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In The Air Tonight

by

Phil Collins



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Collins wrote this song about the anger he felt after divorcing his first wife Andrea in 1979. He was so devastated that he left Genesis for a short time. All the original songs on the Face Value album, including the followup hit "I Missed Again," were at one time intended to be "messages" to his first wife in an attempt to lure her back to him.

The lingering tension caused by the divorce led Collins to the title, as these negative feelings were "In The Air," and effecting not just the couple getting divorced, but the entire family.
Collins explains the lyrics, "If you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand," by saying the drowning is symbolic.
The meaning of this song became a pervasive Urban Myth. The story, which is not true, is that Collins watched as a man who raped his wife drowned. Another version has Collins writing this about about a man who watched another drown, and singing it to him at a concert. Yet another variation claims that when Collins was a young boy, he witnessed a man drowning someone but was too far away to help. Later, he hired a private detective to find the man, sent him a free ticket to his concert, and premiered the song that night with the spotlight on the man the whole time. We repeat, these stories are not true.
This was Collins' first single as a solo artist; he offered it up as a Genesis song, but Collins says his bandmates felt it was "kind of too simple for the band."
The Face Value album sold more than any prior Genesis release, prompting the group to change musical direction.
In an interview with Mix magazine, Collins explained that he wrote this song after returning from a tour. Said Collins: "I got back to find that I had a lot of time on my hands because the family wasn't there, I rang up and said, 'Can I have my drum machine?' because I had to start writing some of this music that was inside me. Face Value was all written over a period of a year-and-a-half, and some songs were written overnight. 'In the Air Tonight' was just a drum machine pattern that I took off that CR78 drum machine. You could eliminate certain sounds and program bass drums and snare drums, so I programmed a bass drum part into it, but basically the rest of it was already on there. I probably added an acoustic Fender piano pretty early. I was coming from Genesis recording and rehearsing history where sometimes we didn't know what the vocal was going to be doing when we recorded the track because lyrics were sometimes written after the track was recorded. I remember the first principle I had for making my record was that I would get a voice down very quickly so everything else would fit to the voice. The lyrics you hear for 'In the Air Tonight,' I just sang. I opened my mouth and they came out. I never wrote anything down and then afterward, I listened to it and wrote them down."
Collins played this at Live Aid, a benefit concert for famine relief held in 1985. There were stages in London and Philadelphia, and Collins, with the aid of time zone differences and a very fast airplane (the Concorde), was able to perform at both. He played this in both sets.
This was featured on the first episode of the TV show Miami Vice. The show used lots of popular music and featured cameos by Sheena Easton and Glenn Frey. It's theme song, by Jan Hammer, was also a hit.
Eminem mentioned this in his 2000 song "Stan," which is about a crazed fan. In the song, the character Stan sings to Eminem, "You know that song by Phil Collins, 'In The Air Tonight,' about that guy who could have saved that other guy from drowning but he didn't? Then Phil saw it all then at his show he found him? That's kind of how this is. You could have rescued me from drowning."
The group Nonpoint remade this for the 2006 movie Miami Vice.
This has charted in the UK on 3 different occasions. On its original release in 1981 it peaked at #2. In 1988 a re-mix by Dutch DJ and producer Ben Liebrand got to #4. Finally in 2007 after the song was featured in a TV advert for Cadbury's Dairy Milk, featuring a drumming gorilla, the song reached #14.
The Cadbury's television advertisement was one of the best-received commercials in the UK in recent times and it succeeded in helping to boost sales of Dairy Milk by an increase of 9% in a year. Collins was asked by the London Times newspaper whether Cadbury's made it clear to him that the advert would feature a gorilla playing drums to the song. He replied, smiling: "As much as it's possible for such a thing to be made clear."

In Collins' speech at the 2008 Ivor Novello Awards where he was being honored for International Achievement, the Genesis drummer paid tongue-in-cheek homage to the Cadbury's gorilla advert. He quipped: "I have two sons back in Switzerland and my life is now focused around them, but I do know that I will continue to write songs. As for the gorilla, I might put him forward as the next drummer of Genesis."
When it emerged that his former wife had run off with a painter and decorator, Collins dryly performed this song on the UK Pop music show Top of the Pops with a pot of paint and brush atop the piano. According to the London Times newspaper, the song itself was written on the back of a stray piece of wallpaper.
This popularized a new studio effect, which was known as "gated drum" or "gated reverb." Engineer High Padgham had discovered it during 1979 sessions for Peter Gabriel's third album in London.
The guitarist on this track Daryl Stuemer recalled to Uncut magazine June 2008 his recording of his guitar part: "My guitar part was done much later, in a studio in LA. I sat in the control room with Phil, and my amp was out in the studio, as loud as I could get it. I hit this chord, which Phil described as the sound of an electric razor, Rrrrzzzzz. People write me emails about that chord, asking what it. The song's in the key of D minor, but the chord itself has no minor notes. It's a low A, and a D, and another A and a D. But it depends how you play it, it has to have that overdriven, distorted sound from the amp. It's a distant sound, but a distant powerful sound. It's a sound you imagine being deafeningly loud a mile away."
This song has provided comedy fodder in a variety of clever ways. Some examples:
It appears in the aptly titled Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, based on the Adult Swim TV show. Throughout the second half of the movie, Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" plays an integral part, as it is used to foreshadow a relationship between the characters and the mysterious Dr. Weird. Once the song appears, Calamity ensues. Probably the most elaborate use of the song yet.

It is used in the Family Guy episode "Petergeist" during the scene when Stewie is trapped in the TV. He starts singing a few lines form the song as a joke because his voice echoes the way Phil's does in the song.

In the 2009 movie The Hangover, Mike Tyson appears in a hotel room looking for his missing tiger. When the main characters walk in, Tyson is singing this song, and when it gets to the drum part, he makes them stop talking and plays air-drums to it, punctuating at the end by punching one of the guys. (thanks, Stephanie - stratford, CT and Logan - Troy, MT)
In the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, there are several levels surrounding a subplot of a Phil Collins concert coming to Vice City. The missions all entail protecting Phil Collins from a gang his manager owes money to. In the final mission of the game, entitled "In The Air Tonight," you must stay on the catwalk of the stage while Phil performs the song and stop gang members from killing him. After you beat the mission, you can return to the stadium, purchase a ticket to the concert and watch an animated video of Phil Collins performing the song on stage. (thanks, Adam - Salisbury, MD)
Phil Collins
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Comments (102):

I was driving from Ithaca NY to Massena NY at about 3AM and was on the road along the St. Lawrence Seaway, on a foggy night. This song came on and I was instantly captured by the lyrics. When the drum solo started I just about drove off the road. Needless to say, it's one of my favorites.
- Rick, Freeville, NY
The first time, as the last times seen thru eyes become the grace of human spirit. And the grace of god.
- Kimberly, Landing, NJ
It is a decent song with one classic moment, the drum bridge. Otherwise, it has always been a little slow and overly simplistic to me. A little specificity would have helped, though the ambiguity did help spur all the urban myths.
- Shawn, Green Bay, WI
I must say this song sums up exactly how it feels to be heartbroken by someone you love(d) then to have whoever that person is suddenly call you back claiming to want you back. I never paid attention to the lyrics to this song until a week after the breakup happened this year; I was writing a review with some music playing and suddenly this song came on. I was going to change it but I decided not to because I was too busy writing (lol) and I immediately noticed the first four lines. Then suddenly I was hooked and listened to the rest of the lyrics. It was like Phil knew exactly how I was feeling. About a week later she called me back and acted bitchy at first then suddenly broke down telling me she "wants her boyfriend back", and she had every single excuse ready in the book, like "my dads gonna die and I want someone to be there with me" or "I had something I'm gonna give to you" or what not. While that is very sad, I responded by putting my foot down and said something along the lines of "sorry, I don't want to. I offered you a chance to help put the pieces back together and to fix our relationship when you broke up with me, and you refused. You can't go back and fix it, and while I'm sure you would, if you didn't want me yesterday, well, I don't want you today." she doesn't deserve to be with ANYONE, as she lied to me for over a year.

Sorry for rambling but this song means a lot to me and I just thought I'd tell you how I can connect to this song. Basically, the line "So wipe off your grin, I know where you've been, it's all been a pack of lies" sticks out a lot. Basically, when she sees my face, I hope it tortures her more than it tortures me, because for being so unfaithful, its what she deserves.
- Scott, Edmonton , AB
Two other examples would be Trent Reznor's "Hurt" and Eric Clapton's "Tears In Heaven", two emotional songs that can generate a physical response from people simply by listening to it. I love how these songs can never be explained by the artist because they can't truly understand what they were feeling when they wrote it. I also laugh at how people try to explain the meaning of these songs, as this song and the other three I have mentioned can be interpreted as the artist simply killed someone then wrote a song about it.
- Evan, Windsor, ON
Songwriters rarely write songs about them being defeated, but they tend to become powerful compositions because of the passion the artist has behind the meaning. A classic example of this style is Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" about a suicidal homosexual.
- Evan, Windsor, ON
I doubt he just made up random lyrics. Sometimes in songwriting, the artist can use the perspective of a person they know, and I think in this song he is writing about the man who his wife cheated with. Basically the man has been waiting for Phil's wife to leave him, and if he saw Phil drowning he wouldn't lend a hand. Phil has been grinning in belief that he is happily married, but its all lies, as the man witnessed the marriage fall apart. He will always remember the first/last time they met, assuming it was when Phil found out about the affair, then the man then states that he isn't fooled by Phil's celebrity status, that the painful memory of this will remain forever.
- Evan, Windsor, ON
Really weird, all this speculation about Phil seeing a man drowning, or drowning someone, or wanting his ex-wife to drown, or some other nonsense. The lyric is obviously metaphoric. The "drowning" is figurative, not literal. I think it's more about anger, than revenge, myself, but each to his own.
- KAT, Adelaide, Australia
Friends continue as does wheels turn and the lessons are learned.
really forever.

Words are not values they are statements.
- Kimberly, Landing, NJ
He lost his friend, coming around again. As does life.
- Kimberly, Landing, NJ
Dear Mister Phil Collins, Vocalist; What was coming in the air Phil?
Suggestion: Spirit, of redemption.

You were waiting for that moment All your Life? Did you_ See/feel/ Predict it's coming/
Knew it was possible?
Malcolm Armstrong
Adelaide
South Australia
Listener,/ Occassional singer_
- Malcolm, Adelaide, Australia
This song was only an average hit in the 80's it went to 19. I think that Miami Vice helped make it timeless. I liked the song
when it was first out. It is funny to see it used so much.
- wendell, milton, PE
The fact about "In the Air Tonight" being the last mission in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories is incorrect. The REAL last mission in the game is called "Last Stand", and it involves Victor (the protagonist of the game) officially finishing with his crime life and killing Diego Mendez (a man who along with his brother Armando, betrayed Victor) and Sgt. Jerry Martinez (the main antagonist of the game).
- William, Jersey City, NJ
I love this song! It's touching and amazing. I love Phil Collins!
- Megan, Stevenson, AL
Personally I dont think the song is about nothing. Phil himself says the whole alblum was about hsi first wife and to make her feel guilty. I think the song is to her lover and is about seeing him and his wife together in bed and rather than confront them he left. This song would be about his feelings down the road
- joe, frederick, MD
I heard that he actually wrote this song..about a guy who hit a pedestrian and fled the scene without stopping to report the incident..."If you were drowning i would not lend a hand" being symbolic as if you were dieing i wouldn't lend a hand "I saw your face before my friend, but i don't think you know who i am" he saw him in the car. " a stranger to you and me" the guy was a stranger that got hit "I can see it cumming in the air tonight" "it" being vengeance and justice for the victim...he even says he was there and saw what the man did...and says for the man to wipe the grin off his face because he's been caught, phil remembered what he did...I heard this song was first played at a concert that phil had given the driver of that hit and run to. He sang the song to the driver, then the driver was arrested afterwards
- bryce, Winlock, WA
Regardless of what the song was actually about, for me it was always about a concentration camp victim running into a former camp guard many years later. His grin will be wiped off as the pack of lies the guy's been telling people over the years (and maybe to himself) are going to be revealed.
- Scott, Tigard, OR
I love the song too, but people? Don't beleive the myth, because that's exactly what it is. It's a made-up explanation for a deep, heartfelt song. It could mean something different to everyone. Also, you can't believe everything you hear. A lot of bad stuff goes on out there, but there are good things, too. :)
- Erika, West band, WI
this song is about an out of body experience...watch the music video on youtube...the man in the reflection is himself...all the doors are the nexus, him turning multiple colors is him experiencing himself on another plane of existence. the lyrics, I've seen your face before my friend but I don't know if you know who I am....the reflections is his opposite in another dimension.
- Angel, newport beach, CA
I had no idea Phil wrote this song after going through a divorce. Crazy, but it was my divorce song as well. (of course I could not not have put it into such perfect words as the awesome Mr Collins). I felt like the lyrics fit how I truly felt. I would, however lend a hand if he was drowning in water, but not in sorrow or regret. That was 20 years ago and even though we are now friends, this still remains one of my all time favorie songs. I still put the top down on my car, blare this song and remember my independance day.
- Diann, Evansville, IN
I don't understand why the lyrics puzzle people - it's an obvious song of pure jealousy. The singer is the deceived husband and the person addressed in the verses is the other man. They know each other, but the other man hasn't admitted he's having an affair with the singer's wife. The singer has just found out.

The chorus is a bit incongruous because it sounds like he's relishing the confrontation which is about to come. Perhaps he feels it will relieve the suffering. With this interpretation, there is a nasty vengeful edge to the lyrics which also comes through in Phil's song "Mama", although this time addressed to the unfaithful wife.

Personally I find it a bit much to make a dramatic pop statement out of being a cuckold. It doesn't express the true degradation and dejection of such a situation and pretends to turn it into an egotistical triumph. Both "In The Air Tonight" and "Mama" chillingly remind me of the justifications given by men who murder either or both of the guilty parties in such situations, a cold enthusiasm for revenge having taken over their feelings rather than admit to being beaten.
- Steve, Totnes, United Kingdom
Phil Collins orginally wrote this song because he watched a man drown another man. Not because hisw ife , so that's a lie.
nut i ABSOLUTELY love this song, it's become my favorite one.
- angelina, colorado springs, CO
Have you heard Naturally7's rendition of this? Check out this video if you haven't yet - you won't regret it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AF-KagTq7qY
- Scott, Lakewood, CA
Allow me to disagree. Stupid lyrics, almost no melody, cheap "moody" atmosphere, dumbass drum kick. Lyrics seem, just as Collins says, made up on the spot, and you're all inventing this insane crap about it. Just seems to be the work of a guy in a bad mood, which he should be often, wracked with guilt for being a talentless billionaire hack. "Oy, I've an idea, let's do 'Can't Hurry Love' exactly like the Supremes, put out a single, and get rich". The only thing I like is that my fellow Canadian, his ex, seems to have broken his cheap plastic heart. Good on you, girl.
- Mac, Toronto, ON
It makes sense that Phil wrote this because of his wife. It's a marvelous song, and if you ask anybody what the best part of this song is and they don't answer with the drum fill halfway through, they're ridiculous.
- John, Concord, NH
I LOVE THIS SONG. THE MEANING IS SIMPLY ABOUT ANGER AND REVENGE... its in the first line "if you told me you were drowning...I would not lend a hand" So he wouldnt save the person who was drowning as a way of seeking vengeance.." I been waiting for this moment all of my life" the perfect moment to turn away, kill, laugh, or even say I told you so. The moment to actually get that person back......I LOVE THIS SONG
- denisea, houston, TX
amazing song....... its irresistible when the drums start.... but i have one question...why does it sound like he's singing from inside a well? lol
- rahul, chennai, India
It's funny to me that someone thinks of this song as relaxing. Our high school football team walks onto the field to this song! It's become so much of a tradition that younger kids call it the Rebel song. For me it has become bitter-sweet. The former kicker/punter was in the freshman English class I taught, and he died of an overdose 2 years ago. I happened to see him that day and knew that he was really messed up. The line "I was there and I saw what you did..." reminds me of seeing him for the last time.
- Missy, West Monroe, LA
I dont care what anybody says, this song is the greatest song made. It makes the driving trip on Vice City Stories free.
- Jonathan, Paoli, IN
This song really doesn't have a set meaning. The one clue we have is that he wrote the lyrics shortly after divorcing his first wife, not really knowing the meaning of the lyrics for himself either. It's got a really soothing and watery beat, while the lyrics turn anger and depression into an almost emotionless state of being. I've never listened to much of Phil Collins songs, but this is a corner stone to any playlist I come up with on my computer. People overlook the 80s and focus mainly on today's music, especially young people. But if you ever take the time to check it out, you'll find some really good hits that will pass the test of age and you'll find yourself holding onto them forever.
- Landon, Winchester, OH
I always thought the song is about a guy who is dying. And he talks to God. "I can feel it coming in the air tonite. And I've been waiting for this moment all my life, oh Lord." And he is SO angry that God has turned his back on people that he wouldnt even save him IF God was drowning.
- john, ny, NY
Much more rumour about this song can be read at http://www.snopes.com/music/songs/intheair.asp .
- Nico, Amstelveen, Netherlands
This song makes me think of me wandering in the forest... late at night. And it's a full moon. The song is beautiful, it always calms me down. I try to make this the last song I listen to on my iPod before I fall asleep.
- Lucy, Rhinebeck, NY
In a WBBC radio interview (March 3, 1992) host Ian Soferty asked Phil about the lyrics. His response was that the drowning thing was meant to be metaphorical, not literal. He said a lot of people have taken the lyrics out of context. And he, himself is tired of the urban legend.
- Stunner, Australia, Australia
How can he be in the boy scouts of america if hes british
- Ociee117, Rochester, MN
This song is on that Cadburys ad with the gorilla playing the drums ahahahaha
- nady, adelaide, Australia
I used to wake up to this song in my house all the time...i've always been scared of this song for some reason. mum is phil collins maaaad
- nady, adelaide, Australia
You guys are wrong. When Phill was a child in Boy Scouts of America (boy scouts)he witnessed a drowning of one of his co-scouts. And the guy who didn't save him. You did not looks at all of the variables,maybe he couldn't swim. Can't you hear the symbolicism of this song! Can't you see the water at the beginning and the doors to the employees rooms and maybe a pool!
- Jeffery, los angeles, CA
Exactly, Clarissa! I was always confused by the drowning story; what was stopping Phil from doing something? It doesn't add up. He said in interviews that it's about his anger towards Andrea's infidelity.
- Erik, Bloomfield Hills, MI
So if it's about Phil Collins watching a man watch a man drown, then Phil watched him drown too! He let him die!!!!! Lol, jk this is an awesome song, almost chilling.
- Clarissa, Martinsburg, WV
This became my top song because I suddenly understood the simple lyrics that Phil was putting across - He knew something was going on between his wife and their decorator but he didn't know how to face it (in truth, he probably shied away from it).

If you love someone so much that you are prepared to let them do whatever they want, in the belief that it would keep them happy - and they take advantage of that aspect, you have to first ask yourself if they love you as much as you love them..?

In retrospect, then, Phil saw it all falling apart but chose to ignore the signs. But then, he knew he couldn't let it go on. So, eventually it does all unravel - his wife probably confessed and he knew the end had come - he'd seen it coming but blames himself for not doing anything sooner (again, in reality, he probably didn't know what to do).

So, what did he do? He took his failing love, his anguish, his guilt and his anger and poured it all out in a song, like so many artists before him... And he did it to show her that he *did* know, after all but he was helpless to stop her.

Believe me, if you ever have the sort of break up he had, you'd understand... I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy (not that I have one!)

A beautifully balanced, poignant, introspective ballad which then explodes with emotions. Now *that* is what any other song in this genre aspires to be- but, I can say hand on heart, none will ever match. Ever.
- Tony, London, United Kingdom
I love this song,the first time i heard it I fell in love with it... Phill Collins sings with so much passion and he has a "BEAUTIFUL" voice!!
- Egypt, columbus, OH
It's Hugh Padgham that developed the reverse gated reverb drum sound for this song. They have it misspelled above. A huge disservice to such a legendary producer/engineer, on such a reputable music website. Shame!
- Lee, Blacksburg , VA
The rumors are funny, but after reading a little history on wikipedia, the story seems obvious. According to wikipedia: "Collins was married Canadian Andrea Bertorelli in 1975... They divorced in 1980, after she started an affair with their painter and decorator".

"In the Air Tonight", in my opinion, is about the painter/decorator, that Phil supposedly met once. He knew his wife was cheating, and he's been "waiting for the moment, all [his] life" to expose this. Notice the first verse said "IF you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand". 'If' means that it never happened, it only shows his sentiments towards this character that is "keeping [his] silence up" "with a grin on [his] face".
- Jon, Amherst, MA
Here's yet another take on the drowning line...

Well, despite what many lyric sites (including this one) say, whenever I listen to this song I hear this:

"Well IF you told me you where drowning, I would not lend a hand"

In other words, Phil is saying he hates this person so much that if he was ever at risk (e.g. from drowning) he wouldn't even try to help - just let him die.
- Mjn Seifer, Not listed for personal reason, England
Just thought i would help you all out. Seems like everyone has this mostly so wrong. What happened was when he was young and at school he seen the care taker rapping his best friend, as he points out in the song : 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. And the man at the show he put the spot light on was the care taker. Now with this thought in your head go and listen to the song.
- Ryan, Auckland, New Zealand
No.
You're all wrong.

When Collins was a child him and his friends were out playing and they saw this mentally challenged man. They started making fun of this man and eventually the man snapped and murdered on of Collins' friends. After that, the man was nowhere to be found.

Well, like 25 years later, when Collins was about to put on a show in some city, he saw the man. He went to the local police, told them the story, and devised a plan. They sent the man a free ticket to Collins' concert.

He went and enjoyed himself, but when Collins started to sing "In The Air Tonight" (which he had written especially for this occasion) he didn't look anywhere BUT at the man the WHOLE time.

After the song was over, the police arrested the man.
- Matt, Davenport, IA
Well, there is a Youtube video which despcription says:
"I don't know what this song is about. When I was writing this I was going through a divorce. And the only thing I can say about it is that it's obviously in anger. It's the angry side, or the bitter side of a separation. So what makes it even more comical is when I hear these stories which started many years ago, particularly in America, of someone come up to me and say, 'Did you really see someone drowning?' I said, 'No, wrong'. And then every time I go back to America the story gets Chinese whispers, it gets more and more elaborate. It's so frustrating, 'cos this is one song out of all the songs probably that I've ever written that I really don't know what it's about, you know."
- Phil Collins

Looks like he was angry with her when he said:
"If I would see you drowning, I would not lend a hand", represents the angry part of Phil when he was going throught the divorce. Some may say that Phil saw someone drowning, but I think it was his anger which made he wish of death for his ex-wife.
- Federico, Unknown, Argentina
THIS IS WHY HE WROTE THE SONG

WHEN HE WAS YOUNGER HE WENT TO A CAMP ONE AY HE FOGOT HIS TOWEL AND WENT BACK FOR IT SO ON THE WAY BACK HE WENT NEAR A BIG LAKE WHEN HE LOOKED ACROSS HE SEE A MAN DROWNING HIS FREIND BUT HE KEPT THE BOTTLED UP FOR YEARS UNTIL HE PRODUCED THIS SONG AND THEN THE FIRST TIME HE PLAYED IT TO A AUDIENCE HE INVITED THE MAN THAT KILLED HIS YOUNG FRIEND AND BY THE END OF THE CONCERT HE WAS ARESSED EVEN THOUGH IT WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO IF U DNT BELIVE THIS STORY ITS IN HIS BIOGARPHY SO DNT BELIVE ALL THE RUBBISH BOUT HIS WIVES THIS IS THE TRUE STORY
- Amy, southampton, United Kingdom
I think Phil Collins imagined of a certain man witnessing the infedility of his wife and ultimately decided to drown himself. fulu, south africa
- Fulu Thompho, limpopo, South Africa
I heard that Phil improved the lyrics and just wrote them down after he had recorded them.
- dylan, Louisville, KY
The only thing I would complain about this otherwise fantastic tune is that it has a VERY long fadeout. Soon after the drums come in, the fadeout starts, which in a way decreases the intensity of the moment of the track. Whenever I hear this song I find myself struggling against the volume control to keep the level up for as long as possible! The remixed version included on the B side of the UK 12" Single (not the Liebrand version), from 1988, does a good job about this, and the drums sound even more powerful! :)
One more thing to note, In Phil's 2nd album, "Hello, I Must Be Going!" from 1982, the track 'Thru These Walls' features a similar drum riff, but repeated x 6. Another great tune!
- Eddie, BA, Argentina
I agree with Rusty, the best part of the song is when the drums come in. I listen to the song over and over just to hear the drums :)
- Kristen, Scottsdale, AZ
always makes me cry
- Shelby, Idiotville , KY
Eminem was wrong about the song i guess, listen to "Stan". aside from what i just said, I like Phil Collins' music
- Chris, Claremont, CA
this song is so powerful. Especially when he gets into playing the drums. Gives me chills evreytime but in a good way
- rusty, lake park, MN
Seriously guys these Urban Myths just get more and more stupid. I can dispute the one about camp counsellor very easily. Phil is English and we don't have summer camps over here and we most certainly never did when Phil was a child. Really get over yourselves, the 80s saw a lot of songs with random lyrics live with it!
- Jo, Birmingham, England
The recent Cadbury advert featuring a gorilla beat the heck out of a drum kit along to this song has taken the UK by storm, and as such, many people have begun to look into it. This will be one of those 'most well known' adverts for many decades to come.
- Chiyo, Lincoln, England
I don't know how this still hasn't been mentioned, but Phil Collins also made video gaming history. He played this song in a concert in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, becoming the first celebrity to appear as themselves in a Grand Theft Auto game.
- Ryan, Largo, FL
I think the legend of the man drowning has gone on for so long because people want to believe it. It makes the song so much more powerful when you picture him singing it to a man who did nothing to save the drowning victim. Just my thoughts!
- Karlee, Gilbert, AZ
"Songs are all things to all people but sometimes the wrong path is taken and the misinterpretation stays with you forever" - Phil Collins, sleeve notes of "Both Sides" (1993), clear reference to the "drowning" myth.
- Przemek, Warsaw, Poland
I don't believe the whole "It's about a person drowning" things. But I do believe he was inspired by the bitterness of his wife leaving him. Though I don't know about the bucket of paint nor the Volvo thing. I haven't seen him in concert. It's just a good song and I like it.

Hi Adam from Poplar Bluff, MO!
- Lisa Wolf, Doniphan, MO
This song was wrote about how when phil collins was at camp as a kid his best friend was drowning and the camp counsellor was not paying attention and the kid died. Phil Collins remembered the counsellors name and when he first played this song he gave the man tickets to the first concert this song was played. And during this song he shined a spotlight on the man throughout the whole song. That night the counsellor went home and commited suicide after realizing what he had done.
- Zack, Trenton, NJ
When he performed this at Madison Square gardens he placed a Volvo emblem on his piano because his wife had run off with the car salesman.
- Jay, Atlanta, GA
When phil collins performed this on top of the pops(uk tv music show)he placed a tin of paint on the piano because the song is about he's wife running off with the decorator that was painting their house!
- brad, rochester, England
Don't listen to the song forwards if you want the REAL message...
- Liquid Len, Ottawa, Canada
Can you say "Urban Legend"?
- Jay, Atlanta, GA
the story went like this... (so i;ve heard)..
Phil collins witnessed someone murdering his friend and he could do nothing about it. So when he came to sing this song.. he made sure the murderer had tickets to the front row of the concert to hear this song. Phil collins got doown on his knees and sang this song infront of the killers face, the the murderer was arrested.. SO I'VE HEARD
- Chris, Kingston, Canada
I've heard before that he sang the song because he witnessed his friend being murdered, not because of the divorcement.
- Chris, Kingston, Canada
As Phil expained in a TV-talkshow the other night(on Dutch TV,a show called Jensen), this song is basicly about nothing. It has got absolutely nothing to do with people drowning or whatever, neither with him getting divorced.
He just sat down one night and wrote the lyrics.
The just came, he claims...
After that it was put to music.
So there goes another Urban Legend down the drain....
- Rudolf, Delft, Netherlands
Along with Miami Vice, the show Fastlane put this song in its pilot episode. You could easily say that Fastlane was the Miami Vice of the new Millenium.
- Sam, Louisville, KY
Answer me this: Is there a better song to listen to while driving, alone, on a big city freeway at 1 AM?
- Dan, Woodinville, WA
In Rolling Stone, hip-hop artist Akon listed this song as one of his top five favorites.
- Glen, Charlotte, NC
Nonpoint released a cover of this song for their last album and was also featured on the soundtrack to the film adaptation of Miami Vice. DMX and 2Pac also use interpolations of the song in their songs I Can Feel It, and Starin' At My Rear View, respectively.
- Adam, Poplar Bluff, MO
phil collins wrote this song about him seeing another dude watching someone die and not helping its simple all those lies and storys are fake?? this song rules btw =)
- eddie, sydney, Australia
One of the best songs ever. We often discuss/debate guitar gods like Hendrix, Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, etc. etc. Is there any true rival to Phil at his peak in the early 80s on drums. Tommy Lee? please.
- Duane, Wheatfield, IN
I'll tell ya'll the story that heard. Phil Collins watched his parents be murdered. He hired a detective and found out who the guy was. Sent the killer front row tickets and played it for the first time at that concert. When the song was over, he had the killer arrested.
I wish that was the true story.
- Brett, Moore, OK
One of the best pickups on drums for the 2nd chorus in any song. This song was also featured in the Tom Cruise film Risky Business where cruise and the female lead have sex on a subway. The build up on the song comes through in the drums to the sexual climax.
- Peter, Detroit, MI
I guess this is a song to/about the man, that cheated with Phils wife. And Phil seen him leave his house or something that makes him figure it out, but that man never seen Phil. Thats why he won't lend him a hand if he was drowning.
- Henrik, Copenhagen, Denmark
Per Snopes.com: Origins: In The Air Tonight (as well as most of Collins' 1981 Face Value album) deals with his bitterness and frustration over the end of his marriage to his first wife, Andrea. As Collins has repeatedly explained, the lyrics are not based on any specific real-life event.
- Jay, Atlanta, GA
This song actually is about a guy he saw being drowned, a local radio station did an interveiw with him and he told the whole story behind it...But i guess the artist is even wrong about his own song
- Kat, Norristown, PA
Can you say "Urban Legend"? Get over the drowning thing, it's not true.
- Jay, Atlanta, GA
I'm surprised no one has mentioned that this song was playing when Tom Cruise makes love to his temporary girlfriend (her regular job is being a hooker) on a commuter train in the movie Risky Business. Quite a memorable scene.
- Bobodobo, Los Angeles, CA
The story about Collins watching one dude watch another guy drown is true because Phil put so much passion into this song and it was pretty much the 'stairway to heaven' of the eighties, there is a true story behind each song, and that retard who said there are satanic messages in it is a dumb ass.
- Dan, Milwaukee, WI
Phil Collins wrote this song cuz he was drowning and no one helped him through his sorrow. He can dance, in fact he can break dance. Bam Bam Boogie and don't stop the boogie! All you need an enima and enimem sux. He is a wannabe who will never be black. So he should stop acting like it. Elvis is leaving now. So kiss it!
- Indha Bhutt, Honolulu, HI
There are satanic messages in this song! Where he starts singing "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". Play this in reverse and you can hear "now, who wants to make me the wooden ladder? Never thought you'd see it for yourself. Never, now you know all the wrong. Never do it, o Satan!".
- Liquid Len, Ottawa, Canada
i thank the story about the man who watched the other man drowned and wouldnt save him is true because who would write a song with so mugh passion and hate plus he sings that song with all his heart.
- dollie, St.Albeans, WV
He can't dance? What does that mean? So he is bald and short, I don't think those are neccessary components to make great music. Why don't you put down the Guiness, and stop embarrasing yourself.
- Nathan, Defiance, OH
absolutely rocks, i got it on itunes and it is very quiet but i turn it WAY up and it gets my heart beeting, pump it up.
- thomas, burlington, VT
Matt- you are so right...I drum along every single time-I can't help it, its sooo good
- Liz, S Windsor, CT
There is a DVD available (Phil Collins - Face Value)on which Collins states (as Mark from London says) that he was playing with the drum machine and just made up the lyrics. He WAS going through the divorce at the time, and other songs on the album do refer to that, but not this one.
- Deathdealer, Chicago, IL
That video scared the hell out of me when I was little.I know it sounds crazy but when that, "Burning Down The House" and "Eyes Without A Face" comes on MTV,I would be scared of the faces.I couldn't go to sleep at night.But I'm not scared of them now.
- Damar, Pittsburgh, PA
The song has a dark ominence, can't understand all the words, but the drums are wonderful. Why is it so popular now if it comes from 1981? Reborn with Live8?
- Susan, London, England
I also listen to this before every game to get pumped...its insane
- TP, Council Bluffs, IA
I defy anyone to not play "air drums" when the initial drum fill kicks in on this song.
- Matt, Charleston, SC
Quote from Phil himself on VH1 storytellers: "Everything you've ever heard about this song is wrong - it's not about anything at all. I just played some chords on the Prophet V and made up some lyrics."
- Mark, London, England
The song is about Phil Collins 1st marriage. His wife cheated on him and then they got divorced.
- Kittie, Boston, MA
It's a good song, although it's easy to assume this was a Genesis song, since much of their work during the eighties became heavily influenced by Collin's solo work.
- Kent Lyle, Palo Alto, CA
ray lewis of the baltimore ravens listens to this song before every game to get himself pumped up.
- Reed, Hagerstown, IN
i get goose bumps when i hear this song, i did actually believe the boy drowning and then playing the song to a guy he'd invited to his concert. now i no different, so much for urban myth's.
- samantha, perth, WA
this song sends chills down my spine every time i hear it.
- Reed, Hagerstown, IN
this song sure does rule
- Jeff, Windsor, Canada
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