected by rappers. The first time I realised something was going on, I was watching a TV documentary about Ice-T who was showing a journalist around his house. The reporter started looking through his album collection and started taking the rise when he found all these Phil Collins records. Ice-T was incensed and said to the guy, ‘Don’t you fucking mess with my Phil.’ I fell off the sofa when I heard that. I was incredibly flattered that someone like Ice-T could see through all the nonsense that’s been written about me and allow my music to reach him like that.”
The cool re-branding of Phil Collins was helped along in all quarters of the media. Patrick Bateman, the anti-hero of the 2000 movie American Psycho, takes up a sizeable amount of screen time waxing lyrical about his love for Collins’ solo work. In 2006, Collins reprised his acting role in TV’s Miami Vice for the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories. In 2007, In The Air Tonight was used in an instantly iconic TV advertisement for Dairy Milk chocolate, with an impatient gorilla waiting to drum along to Collins’ most famous song. The same song was used to equally memorable effect in last year’s hit comedy, The Hangover, with former champion boxer Mike Tyson hijacking the vocals to comic effect.
“All of it is a surprise,” says Collins. “The greatest surprise for me is how some of my songs have had this amazing after-life. Often, when I bump into strangers on the street, they won’t speak to me, they’ll just act out the drum sequence from In The Air Tonight. That song just won’t lie down. When the chocolate company first rang up about the advert, they asked whether I’d have any objections about a gorilla playing my drum parts. My attitude
eBook Serious Hits... Live