From his early days in Flaming Youth through his rise to stardom in Genesis and on into a massive solo career, Phil Collins has been a collaborative person. That spirit is necessary when you’re in a band, but once you’ve struck out on your own and scored serious worldwide hits — well, you don’t really have to get along with anyone. You’re free to shut yourself off in some private little world. Or for that matter, you can demand top billing on everything you touch.
Collins has never done either of those things. He’s collaborated with others at every point in his career, whether he’s center stage or tucked behind a drum kit. It seems like he’s been able to do it all with a spirit of humility. “Some would say I’ve lived a charmed life. I’ve done what I wanted for most of it, and got paid well for doing something I’d have done for nothing,” he said in a statement. “Playing the drums. During that time I’ve played with most of my heroes, most have become close friends.”
These moments are so integral to his body of work that Collins just released a four-disc box set titled Plays Well With Others. It features tracks he’s appeared on in one form or another over the last five decades, with an incredibly diverse set of musical partners from all over the stylistic and demographic map. Here are three key moments that illustrate this:
The Prince’s Trust Concert 1987
The Biggest: George Harrison – While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Live At The Prince’s Trust Gala)
If you’re talking about historic collaborative moments, very few could eclipse this one. The Beatles never got back together, but this comes pretty close to matching the star power a Fab Four reunion would’ve generated. During a charity concert in 1987, 60 percent of the musicians who originally appeared on While My Guitar Gently Weeps (George, Ringo, and Eric Clapton) jumped on stage to reprise the song.
Yes, that’s a far cry from a full-on reunion, but the backing band pushed things over the top. Collins, Elton John, and Jeff Lynne were among those sitting in. That’s a lot of star power — and two Wilburys, if you’re counting — on a single stage. If you throw in other performers that night like Bryan Adams, Spandau Ballet, Ben E. King, and Dave Edmunds, an already heavy bill gets even heavier.
Another Green World
The Coolest: Brian Eno – Another Green World
If your entry point into Phil Collins is prime prog-era Genesis, this might seem less shocking. On the other hand, if your main point of reference is Collins talking about his poor dance moves or who will be in his heart…seeing him on an album with one of the coolest experimentalists in pop music might raise an eyebrow.
After doing a track on Brian Eno’s 1974 LP Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Collins was asked to contribute in a larger role on 1975’s universally-heralded Another Green World. Collins was a known commodity at the time, but he was far from a star. With a cast of characters including John Cale of The Velvet Underground and Robert Fripp of King Crimson, Collins was just one of the guys on this minimalist touchstone.
The Weirdest: Lil’ Kim – In the Air Tonite
“As I understand it, the publishers of my songs were getting, and had been getting for a long time, requests from many urban R&B singers to cover my songs. Songs like In The Air Tonight and Another Day In Paradise were top of the list of “sampled” songs and treatments,” Collins wrote in the liner notes for 2001’s Urban Renewal, an R&B/hip-hop tribute album with tracks from Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Bryan McKnight, and Brandy. “It seems that from those requests for permission to change, alter, adapt or almost re-write my songs, came an idea to someone somewhere, that perhaps, contrary to critical opinion I may be hipper than previously suspected!!”
There’s one track in particular that stands out in the mix: In The Air Tonite, a duet between Lil’ Kim and Collins. While neither the album nor the single were big hits, it still stands out in the Phil Collins catalog as the most far-flung collaboration he’s been involved in.