Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rediscovering the Past: God of the '80s

Over the course of the decade in which the foundation for the person I was to become was laid, there was one man whose influence over popular culture was more widely felt than all others.

Now this man was no stranger to the world in 1980. For the ten years prior, his workmanlike devotion to precise percussion cut a swath across pop music, laying down drum tracks for such vital and varied acts as Brian Eno, Thin Lizzy, Daryl Hall, Brand X, Mike Oldfield, John Cale, and of course Genesis--which he joined initially as a replacement drummer, but eventually took the reins with Peter Gabriel's departure for a solo career only to take the band to greater heights commercially than they ever reached under Gabriel's leadership.

As Genesis became more and more successful, the necessity for the embarkation into a solo career became more and more evident. In 1981, the world's thirst for more Phil Collins was quenched with the release of Face Value, a tour de force of historic proportions. And within a year of its release "In the Air Tonight" had imprinted its signature drumline and haunting vocals on the psyche of music listeners worldwide.

As the 80s rolled on, Phil Collins rolled on. It could easily be argued that this decade was his. While acts like Guns 'N Roses entralled the record-buying public with their bad-boy antics, Phil Collins was selling a fuckload of records. Moreover, one would be hard-pressed to think of an artist that released the mass of material that Collins did while maintaining the commercial success he did for the entire duration of the decade. While Thriller sold better than any record in the decade, Michael Jackson only released two albums in the decade. Madonna didn't release an album until 1983.

Really, the only other artist whose volume of output and commercial appeal could be considered to rival Collins' 80s success was Prince. Prince put out 10 records in the decade, and wrote the music for other bands like The Time, Sheila E., and Mazerati. Collins had four solo records and five Genesis records. Each were given films to star in--Buster obviously being the less successful of the two. But Prince's ascent to superstardom really wasn't complete until 1984, when Purple Rain was released. Collins was already well-established in 1984, when his career took off on a streak of 13 straight top ten hits in the U.S. through 1992*. That is a feat of consistency that Prince could only have dreamt to acheive.

*One could argue persuasively (and Chuck Klosterman has, although with a slant) that the 1980s really didn't end until 1992, as the decade really spilled into the early 1990s with the "80s" being officially killed by Nirvana's release of "Smells Like Teen Spirit". What Nirvana's success also meant was an end to 80s style, mindset, and culture. For evidence of this phenomenon, you need look no further than "Parker Lewis Can't Lose", which saw its embrace of what was essentially late 80s style--including the titular Corin Nemec's hair--change drastically in its third season. The more I think about it, the more I should be blaming Kurt Cobain for the death of my beloved TV show...

Most importantly, though, is something else--something more incredible. Where androgyny, a driving force in rock success, helped Prince in his ascension to the pantheon of 80s idolatry, Phil Collins had no such help. His most successful record, and perhaps his most culturally relevant year were driven by an album with this record cover.

That man was selling more records than just about anybody in the decade. In an industry driven almost entirely by sex appeal, Phil Collins--the man pictured above--sold more than 100 million solo records and more than 100 million records as a member of Genesis.

Just to reiterate how his success defied all logic, here you go:

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...