Chart Week: November 23, 1985
Song: “Separate Lives” – Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin
Chart Position: #3, 8th week on the chart. Peaked at #1 the week of November 30.
(Note: To tide you over during our Thanksgiving vacation, I’ve scheduled a couple posts to drop while we are away. I’m hoping all goes well and they appear on time and have the appropriate media files attached. If something goes wrong, please forgive me. I will correct upon our return.)
As happens on occasion, this post is more about a story tangentially tied to the song than the song itself.
On this week’s countdown, Casey shared an anecdote about Phil Collins and his once-in-a-lifetime chance to play with a Beatle when he was a teenager.
In 1970, as George Harrison was recording his debut solo album, *All Things Must Pass*, nineteen-year-old Collins signed on as a session musician.
When he arrived at the studio, Collins was given some conga drums and asked to play on a track. He was not given any direction, just told to join in with the guitar part. Jacked up by the chance to perform with one of his heroes, Collins played the hell out of those congas. One problem: although he was a drummer, he had no idea how to correctly play the congas. Add his enthusiasm to his lack of technique, and soon his hands were bleeding.
Eventually the session came to an end, Collins was handed a check, and he left.
A few months later when the album hit record stores, Collins rushed out to buy it. He skimmed through the liner notes, but did not see his name listed as a musician. When he listened to the track he had played on, he realized that the album version was nothing like the song he had played on.
Fortunately, he had never cashed the check. For years he used that as proof that he had, indeed, played with George Harrison (and Ringo Starr, who was also at the session, and Phil Spector, who was producing it).
That’s the story Casey told. It is pretty good.
But it didn’t end there.
Years later Collins ran into Harrison at an event. He asked George if he remembered that session and why a different version of the song made the album. Harrison said he did not recall those details and that it was probably Phil Spector who made the decision about what version made the album. He added that he still had all the master tapes from those sessions and would be happy to send them to Phil so he could review them.
A few weeks later the tapes arrived at Collins’ home. When he listened, he heard absolutely horrible conga drums ruining the track. To make matters worse, when the song ended, he heard Harrison telling Phil Spector to “get rid of the lad on the congas, he’s crap.”
Collins was devastated. Was he really that bad? Yet he still called up Harrison to thank him for sending over the tapes. While on the phone he asked George if he had listened to them. George replied no, he had not. Phil told him about Harrison’s comments on the tape. George paused and said, “Shit, man, I’m sorry, what else can I say?”
They talked for a few more minutes before George began laughing uncontrollably. Collins was taken aback. “What are you laughing about?”
That’s when Harrison came clean.
“After you asked me about that session, I brought in some new players to re-record that track, and asked the conga drummer to play the worst part he could ever imagine!”
That is a first-class, A-level, Mt. Rushmore prank! Jim Halpert would be proud.
As for this song? Blech. It was on the soundtrack for the movie White Nights, and intended to be the big, soaring single from that album. Which it kind of was. It went to #1 for crying out loud! Yet, it was not the biggest song from the movie. Lionel Richie’s “Say You, Say Me,” which was in the film but not on the soundtrack due to licensing issues, was an even bigger hit. It topped the charts for a month to “Separate Lives” one week. And while both songs were nominated at the Academy Awards for best song from a motion picture, it was Richie who took home the Oscar.
I’ve come to appreciate Collins’ work more in recent years, but songs like this I would be fine never hearing again. It sounds more like someone trying to sound like Collins than an actual Collins song. Which makes a little sense, as he didn’t write it. Marilyn Martin is wonderful, and you hear why a lot of people thought she was going to be a star. But her performance doesn’t save the tune. I’m glad this one has pretty much disappeared. 2/10