Chart Week: March 26, 1983
Song: “I Know There’s Something Going On” – Frida
Chart Position: #13, 21st week on the chart. Peaked there for three weeks.
One great thing about The Number Ones series is how it has forced me to re-evaluate artists I soured on over the years. Phil Collins is a perfect example.
I forgot how many massive hits he had. Dude had seven number ones and six other top tens as a solo artist. At one point six out of eight singles topped the Hot 100. He added six more top tens and a number one with Genesis. He was a menace!
I probably forget about how big he was because, like Whitney Houston, many of his songs were Adult Contemporary schmaltz. But where Whitney elevated her songs with her once-in-a-generation voice and fashion model looks, Collins was a pasty, balding British guy with a passable but not terribly impressive voice. He didn’t force his music into the cultural memory through the genius of his overt talent.
After reading Tom Breihan’s write-ups of Collins’ early Number Ones, though, I’m finding a new appreciation for his work. I still mostly hate his ballads. But when I hear his more up-tempo tracks, I no longer switch away immediately, and am able to find enjoyment in them.
Although Collins’ voice may not have been as unforgettable as Whitney’s, he did make an indelible mark on ‘80s music. While working with Peter Gabriel on his former Genesis bandmate’s 1980 solo album, Collins, along with producer Steve Lillywhite and engineer Hugh Padgham, accidentally developed what came to be known as the “gated reverb” sound. I don’t do well with technical descriptions of music. The easiest way to understand gated reverb is to listen to “In the Air Tonight.” The epic drum break near the end of the track is the ultimate gated reverb moment. Collins continued to use that sound on many of the biggest songs of his career.
Included in that list are songs he produced for or appeared with other artists. “Easy Lover,” his duet with Earth, Wind, & Fire’s Phillip Bailey is one example. His drums on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” are nearly as memorable as Bono’s line.
And then there was this track. Somehow I didn’t remember until recently that Collins produced the biggest album of former ABBA member Anni-Frid Lyngstad’s solo career. The drums should have been a dead giveaway. There is no mistaking the classic Collins sound in those primordial beats that anchor the song. In a track that is all about discovering your partner is cheating, the drums are as impactful as any of Frida’s words. Something is going on, and some shit is about to go down.
It’s interesting (to me at least) that several of Collins’ biggest hits of the early 80s were about the end of his first marriage. I don’t know if there was any carry over, but I can’t help but think some of the power in his drumming for Frida came from his own romantic pain.
Oh, and this song is an absolute banger. Loved it when I was 12, and I still love it today.
Other famous songs that used gated reverb: Duran Duran’s “Wild Boys” and “A View to a Kill;” “Some Like It Hot” by the Power Station; “Born in the USA;” and a ton of Prince and Prince-influenced tracks. ↩