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In the Air Tonight

"In the Air Tonight"
Single by Phil Collins
from the album Face Value
B-side "The Roof is Leaking"
Released 5 January 1981
Recorded 1980 at The Town House
(West London, England)
Length 5:34
Writer(s) Phil Collins
Certification Gold (RIAA)
Phil Collins singles chronology
"In the Air Tonight"
"I Missed Again"

"Separate Lives"

"In the Air Tonight"

"A Groovy Kind of Love"

"You Touch My Heart"

"In the Air Tonight"

"(Love Is Like a) Heatwave"
Audio sample

"In the Air Tonight" is a song by English drummer, singer and songwriter Phil Collins. It first appeared on Collins' 1981 inaugural solo album, Face Value. Released as his first solo single in the United Kingdom in January of that year, the song was an instant hit, quickly climbing to No. 2 on the UK Singles chart. It was also an international hit, peaking at No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and No. 1 in the Netherlands. It was later certified Gold by the RIAA, representing 500,000 copies sold. The song's music video, directed by Stuart Orme, received heavy play on MTV when the new cable music video channel launched in August 1981. It remains one of Collins' best-known hits and is especially famous for his drum break towards the end, which has been described as "the sleekest, most melodramatic drum break in history".[3][4][5]


  • Background and recording 1
    • Inspiration 1.1
    • Recording 1.2
    • Drum sound 1.3
  • Urban legend 2
  • In popular culture 3
  • Sampling of the song 4
  • Use in literature 5
  • Single and credits 6
    • UK and US single (1981) 6.1
    • 12" Germany Maxi-Single (1981) 6.2
    • Japan CD single (1988) 6.3
    • Germany CD single (1990) 6.4
  • Charts 7
    • Peak positions 7.1
    • Certifications 7.2
  • Certifications 8
  • Cover versions 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Background and recording


Collins wrote the song about the anger he felt after divorcing his first wife, Andrea, in 1979. In a 1997 BBC Radio 2 documentary, the singer revealed that the divorce contributed to his 1979 hiatus from Genesis until the band regrouped in October of that year to record the album Duke.

The lyrics of the song take the form of a dark monologue directed towards an unnamed person:

"Well if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand
I've seen your face before, my friend, but I don't know if you know who I am
Well I was there and I saw what you did
I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin
I know where you've been
It's all been a pack of lies"


The recording is notable for its atmospheric production and macabre theme. It has been described as being "at the vanguard of experimental pop" in 1981 and "a rock oddity classic", having been influenced by "the unconventional studio predilections of Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel".[1] Musically, the song consists of a series of ominous chords played by a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 over a simple drum machine pattern (the Roland CR-78 Disco-2 pattern, plus some programming); processed electric guitar sounds and vocoded vocals, an effect which is increased on key words to add additional atmosphere. The mood is one of restrained anger until the final chorus when an explosive burst of drums releases the musical tension, and the instrumentation builds to a thundering final chorus.

Collins has described obtaining the drum machine specifically to deal with personal issues relating to his divorce through songwriting, telling Mix magazine: "I had to start writing some of this music that was inside me."[6] He improvised the lyrics during a songwriting session in the studio: "I was just fooling around. I got these chords that I liked, so I turned the mic on and started singing. The lyrics you hear are what I wrote spontaneously. That frightens me a bit, but I'm quite proud of the fact that I sang 99.9 percent of those lyrics spontaneously."[7]

Drum sound

The means by which Collins attained the drum sound on this recording was long a source of mystery. The exact process was a result of serendipity: an unintended use of studio technology giving unexpectedly useful results.

In this case, the Solid State Logic 4000 mixing board had a "reverse talk-back" circuit (labeled on the board as "Listen Mic"). Normal "talkback" is a button that the mixing engineer has to press in order to talk to the recording musicians (the recording and the mixing parts of a studio are, otherwise, completely sonically isolated). Reverse talkback is a circuit (also button-activated) for the engineer to listen to musicians in the studio. In order to compensate for sound level differences—people can be close to the reverse talkback microphone or far off—this circuit has a compressor on it, which minimizes the differences between loud and soft sounds. While recording "Intruder" for his ex-bandmate Peter Gabriel's third solo album, at some point Collins started playing the drums while the reverse talkback was activated. Engineer Hugh Padgham and his friend Jeffrey were amazed at the sound achieved. Overnight, they rewired the board so that the reverse talkback could be recorded in a more formal manner. Later models of the SSL 4000 allowed the listen mic to be recorded with the touch of a button.[6]

When recording engineer Padgham was brought in to help develop Collins' demos that would become Face Value they recreated the "Intruder" sound using the reverse talkback microphone as well as heavily compressed and gated ambient mics. Padgham continued working with Genesis for Abacab later in 1981 and the same technique (generally referred to as gated reverb) was used, and the powerful drum sound has become synonymous with later Genesis projects and Collins' solo career ever since.

The original single version of "In the Air Tonight" features extra drums that play underneath the song until the signature drum crash (referred to by fans as the "magic break") appears. These were added at the suggestion of Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun. In 2007, Collins wrote:[9]

Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne has called the drum fill "the best ever – it still sounds awesome".[5]

Urban legend

An urban legend has arisen around "In the Air Tonight," according to which the lyrics are based on a drowning incident in which someone who was close enough to save the victim did not help them, while Collins, who was too far away to help, looked on. Increasingly embellished variations on the legend emerged over time, with the stories often culminating in Collins singling out the guilty party while singing the song at a concert.[10] Collins has denied all such stories; he commented on the legends about the song in a BBC World Service interview:

The urban legend is referenced in the song "Stan" by Eminem. The reference is contained in the following lyrics:

You know the song by Phil Collins, "In the Air of the Night" [sic]
About that guy who coulda saved that other guy from drownin'
But didn't, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him?

In popular culture

"In the Air Tonight" remains a popular selection on many classic rock radio stations. It is the song most often associated with Collins' solo career, and he has performed versions of it at many events, most notably at Live Aid, where he played the song on a piano on the same calendar day in both Philadelphia and London.[12] He also performed the song at The Secret Policeman's Ball, which was his first live performance as a solo artist.

"In the Air Tonight" has been licensed repeatedly for use in films, television and advertisements for various products.

It was used in the train sequence of the 1983 film Risky Business and appeared on the soundtrack album.[13]

In 1984 the song's was featured in the pilot episode of the U.S. television show Miami Vice ("Brother's Keeper"), one of the first pop/rock songs to be featured as part of a television program in this manner. Its use in that scene was "a moment that first signaled to audiences and critics that Miami Vice had something to offer that few other TV programs on the air in 1984 could match", The A.V. Club wrote in 2012.[14] It subsequently "bubbled under" the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 102 in late 1984 and appeared on the television soundtrack album released in 1985.[15] On the heels of this successful merging of media, Collins became associated with the show; other Collins tracks including "Take Me Home" were later featured, and Collins himself also acted in the second season episode, "Phil the Shill". This song was later used in the show's fourth season episode "A Bullet for Crockett" for its car chase opening scene, a clear reference to the show's pilot episode.

It was used in 1986 when the brewer Anheuser-Busch adopted it for an ad campaign promoting Michelob beer, along with night-related songs by Collins' peers Steve Winwood ("Don't You Know What the Night Can Do?") and Eric Clapton ("After Midnight").[16]

Cadbury used the song in their 2007 Gorilla advertising campaign for its Dairy Milk chocolate bar. Afterwards, the song reached No. 14 on the UK singles chart and No. 9 on the UK Download Chart. The advertisement also helped the song re-enter the New Zealand RIANZ Singles Chart and went to No. 1, staying there for two weeks, beating its original 1981 No. 6 peak. The single was also certified Platinum with sales of over 15,000 copies.[17] This advert was so popular, it won the awards for the Best Ad of the Year, at New Zealands Fair-Go Ad Awards. It was also subsequently parodied in a spoof ad by Wonderbra.[18]

The song is featured in Ari Gold's 2008 film Adventures of Power.

The song also featured in the hit British show Ashes to Ashes. In an interview with SFX, series creator Matthew Graham discusses his editorial choices in using the iconic song and its referential value for the dramatic finale. He considered the piece ideal for his purpose, evoking the mood of the early-1980s.[19]

The song was also in the 2013 video game NBA 2K14.

Sampling of the song

The song has been sampled by many artists, including Shaquille O'Neal in his song "Edge Of Night", Nas in his song "One Mic", and Tupac Shakur on his tracks "Starin' Through My Rear View" and "Letter to the President". Other tracks which include samples of "In the Air Tonight" include DMX's "I Can Feel It", Krayzie Bone's "Silent Warrior", Joe Budden's "Rest in Peace (In the Air)", Sean Kingston's "I Can You Feel It", Young Buck's "New York City", Big Audio Dynamite's "Innocent Child" and Lil' Kim's "In the Air Tonite", Ke$ha's "Love Into the Light", Av LMKR's "In The Air".

It was used in 2009 by Canadian rapper Roi Heenok in his song "La Mama Coca."

According to video game music composer David Wise, he sampled the percussion track of "In the Air Tonight" for "Bayou Boogie", a track in the 1995 SNES game Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest.[20]

Use in literature

U.S. author Mohja Kahf obtained permission to cite two lines from the song in her novel, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (Perseus Books, 2006). When the novel's protagonist, a young Syrian American woman named Khadra who is coming of age during the 1970s and 1980s in America, performs the Muslim ritual pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca and views the Ka'ba for the first time, the author writes that: "Khadra tried to keep the joyous talbiya [ritual chant] in her mind and on her tongue: Here I am, O my Lord, Here I am! Labbaik, allahumma, labbaik! But she kept getting it crossed with Phil Collins in her head crooning, 'I can feel it coming in the air tonight, Oh Lo-ord ... I've been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lo-ord ...'"[21]

Single and credits

UK and US single (1981)

  1. "In the Air Tonight" – 4:57
  2. "The Roof Is Leaking" – 3:36

12" Germany Maxi-Single (1981)

  1. "In the Air Tonight" (Full-Length version including the extra drums) – 5:34
  2. "The Roof Is Leaking" – 3:36

Japan CD single (1988)

  1. "In the Air Tonight" (extended)
  2. "In the Air Tonight" ('88 remix)
  3. "I Missed Again" (Album Version)

Germany CD single (1990)

  1. "In the Air Tonight" (extended version) – 7:33 (Additional production by Ben Liebrand)
  2. "In the Air Tonight" ('88 remix) – 5:07 (Remixed by Phil Collins and Hugh Padgham)
  3. "I Missed Again" – 3:42

(catalogue 2292-57672-2)



Preceded by
"Shaddap You Face" by Joe Dolce Music Theatre
German Singles Chart number-one single
15 May 1981
Succeeded by
"Stars on 45 Medley" by Stars on 45
Preceded by
"Always on My Mind" by Tiki Taane
New Zealand RIANZ number-one single
21 July 2008 – 28 July 2008
Succeeded by
"Nesian 101" by Nesian Mystik

Cover versions

A cover of the song appears on the Nonpoint album Recoil. This song was featured in the film Miami Vice (2006), and a video was made to promote the track using clips from the film. Nonpoint's version was also used in teasers for the fifth season of Dexter in 2010.


  1. ^ a b Mills, Gary (26 May 2010). "No Flak Jacket Required: In Defence Of Phil Collins".  
  2. ^ Gruss, Mike (11 July 2007). "I've been Waiting for a theme song all my life".   (subscription required)
  3. ^ "The 20 Best Drummers of All Time".  
  4. ^ Veix, Joe (11 April 2014). "An intense 30-minute loop of Phil Collins’s ‘In The Air Tonight’ drum fill". Death and Taxes. Retrieved 24 July 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Wardrop, Murray (8 May 2009). "'"Ozzy Osbourne: 'I love Phil Collins. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 24 July 2015. 
  6. ^ a b "Classic Tracks: Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight""Mix Magazine - . 
  7. ^ Thompson, Dave (November 2004). Turn It On Again: Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, and Genesis. Backbeat Books. p. 182.  
  8. ^ Sold on Song - Song Library - In the Air Tonight
  9. ^  
  10. ^ In the Air Tonight", Urban Legend Reference Pages""". 
  11. ^ """BBC World Service - "The Singer and the Song" Phil Collins. 
  12. ^ "BBC News: Stars recall Live Aid spectacular". 8 November 2004. 
  13. ^ "The top ten sex scenes in film" The Michigan Daily 14 February 2002: 5B
  14. ^ Murray, Noel (2 August 2012). "How Miami Vice launched the '80s on TV, then died with its decade | TV | A Very Special Episode".  
  15. ^ Whitburn, Joel. Bubbling Under Singles & Albums (1998): 51
  16. ^ Lippert, Barbara. "Michelob Taps Sultry Feel In Night Moves" The Milwaukee Journal 17 June 1986: XTRA14
  17. ^ "New Zealand Platinum Certification". RadioScope New Zealand. 25 October 2009. Retrieved 28 October 2009. 
  18. ^ Wonderbra drums up sexy hit, Daily Mail, 9 November 2007. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
  19. ^ Setchfield, Nick; Graham, Matthew (22 May 2010). "Ashes exclusive".  
  20. ^
  21. ^ (The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, p. 162)
  22. ^
  23. ^ "Hit Parade Italia - Indice per Interprete: C". Hit Parade Italia. Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  24. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE.  
  25. ^ * Zimbabwe. Kimberley, C. Zimbabwe: singles chart book. Harare: C. Kimberley, 2000
  26. ^ "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Phil Collins; 'In the Air Tonight')" (in German).  
  27. ^ "Italian single certifications – Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight" (in Italian).   Select Online in the field Sezione. Enter Phil Collins in the field Filtra. The certification will load automatically
  28. ^ "Latest Gold / Platinum Singles". Radioscope. 17 July 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-07-24. Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  29. ^ "British single certifications – Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight".   Enter In the Air Tonight in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Select Gold in the field By Award. Click Search
  30. ^ a b "American single certifications – Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight".   If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH

External links

  • The Singer and the Song, a "Learning English" episode from the BBC World Service, which includes a clip from the song and a recording of Collins reading part of the song's lyrics (in RealAudio)
  • "Classic track: In the Air Tonight" About the lyrics and the drum sound.
  •, Cadbury advert featuring a Gorilla playing the song.
  • Full lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics
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