“In the Air Tonight”


There’s just something about this song.

Phil Collins often gets dismissed as creator of shallow, inoffensive Pop music.  While that isn’t entirely false, it isn’t entirely true, either.  Yes, his music is for the most part easy to listen to, accessible, middle of the road.  But that doesn’t make it devoid of emotion and meaning.  “In the Air Tonight” is probably the best example of this.

I believe it was the first single from Collins’ first solo album, Face Value, in 1981.  It is a dark, meditative song with cryptic lyrics and an insistent, throbbing beat.  The tense music and production are perfect.  There’s not an extraneous note here; it is taut and spare and absolutely haunting.  Although the emotions are quite obvious, the lyrics don’t really give much away, and that’s one of the things I like most about it.  You’re not entirely sure what the man in the song is referring to; the narrative is deliberately murky.  All you really know is he can feel something coming down, and it’s not good.

When I was younger, I heard rumors that it was about a murder Collins witnessed as a child/teenager, but that’s been thoroughly disproven.  It is about his divorce from his first wife and the anger he felt toward her.  That meaning seems more obvious once you hear it, but there’s still plenty of room for the audience to put their own spin on it.

I always thought this song really came into its own when it was used in the first episode of Miami Vice.  It’s an oppressive song, like the humidity in Florida, and Michael Mann employed it perfectly.  Although Miami Vice didn’t age too well (it really looks dated now), the song is unscathed by time.  Phil Collins made catchy, hook-filled music, but that doesn’t mean the hooks weren’t painfully barbed.

3 thoughts on ““In the Air Tonight”

  1. This has always been one of my favorites. Didn’t they also use this in the first Hangover movie?

    BTW, I responded to your Eric Clapton post, but it apparently became its own post for me. Not sure how that happened, since I posted my comment in your comment box…

    • I have no idea if it was used in The Hangover since I am proud to say I’ve never seen it. I bet it’s been used in a lot of movies and TV shows, though. It’s just that iconic.

      As for the comment that became its own post, who knows how these kinds of things happen? If nobody can solve the mystery of where the missing socks go, then we’ll never be able to figure out how a comment turns into it’s own post. I saw it, though, so thanks. And I thought it was kind of awesome that it was just a headline. I love funky headlines. 🙂

      • Yes, The Hangover is everything you’d expect it to be. If I remember correctly, in the movie, it was Mike Tyson’s favorite song and everyone had to be quiet for the explosion of drums.

        I’m thinking funky headlines might be my new schtick.

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