I know a LOT of friends who are NOT fans of Phil Collins. I don’t think it’s anything personal against the guy – he took over as lead singer of Genesis in 1975 when Peter Gabriel left, and brought the band its biggest success (during the 1980s); he was the only one who performed in both London and Philadelphia at LIVE AID on July 13, 1985; Phil contributed to several popular 80s singles by artists like Howard Jones, Frida, Adam Ant and Robert Plant; and, between 1981 and 1989, with seven No. 1 songs, four other Top 10 hits and three additional Top 40 hits, he was the eighth-biggest recording act here in America during the 1980s. He’s starred in his own movie, won an Academy Award for a song from another, is a member of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and has honorary doctorates at two universities and Boston’s famed Berklee College Of Music.
Phil’s gotten his share of bad press, sure, and other recording artists through the years have dissed his work. David Bowie once referred to his TONIGHT and NEVER LET ME DOWN albums as his “Phil Collins years / albums.” Oasis singer / songwriter / guitarist Noel Gallagher oft-criticized Phil Collins. After the quick success of their 1997 album, BE HERE NOW (which sold 660,000 copies in seven days in the U.K. alone), Noel Gallagher compared the album’s success to Phil Collins: “Just because you sell lots of records, it doesn’t mean to say you’re any good. Look at Phil Collins.”
Well, I wouldn’t say I’m Phil’s biggest fan (if I never hear “Sussudio” ever again, that would be pretty effing swell), but I would say I am a big fan of his work, and especially of the work he did with Genesis. Their brilliant 1981 album, ABACAB, was one of the first four LPs I bought with my own money. And it remains as one of my favorite albums to this day.
Over the years, one curious and quite interesting factoid I’ve noticed with folks I know who DON’T LIKE Phil Collins in general but actually LOVE one of his big hit singles – the 1985 hit with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey – “Easy Lover.”
Between May and December 1984, Phil Collins was not only working on his third solo studio album, NO JACKET REQUIRED…, he also produced and contributed to Eric Clapton’s album, BEHIND THE SUN, played drums on the huge global Band Aid charity single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, and produced CHINESE WALL, the third solo studio album for Earth, Wind & Fire vocalist, Philip Bailey.
Phil & Phil were both 33 years old at the time, and CHINESE WALL would become Philip Bailey’s biggest solo album ever, which was certified Gold and nominated for a Grammy Award.
At the end of the sessions for the CHINESE WALL album, Philip Bailey approached Phil Collins about writing a song together. The song they recorded was a song Phil Collins once referred to as a song that “doesn’t sound like any particular era. It’s just fantastic.” That one-time collaboration between Philip Bailey and Phil Collins ended up being the first single released from CHINESE WALL – “Easy Lover.” I wonder if “Easy Lover” meant “Easy to love?” Maybe. It certainly was, and still is.
“Easy Lover” was released in the U.S. in November 1984, and the U.K. in late February 1985. By the end of November 1984, it had already made its debut on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, and reached the Top 40 in three weeks. It didn’t really explode on the Hot 100 until mid-January 1985, when it zoomed into the chart’s Top 5, headed straight for No. 1. Or so it looked…
Another popular hit zoomed into the Top 5 that week as well – “I Want To Know What Love Is” by Foreigner, which spent two weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 in early February 1985, with “Easy Lover” situated right behind it.
Though “Easy Lover” had enough momentum to be a No. 1 hit in the U.S. (it finished all of 1985 way up at No. 12, ahead of 16 out of 27 total No. 1 songs on the year-end chart), the song did earn a Grammy nomination, was certified Gold, and won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Overall Performance In A Video (which was, as Phil Collins mentioned at the beginning of the video, a music video about the making of a music video).
Around the globe, it was not hard for folks (Phil Collins fans and non-fans alike) to love “Easy Lover.” It spent six weeks at No. 1 in Canada, four weeks at No. 1 in Holland, a week at No. 1 in Ireland, and reached No. 1 on Japan’s International Chart. It also reached the Top 10 in Finland, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland, and BILLBOARD’s R&B and Mainstream Rock charts (a rare feat).
Over in the U.K., it became Phil Collins’ second solo No. 1 single (after 1982’s “You Can’t Hurry Love”), spending four weeks on top. I remember back in 2006, when STUCK IN THE 80s, my little 80s radio program on WMPG community radio for almost 21 years, was celebrating its tenth year on the air, and I did a STUCK IN THE 80s foreign exchange-of-sorts.
At the time, there was a show in Brentwood, Essex, England (about 20 miles NE of London) called STUCK IN THE 80s, with a host by the name of Richard Nott (on Phoenix FM; like WMPG, a community station). I contacted him about switching shows for a week, and he loved the idea. So, for one week, he hosted my show and I hosted his. It was pretty cool.
In prepping for the one-time STUCK IN THE 80s exchange, I asked Richard what his favorite 80s song was. I may have also said, “Give me a Top 10! Give me a Top 20! What’s your best album?” And, he brought this up on his version of the show. It was pretty funny (“blah-blah-blah-blah” he added). His all-time favorite 80s tune is “Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire, but “not far off” for Richard was “Easy Lover.” He said, “I just enjoy it; it’s a great tune.”
And, whether or not you actually like Phil Collins, you’ve got to admit that “Easy Lover” IS a great tune, and that the teaming of Phil Bailey and Phil Collins was pure genius and truly magical. “She’ll get a hold on you, believe it.” Oh, I DO believe it – “Easy Lover” has had a hold on me for 32 years and counting…