Mix Six: “Phil Collins, Session Drummer”
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?Â Not so much.Â 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.Â In a way, I don’t blame them.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â This is by far one of my favorite non-Genesis tracks where Phil shows he can kick some serious ass behind the kit.
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.Â 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.
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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.