In the Air Tonight

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"In the Air Tonight"
Single by Phil Collins
from the album Face Value
B-side "The Roof Is Leaking"
Released 5 January 1981
Format 7" / 12"
Recorded 1980
Genre Soft rock[1]
Length 5:36
4:57 (7" version)
Label Virgin, Atlantic
Writer(s) Phil Collins
Producer(s) Phil Collins, Hugh Padgham
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
file info · help

"In the Air Tonight" is a song by English drummer and singer Phil Collins. It first appeared on Collins' 1981 solo album Face Value. Released as a single in the United Kingdom in January 1981, 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 mid-1981 and number 1 in the Netherlands. It was later certified Gold by the RIAA representing 500,000 copies sold. The track remains one of Collins' best-known hits. 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.


The recording is notable for its atmospheric production and macabre theme. 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.

"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.[2] He also performed the song at The Secret Policeman's Ball, which was his first live performance as a solo artist.

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

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 wrote the song in the wake of a failing relationship with his wife. Collins has described obtaining the drum machine specifically to deal with these personal issues through songwriting, telling Mix magazine: "I had to start writing some of this music that was inside me."[3] 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."[4]

Drum sound[edit]

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 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.[3]

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:[6]

Urban legend[edit]

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 embroidered 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.[7] 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?

Use in advertising, television, and film[edit]

The song has been licensed repeatedly for use in television advertisements for various products; in several cases these uses led to a measurable resurgence in popularity for the song.[citation needed]

The song was used in the train sequence of the 1983 film Risky Business and appeared on the soundtrack album.

In 1984 the song's popularity increased after it was featured in the pilot episode of the American television show Miami Vice ("Brother's Keeper"), one of the first pop/rock songs to be featured as part of a TV 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.[9] It subsequently grew popular again, "bubbling under" the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 102 in late 1984 and appeared on the television soundtrack album released in 1985.[10] 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 an episode, "Phil the Shill".

The song gained additional life 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"). Most don't recall the song being used, due to the more popular Michelob ads featuring the Genesis song "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight", featuring Collins on vocals.

In 1995, NBC used it to promote NBA on NBC with the return of Michael Jordan to the Chicago Bulls, shown in a slow-motion breakaway slam dunk in the ad.

In 2006, it was used by Mountain Dew in television commercials for its MDX energy drink, and sung in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories during Phil Collins' cameo appearance in a mission named after the title of the song itself. Also in Vice City Stories, the player is able to purchase a concert ticket to see Collins perform the song.

Also in 2006, the Family Guy episode Petergeist makes an explicit reference to the song when Stewie sings part of it through TV static while being trapped in the spirit world.[11]

Cadbury used the song in their 2007 Gorilla advertising campaign for its Dairy Milk chocolate bar. The commercial features a gorilla playing the piece's famous drum sequence. After its premier week in September, 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 at No. 3 in July 2008 and went to No. 1 the following week 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.[12] 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.[13]

The song also featured prominently 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 world to which Detective Inspector Alex Drake traveled when shot in modern-day London, but Graham ultimately decided to fade the music before the climactic scene of the final episode. He was concerned that Collins' skillful arrangement maximizing the drama for listeners waiting for the delayed drum break would interfere with the drama he wanted viewers to experience at the shocking events unfolding for his characters. He didn't want them "desperately waiting for the 'duh-dum-duh-dum-duh-dum'" instead of worrying "about Alex or Gene or a scarecrow or anything else" on screen.[14]

The song was used in the films The Hangover and The Hangover Part III.

The song was used in the film The New Guy.

The song was featured on the 2011 FOX animated series Allen Gregory.

Mercedes-Benz used the song for advertising the CLS Shooting Brake in 2012.[15]

In 2013, a cover version of the song was used in the launch trailer of the video game Dead Space 3, but its production information has not yet been revealed.

Recently, the song is featured in the video game NBA 2K14

The song was performed by Rough Copy as part of The X Factor '80s week in October 2013.[16]

In 2013 the song served as the dramatic backdrop for a dialogue-free scene in the pilot of The Americans.[17]

In 2014, the song was used in TV trailers promoting the movie version of the book by V.C Andrews, Petals On The Wind. However, it was a cover version by Kelly Sweet.

Sampling of the song[edit]

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 Rearview" 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."

The song, and the urban myth surrounding it, are famously referenced in the song "Stan" by Eminem.

The song is referenced in the lyrics to the single "Greatest Rapper Ever" by the rapper Danny Brown.

The trademark drum roll was re-used, but not directly sampled, in the songs "Nicotine and Gravy" by Beck and "Blade of Austerity" by Prince Rama.

Use in literature[edit]

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 ...'"[18]

Single and credits[edit]

UK and US single (1981)[edit]

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

12" Germany Maxi-Single (1981)[edit]

  1. "In the Air Tonight" (Full-Length version including the extra drums) – 5:30
  2. "The Roof Is Leaking" – 3:36

Japan CD single (1988)[edit]

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

Germany CD single (1990)[edit]

  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[edit]


  1. ^ Gruss, Mike (11 July 2007). "I've been Waiting for a theme song all my life". The Virginian-Pilot. Daily Break section, p. E1. Retrieved 11 August 2013. ... Phil Collins' 1981 soft-rock classic 'In the Air Tonight.'  (subscription required)
  2. ^ "BBC News: Stars recall Live Aid spectacular". 8 November 2004. 
  3. ^ a b "Mix Magazine - Classic Tracks: Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight"". 
  4. ^ Thompson, Dave (November 2004). Turn It On Again: Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, and Genesis. Backbeat Books. p. 182. ISBN 978-0-87930-810-0. 
  5. ^ Sold on Song - Song Library - In the Air Tonight
  6. ^ Collins, Phil et al. (2007). Genesis: Chapter and Verse. St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 220–221. ISBN 978-0-312-37956-8. 
  7. ^ ""In the Air Tonight", Urban Legend Reference Pages". 
  8. ^ "BBC World Service - "The Singer and the Song" Phil Collins"". 
  9. ^ Murray, Noel (2 August 2012). "How Miami Vice launched the '80s on TV, then died with its decade | TV | A Very Special Episode". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  10. ^ Whitburn, Joel. Bubbling Under Singles & Albums (1998): 51
  11. ^ YouTube video of Stewie singing the song
  12. ^ "New Zealand Platinum Certification". RadioScope New Zealand. 25 October 2009. Retrieved 28 October 2009. 
  13. ^ Wonderbra drums up sexy hit, Daily Mail, 9 November 2007. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
  14. ^ Setchfield, Nick; Graham, Matthew (22 May 2010). "Ashes exclusive". SFX. Retrieved 17 June 2010. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Nissim, Mayer (12 October 2013). "'X Factor' '80s Week: Our 5 favourites". Digital Spy. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ (The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, p. 162)
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Hit Parade Italia - Indice per Interprete: C". Hit Parade Italia. Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  21. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2. 
  22. ^ * Zimbabwe. Kimberley, C. Zimbabwe: singles chart book. Harare: C. Kimberley, 2000
  23. ^ "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Phil Collins; 'In the Air Tonight')" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie. Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  24. ^ "Italian single certifications – Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight" (in Italian). Federation of the Italian Music Industry. Retrieved 3 October 2014.  Select Online in the field Sezione. Enter Phil Collins in the field Filtra. The certification will load automatically
  25. ^ "Latest Gold / Platinum Singles". Radioscope. 17 July 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-07-24. Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  26. ^ "British single certifications – Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 3 October 2014.  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
  27. ^ a b "American single certifications – Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 3 October 2014.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
  28. ^ Matthew Solarski (19 November 2008). "My Brightest Diamond, Frightened Rabbit Do Covers". Pitchfork. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  29. ^ "Brent Smith & Zach Myers release Acoustic Covers EP". Retrieved 30 April 2014. 

External links[edit]