Meaning of “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins
“In the Air Tonight” is a song by English singer-songwriter Phil Collins. Since its release in 1981, the song has gone on to become one of the most widely misinterpreted songs on Earth with many interesting stories surrounding it. The most popular misinterpretation of the song is that Collins wrote the song after he witnessed a man watch another man drown and did nothing to save the drowning man even though he was very close to the victim and could have saved him.
Having rubbished all the false stories surrounding the song in an interview with BBC, Collins said the song has nothing to do without someone drowning and that it is mainly based on the anger he felt when he was going through a bitter divorce with his first wife Andrea Bertorelli, whom he found out was cheating on him with their interior decorator. Collins and Andrea were married from 1975 to 1980.
According to Collins, he was so devastated by his wife’s unfaithfulness during the writing process of In the Air Tonight that he poured all the anger into the song. Collins therefore said of the song as the “angry side, or the bitter side” of the end of a relationship.
According to Collins, beyond the song being about the anger he felt about his separation from Andrea, he was not really sure what the song is all about since he wrote the song’s lyrics spontaneously.
The song’s macabre and very dark theme, is according to Collins, the result of the intense anger, despair and frustration that he felt while writing the song.
When was “In the Air Tonight” released?
“In the Air Tonight” was Collins’ debut single from his critically acclaimed debut solo album Face Value which came out in 1981 and sold millions of copies worldwide.
Collins is the sole writer of both the lyrics and music of “In the Air Tonight”. According to him, he wrote the song’s lyrics spontaneously and therefore doesn’t have any idea what they mean. Collins produced the song along with renowned music producer Hugh Padgham.
Success on the Charts
This Phil Collins classic peaked at the number one spot in many countries including Germany and Sweden in 1981. It went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide, thereby making it one of Collins’ most successful songs.
Samples and Notable Use
The song is one of Collins’ most sampled songs. It has been sampled by various prominent music artists over the years. Some of the most notable songs that have sampled “In the Air Tonight” are listed below:
- “Starin’ Through My Rear View “by Tupac Shakur,
- “In the Air Tonite” by Lil Kim
- “One Mic” by Nas
Rapper Eminem made reference to one of the numerous myths surrounding “In the Air Tonight” in his 2000 hit song “Stan” from his third album The Marshall Mathers LP. In Stan, Eminem raps briefly about this classic, mentioning the drowning incident in which Collins is said to have seen a man fail to save another man from drowning. It is worth noting that Eminem’s “Stan” went a long way in further promoting the false story of Collins writing “In the Air Tonight” based on a drowning incident he had witnessed.
Phil Collins and Andrea Bertorelli: The Real Inspiration behind “In the Air Tonight”
Legendary musician Phil Collins has had his share of tumultuous relationships, marrying and divorcing thrice over the span of his career. His first marriage with Andre Bertorelli was probably filled with the most drama and complications.
The two met during their childhood when they were both 11 and Phil was a child actor. They both attended the same school, worked at a theater and dated as teenagers but split at age 18 when Andrea relocated to Canada. After Collins rose to fame as the drummer for Genesis, he reunited and tied the knot with Andrea in 1970. Bertorelli recalls that although she was pregnant with Phil’s son, Simon, in 1976, the musician had no problem leaving her and her two-day-old newborn baby for a two-year world tour with his band.
Eventually, the two grew apart as Andrea cheated on him with a decorator named Michael Burberry, and Phil is said to have cheated on her with other women as well. By 1980, Collins and his first wife Andrea had finalized their divorce. “In the Air Tonight” was inspired by their split.
Did “In the Air Tonight” win a Grammy Award?
Up till now, the song hasn’t been nominated for a Grammy Award.
Over the years, “In the Air Tonight” has appeared in several television series, films and adverts. For instance, it appeared in the 1983 romantic comedy film Risky Business starring Tom Cruise. It also was used in the 2009 Todd Philips directed comedy film The Hangover and the American crime drama TV series Miami Vice. Another very famous film in which the song prominently appears is the 2016 American action comedy film “True Memoirs of an International Assassin” starring the likes of Kevin James, Andy Garcia and Zulay Henao. The version of the song that appears in said film is performed in Spanish by Esperando a Christine.
It was also featured on the hit animated sitcom “Family Guy”.
FYI: The legendary drum crash, which comes towards the end of the song, is widely regarded as one of the most famous drum breaks in the history of music.
Cease and Desist Order to President Donald Trump’s campaign Team for playing “In the Air Tonight”
In October 2020, Phil Collins and his team sent a cease and desist order to President Trump and his campaign team after they played “In the Air Tonight” at one of his political rallies. This made Phil one of the many prominent artists banning Donald Trump from using their songs at his rallies.
Other notable artists that objected to President Trump’s use of their songs at his rallies, include Neil Young, The Rolling Stones and Village People. For example, few days earlier, Village People also objected to their hit song “Y.M.C.A.” being used at Trump rallies..