Mix Six: “Phil Collins, Session Drummer”

DOWNLOAD THE FULL MIX HERE

There was a time — maybe 25 years ago — when mentioning Phil Collins in the pantheon of frickin’ awesome drummers was greeted with thoughtful nods. Nowadays?  Not so much.  The reaction you’ll probably get from folks who don’t know how good Phil is behind the kit would run the gamut from a snicker to a sneer.  In a way, I don’t blame them.  After all, if you look at Phil’s creative output since the mid-’90s, it’s a story of an aging rocker whose slide into adult contemporary sludge is a bit tragic.  Tragic because the ballad-heavy output of hits Phil produced eclipses the complexity of his earlier work that demonstrates what a talented guy he was on the drums.  Phil’s been around long enough to know that what makes for a great drummer is not flash, but knowing when to add that bit of spice to a song that will really make it shine.

My good friend Scott Malchus and I are both drummers. Because we both spend (and spent) hours in the woodshed and basement behind the traps working on our chops, it doesn’t take huge leaps of logic to know that when listening to music, our ears are finely tuned to what the drummer is doing.

Scott suggested we do a mix that highlights Phil Collins’ work as a session drummer, and I have to say that after re-listening to these songs, there are some mighty fine drum moments in this mix.

“Pledge Pin,” Robert Plant (download)

Ted: By the early 80s, some hard rock icons like Robert Plant revamped their musical styles for more radio-friendly songs. If there’s a good one word description of Phil work on “Pledge Pin” it would be “sly.” On the surface you do hear the major accent of the snare on the 2 and the 4, but crank the song up and you’ll be treated to a lot of subtle and complex minor accents and quirky fills that never detract from the groove.  This is by far one of my favorite non-Genesis tracks where Phil shows he can kick some serious ass behind the kit.

“Intruder,” Peter Gabriel (download)

Scott: Peter Gabriel has always had impeccable taste in drummers, including Jerry Marotta and Manu Katche. For his third solo album in 1980, Gabriel enlisted his old Genesis bandmate to play on several songs, including this one. “Intruder” is significant because it is thought to be the first use of the “gated drum” sound that would become Collins’ trademark throughout the ’80s. This particular sound was created by Collins and the session’s engineer, Hugh Padgham, after Gabriel requested that Collins and Marotta (the other drummer on the album) not use any cymbals on the recordings. Working with Padgham turned out to be such a good experience for Collins that the two continued working together on all Collins’ solo albums and all Genesis albums from Abacab through Invisible Touch. This song is typical, eerie Peter Gabriel material, accentuated by Collins’ powerful tom work.

“Woman in Chains,” Tears for Fears (download)

Ted: I’ve had this CD since it came out in 1989 and I must have neglected to read the liner notes, because I had no idea Phil Collins drummed on this tune until Scott pointed it out. Phil’s work on this song is clearly an example of “serving the song” because he keeps the drumming tasteful and simple to allow Roland Orzabal and Oleta Adams’ earnest vocals to be out front and center.  Okay, except for some fancy fills on the hi-hat on the intro, and a powerful drum fill at the 4:37 mark, Phil really does keep it tasteful and simple.

“Walking on the Chinese Wall,” Philip Bailey (download)

Scott: Another example of Collins creating a lead drum part to a song (think “I Don’t Care Anymore,” “I Know There’s Something Going On” and “Paperlate”). There are some many wonderful elements to this song, from Bailey’s smooth voice to the powerful horn part to the spiritual lyrics. Yet Collins’ drum part, with its tribal beat structure and rock solid precision are the one thing I always remember.

“No One is to Blame,” Howard Jones (download)

Scott: When Howard Jones decided to re-record this song (which originally appeared on his LP Dream Into Action), he raised a few eyebrows in his fanbase because a.) He decided to record with a live drummer, and b.) that drummer was Phil Collins. Collins also produced the re-recording, giving it a more radio-friendly sheen. His drumming is restrained and polished, underscoring the poignancy and melancholy of this timeless song. Jones’ gamble paid off, as the song became an international smash in 1986 and went all the way to #4 on the Billboard pop charts.

“Bad Love,” Eric Clapton (download)

Ted: 1989 was a busy year for Phil.  He not only drummed on the Tears for Fears album and released his own solo album, but also helped out Eric Clapton on a couple songs on Journeyman.  I’m a big fan of Reg Isidore — who drummed on Robin Trower’s Bridge of Sighs and, sadly, recently passed away – and Phil’s drumming on “Bad Love” has Isidore’s sense of groove.  Sure, this is a song that doesn’t demand all that much from a drummer — and really, Eric could have asked any session drummer to play on this track — but Phil seems to be celebrating a more natural-sounding and organic drumming that’s free of his signature gated reverb sound.

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  • outsidecounsel

    Collins was really the go-to drummer for a lot of art-rock back in the day. I always liked his work behind John Cale.

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  • http://mostlymodernmedia.wordpress.com Beau

    These kids today and their short memories.

  • http://www.addictedtovinyl.com Matt

    The segue from “Intruder” to “Woman in Chains” is particularly awesome. Great mix. Well done!

  • mojo

    I really enjoyed this one. Nicely done.

    Ed and I are having quite a lively Clapton argument with another friend that's gone from a lunch get-together into a 3-way email…one could argue that Phil Collins is the Clapton of drummers, and Steve Winwood is the Clapton of keyboards…(perhaps fodder for future mix sixes?)

    …together,WInwood, Clapton, and COllins like Nomar Garciaparra: A few GREAT seasons but not a hall of famer. At least that's my take.

    Let the flames begin (heh heh)

  • Nard

    Phil Collins is the reason I picked up drumsticks when I was a kid. An older neighbor played the end of “Supper's Ready” for me and then addiction began! Great mix, thanks.

  • Julian

    You can also catch Collins' on the backing vocals for “No One Is To Blame”.

  • Malchus

    I didn't get to hear the entire mix before this posted and man, is it f'n awesome. Great job, Ted.

  • http://www.bullz-eye.com DavidMedsker

    Always loved his drumming on “Pledge Pin.” Great mix, Ted.

  • outsidecounsel

    It is hard to know who has squandered their talent the most egregiously. As Robert Christgau observed, Winwood could have been Ray Charles. Clapton could have been anything– could have reinvented electric guitar, the way Hendrix did. Instead he decided to be J. J. Cale. Nothing wrong with that, except there is one. Compared to the Blind Faith boys Collins isn't really in the hunt.

  • mojo

    Excellent point–and nice reference to back it up.

    Yes, I guess, when you consider that Phil COllins' contemporaries on the chart at the time weren't the Yardbirds and Faces and Who and Beatles…but instead Philip Bailey and Tears for Fears…he did the best with what he had to work with.

    Furthermore, I must confess I love the whole Abacab record and am I the only one who just *loves* the groove in “I Can't Dance?”

  • http://somematt.wordpress.com Matt

    Heh… I'd always thought those three should've started a band together, since they'd independantly each made Michelob beer commercials. Hell, there's your tour sponsor/ band-name/ logo/ whatever-else, right there…

  • Malchus

    Roger Daltrey made a Michelob commercial, too. Now they just need a bass player.

  • http://www.popdose.com Ted

    Thanks guys, but I gotta give credit to Malchus who came up with the list. I just played with the song order.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    I anger all my prog buddies when I defend Abacab. They consider it the moment Collins stabbed the prog in the back. I ask them if they don't feel a little stupid for referring to it as “The Prog”.

  • Malchus

    Abacab is an awesome 80's prog rock album. Prog in the 80's became more mainstream. If your friends are pissed someone stabbing The Prog in the back, it's Asia.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Trust me, there's equal hate for both. Go to CD Universe.com or Amazon.com and check out the comments for Abacab. You'd think Banks, Collins and Rutherford had Steve Hackett Deliverance-style and squealin' like a pig the way they go off.

    As for my prog friends, some of them still think Adrian Belew butchered King Crimson. I shake my head and listen to The Plimsouls whenever they geek out like that.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    I agree. Both you and Scott whipped up a fine one this week.

  • Old_Davy

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: Phil is one of rock's greatest drummers. No matter what style or genre, Phil can do it. Simply amazing.

    I was expecting to see a Brand X track in the mix, but then he wasn't really a hired gun that band, but a full-fledged member.

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  • solipsistnation

    What, no mention of anything he did with Brian Eno?

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ GrayFlannelSuit

    Can't believe it took this long for at least a mention of Brand X.

  • Mason Hockamier

    Phil Collins took his career seriously! He gave the world a glimpse of what happens when you decide to use the talents that God gives you. His personal drive, commitment and endless rehearsals is what really shaped his success plus his natural talent. I am not saying he didn't like to party but he was responsible and business minded. It's a shame that the women he married didn't obviously appreciate or understand his touring or prior responsibilities to the record industry and to the 13 different musicians that he provided jobs for when touring. He's an Icon. I hope Atlantic Records will keep him around as a producer and or writer for the new artists'. If any musician deserves a break and some employment considerations from industry professionals, it's Phil! He's probably the longest running pop, rock artist around from his era. You can tell that he was not into drugs because tried to stay in shape even while on tour. His “Dance Into The Light” tour. The stagecraft designers purposely set up his stage, so he could run completely around it during shows to get exercise. On a personal note: I hope he accepts Christ into his heart as his savior, so that he can experience the love and acceptance he should have and so that I can hear him drumming in Heaven to our Heavenly Father's music. God Please Hear My Prayer to Save Phil and his loved ones…God loves the sinner and the saint. God believes in you. Do you believe in Him?

  • Eric

    What a thoughtful comment and lot of what you say is true.

  • JohnHughes

    I love how you congratulate yourself for your own comment – classy!

  • JohnHughes

    I love how you congratulate yourself for your own comment – classy!

  • Mason Hockamier

    Phil Collins took his career seriously! He gave the world a glimpse of what happens when you decide to use the talents that God gives you. His personal drive, commitment and endless rehearsals is what really shaped his success plus his natural talent. I am not saying he didn't like to party but he was responsible and business minded. It's a shame that the women he married didn't obviously appreciate or understand his touring or prior responsibilities to the record industry and to the 13 different musicians that he provided jobs for when touring. He's an Icon. I hope Atlantic Records will keep him around as a producer and or writer for the new artists'. If any musician deserves a break and some employment considerations from industry professionals, it's Phil! He's probably the longest running pop, rock artist around from his era. You can tell that he was not into drugs because tried to stay in shape even while on tour. His “Dance Into The Light” tour. The stagecraft designers purposely set up his stage, so he could run completely around it during shows to get exercise. On a personal note: I hope he accepts Christ into his heart as his savior, so that he can experience the love and acceptance he should have and so that I can hear him drumming in Heaven to our Heavenly Father's music. God Please Hear My Prayer to Save Phil and his loved ones…God loves the sinner and the saint. God believes in you. Do you believe in Him?

  • Eric

    What a thoughtful comment and lot of what you say is true.

  • JohnHughes

    I love how you congratulate yourself for your own comment – classy!

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  • Drew Fisher

    I, too, loved Phil’s drumming before he went total pop, but I loved his pre-producer phase work as well, with Rupert Hine, David Hentshel, Peter Banks, Anthony Phillips, Steve Hackett, Brian Eno, Brand X, Nova, Camel, Peter Gabriel, John Cale, Robert Fripp, Daryl Hall, Mike Oldfield, Steven Bishop, John Martyn, and Al DiMeola. Plus, he produced some great albums for John Martyn, Adam Ant, Frida, Phillip Bailey, Eric Clapton, Howard Jones, and Steven Bishop, among others.