I’d forgotten about this vulgar edit of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”

When Phil Collins released his Face Value album in 1981, I’d long left AM radio behind, diving deep into rock on FM. The only Phil Collins I knew was whatever was on the album. There was, however, a special radio edit of “In the Air Tonight.” And it was terrible.

In its original form, “In the Air Tonight” has a long, slow intro settled on a drum track provided by a Roland CR-78 drum machine (apparently using a lightly edited version of the Disco 2 preset) augmented by keyboard lines from both a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 and a Fender Rhodes. Guitar stabs are provided by touring Genesis guitarist Daryl Stuermer.

It’s one of the most famous intros in rock: moody, sinister, and foreboding. Phil doesn’t begin to sing until the song is 52 seconds old. And the song maintains this mood until THAT drum break three minutes and 14 seconds in. This is the version everyone knows.

There is however, another version that I’d completely forgotten about.

The story goes that Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegen dropped into the studio to hear a near-final mix of the song. He didn’t like it.

“The intro is too long? And where are the drums? You’re one of the most famous drummers in the world and I don’t hear any drums!”

“Hang on, Ahmet. They’re coming up.”

“But they’re too late in the song! If you want me to release this song as a single, you’ve got to give me drums!”

So they did. Phil and producer Hugh Padgham worked up an edited version of “In the Air Tonight” for release on 7-inch. The intro time was brought down from 52 seconds to 36, bringing the length of the song down to 5:01 vs. the album’s 5:37. Collins also went back into the studio and played real drums over the Roland.

Ertegen was satisfied and this is the mix that made it to Top 40 radio on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s also the hit version.

Yet it’s the album version that has endured these 40 years. But back in 1981, when the boss said “Make an edit,” you did what you were told.

The 7-inch mix has slowly been erased from the world–and rightly so because it’s not very good when compared to the original. See for yourself.

See? Sometimes the boss isn’t always right.

(Via Music Radar)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

3 thoughts on “I’d forgotten about this vulgar edit of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”

  • October 24, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    Nope… No No No… This just isn’t right… It has no buildup… no peak… no nuthin’… It’s boring…

  • October 26, 2020 at 10:57 am

    I remember hearing this version back around 1981, and had completely forgotten about it. Probably better that I had.

  • October 26, 2020 at 2:11 pm

    The base player should have gotten a little more credit in this song also .


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