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"In the Air Tonight" is a song by Phil Collins which first appeared on his 1981 album, Face Value. It was the first single of Collins' solo career, and remains one of his best-known hits. The music video, which is directed by Stuart Orme, was among those aired on the first broadcast day of MTV.

The song/recording

The recording is notable for its atmospheric production and macabre theme. Released in January 1981 in the UK, the single was an instant hit, quickly climbing to Number 2 in the Singles Chart. It was also an international hit, reaching the top 20 on the Billboard Chart in the summer of 1981.

"In the Air Tonight" remains, alone among Collins' solo oeuvre, 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, notably at Live Aid, where he played the song on the same calendar day in both Philadelphiamarker and London. He also performed the song at The Secret Policeman's Ball -- Collins' first live performance as a solo artist.

The lyrics of the song take the form of a dark monologue directed towards an unnamed, possibly prominent person; the singer describes having witnessed an unspecified act perpetrated:
I was there and I saw what you did
Saw it with my own two eyes
and anticipating an equally unspecified consequence:
I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
I've been waiting for this moment for all my life

Musically the song consists of a series of ominous chords played over a simple drum machine pattern (the Roland CR-78 Disco-2 pattern, plus some programming); processed electric guitar sounds and vocoded vocals on key words 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 then-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." Collins 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 sing 99.9 percent of those lyrics spontaneously."

The song's popularity in the 1980s increased after a nearly complete recording of it was featured in the pilot episode of the American television show Miami Vice ("Brother's Keeper"), thus becoming one of the first pop/rock songs to be featured as part of a TV programme in this manner. 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 was remixed in 1988 by Ben Liebrand for his weekly appearance in the Curry & van Inkel radio show on Dutchmarker radio. The mix was completed and then taken by Liebrand to be part of a mix showcase at the DMC Mixing Championship Finals in London. This mix was picked up by Virgin records for an official release, which hit Number 4 in the UK charts.

Drum sound

The means by which Collins attained the drum sound on this recording was long a source of mystery. The exact process was, as happens so often, 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 completely sonically isolated otherwise). 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. The engineers 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.

When recording engineer Hugh 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. Hugh 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 appears. These were added at the suggestion of Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun. In 2007, Collins wrote: "Ahmet came down to the final mix in the cutting room in New York (. . .) The drums don't come in until the end but Ahmet didn't know that at this point, because on the demo the drums hadn't come in at all; it was only drum machine all the way. And he was saying, 'Where's the down beat, where's the backbeat?' I said, 'The drums come in in a minute.' 'Yeah, you know that and I know that, but the kids don't know that; you've got to put the drums on earlier.' So we added some drums to the mix and put it out as a single."

The drum sound in "In the Air Tonight" has been likened to "a herd of 1000 CGI stallions stampeding in majestic unison over the ceiling boards of your k-hole."

Urban legend

An urban legend has arisen around "In the Air Tonight" according to which the lyrics are based on a real drowning incident that Collins witnessed. Various, 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. 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 drowning
But didn't, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him?

Use in advertising

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.

The song gained additional life in the mid-to-late 1980s when the brewer Anheuser-Buschmarker adopted it for an ad campaign promoting Michelob beer, along with night-related songs by Collins' peers Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton.

In 2006, it was used by Mountain Dew in television commercials for its MDX energy drink.

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 number 14 in the UK singles chart and number 9 in the UK Download Chart. The advertisement also helped the song re-enter the New Zealand RIANZ Singles Chart at number 3 in July, 2008 and went to number 1 the following week staying there for two weeks, beating its original 1981 number 6 peak. The single was also certified Platinum with sales of over 15,000 copies. This advert was so popular, it won the awards for the Best Ad of the Year, at New Zealands Fair-Go Ad Awards.

Use in sport

"In the Air Tonight" is often played before and during various sporting events. Since the song's release, "In The Air Tonight" has been the most played song on PA systems of NFL stadiums, and has become almost a tradition to some players. The song's popularity among NFL players was the subject of an NFL Films piece on ESPN.

The song has been used as entrance music or during player introductions for a number of players and teams of various sports, includingthe University of Miami football team, NBA teams the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, MLB players Adam Dunn and Adam LaRoche and boxers Shane Mosley, Riddick Bowe, and Jermain Taylor.

Sampling of the song

The song has been sampled by many artists, including Shaquille O'Neal in his song "Edge Of Night", Nas in his remix version of the 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 "Can You Feel It", Young Buck's "New York City", Lil Kim's "In the Air Tonight", and Beanie Sigel's "Feel It in the Air".

Other pop culture references

"In the Air Tonight" has been widely used in films, television, and video games, often to create or emphasize an eerie or portentous mood; in some cases this usage is ironic or referential to previous uses of the song.

Appearances in film include:

  • The song plays during the train love scene in the 1983 movie Risky Business.
  • a combat scene in Bravo Two Zero.
  • an appearance in the movie Big Trouble when a drunk security guard played by Andy Richter stalks a group of teens he finds suspicious.
  • The scene in The New Guy when Dizzy Harrison, pretending to be Gil Harris, walks away in slow motion after unknowingly setting one of the school's plants on fire.
  • The song also features prominently in the 2009 comedy film The Hangover in which boxer Mike Tyson is seen air drumming and singing along to it. He says it's his favorite song.
  • The melody of the song persists throughout the film Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters. It is also referenced multiple times in the dialogue.
  • In American Psycho, Patrick Bateman mentions the song as being more commercial and therefore more satisfying, in a narrower way, than Phil Collins' work with Genesis.

In addition to the famous usage in the pilot episode of Miami Vice, appearances in television include:

  • The song is used at the end of the first season finale episode of Tru Calling - "Two Weddings and a Funeral".
  • The song is featured in the pilot episode of Fastlane.
  • The song is referenced in the Family Guy episode "Petergeist".
  • The song is played in the opening title sequence for the television show Carpoolers in which four men drive in silence, listening to the song, before simultaneously air-drumming the signature drum crash and then returning to deadpan silence.

The song appears on the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 2 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories soundtrack. It is also the title of a mission, which revolves around protecting Phil Collins; completion of the mission unlocks a CGI cutscene of a Phil Collins concert where the song is played in full. Collins plays himself in the game, a first for Grand Theft Auto.

Single and credits

UK and US single

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

Japan CD single (1988)

  1. "In the Air Tonight (Extended)"
  2. "In the Air Tonight ('88 Remix)"
  3. "In the Air Tonight ( Home Demo)"


  • Video of Collins singing "In the Air Tonight" on his "First Final Farewell tour" (Courtesy of


Chart (1981) Peak

Australian ARIA Singles Chart 3
Dutch Singles Chart 2
German Singles Chart 1
New Zealand RIANZ Singles Chart 6
UK Singles Chart 2
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 19
U.S. Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks 2
Chart (1988) Peak

Dutch Singles Chart 17
German Singles Chart 3
UK Singles Chart 4
Chart (2007) Peak

UK Singles Chart 14
Chart (2008) Peak

New Zealand RIANZ Singles Chart 1

"In the Air Tonite"

In 2001 the remix-version "In the Air Tonight" was re-released to promote the R&B/Hip hop Collins tribute album Urban Renewal, the song is a duet between Collins and Lil' Kim. They did not work together for the video; scenes from the original video and new scenes featuring Lil' Kim were used to create a video.

Track listing

UK CD single

  1. "In the Air Tonite" (Boogieman Radio version)
  2. "In the Air Tonite" (Stargate remix)
  3. "In the Air Tonite" (Mintman's Floorfiller mix)
  4. "In the Air Tonite" (Boogieman's Album version)
  5. "In the Air Tonite" (True Business remix)

German CD single

  1. "In the Air Tonite" (Soulforce Club mix)
  2. "In the Air Tonite" (Soulforce Sunshine mix)
  3. "In the Air Tonite" (Soulforce Monster dub)


Chart (2001) Peak

position [68015]
Belgian Singles Chart 7
Dutch Singles Chart 30
Canadian Singles Chart 19
German Singles Chart 3
Swedish Singles Chart 27
Austrian Singles Chart 8
Swiss Singles Chart 11
UK Singles Chart 26

Other versions

  • Rapper Cuban Link along with fellow former Terror Squad members, Remy Ma and Triple Seis, reinterpreted the song in the track "Moment of Truth" as a diss track towards Fat Joe.
  • Flatulist Mr. Methane recorded a version of the song with additional fart noises and alternate lyrics (describing the abdominal effects of eating hot curry)
  • A version of this song is on the Gregorian album Masters of Chant Chapter II.
  • Welsh rock band Lostprophets did a cover version.
  • Austrian band Stahlhammer covered the song in their 2006 album Opera Noir.
  • A remake of the song appears on the Nonpoint album "Recoil". This song was featured in the film Miami Vice (2006), and a video was made to promote the track using clips from the film.
  • R&B group Naturally 7 performed the song on their 2006 album Ready II Fly. Their version, entitled "Feel It (In The Air Tonight)", has additional lyrics.
  • Axel Rudi Pell covered the song for his solo CD, Diamonds Unlocked, released on 1 October 2007.
  • Finnish symphonic metal supergroup Northern Kings covered the song on their first album Reborn in 2007.
  • Noise Rock band godheadSilo also covered the song on their album Share the Fantasy.
  • Takka Takka recorded a cover of the song for Engine Room Recordings' compilation album Guilt by Association Vol. 2, which was released in November 2008 .
  • It was covered by Rocksolid on their Rock Anthems album in 2002.
  • MercyMe covered this song in 1805 on the "Imagine Tour". They opened their set with this song and can be seen on their live DVD: "MercyMe- Live"
  • On their 2009 album My Own Army Exilia covered this song
  • Australian artist Bertie Blackman performed a cover of this song as part of Triple J's morning show Like a Version segment
  • Heavy metal band Undecided performed a cover of the song at FoxFest 2005 in South Mississippi.


External links

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