First, as the name suggests, the evening was supposed to follow the well-tried format of: listen to a song, argue a bit about the year it was released, find out at the end. Except our friends at VH1, purveyors of pop videos to those Not Quite As Young As They Once Were, didn’t do anything to hide the year appended after the album title. Shown in a caption at the start of every track.
Why did they do that, we asked? Why bother with the neat “What was the year” graphic at the end of each clip? At least they didn’t go to the trouble of hiring Simon Bates to do the “but what was the year” bit from his heyday. That would have been a waste.
Don’t worry – we developed a sophisticated system of looking away as each track started, but that’s the kind of hard work that video channels and technology were supposed to do away with long ago.
The second big question ran even deeper: why do we all dislike Phil Collins? By rights, the man should be hailed as great British musical genius; as lead singer Genesis he led the band to greater success than with Peter Gabriel and, by Gabriel’s own judgement, sang the old songs better than him. As a solo artist, he was even bigger – including that album, No Jacket Required – which I seem to recall featuring in every record collection of every house I visited for at least ten years, and every car for 15 years, from 1985 on. Then he won a Grammy, and an Oscar for his film work. All told, he’s jolly successful at writing music that lots of people like.
So why’s he so unpopular? Did it all start with the bleeding heart sentiments of Another Day in Paridise? Was it being quoted, in 1992, saying he’d leave the country if Labour won that year’s general election? [He denies being a Tory; he just didn't fancy Labour's tax plans. Which is maybe why he lives in Switzerland now.] Did that, and other politically motivated songs (Colours was about apartheid) earn him the potentially devastating reputation of being earnest? Was it that it was claimed (wrongly, he says) that he dumped his wife by fax?
Is it all a great misunderstanding? Will the papers be full of revisionist obits when he eventually goes? Why did they put the damned year up at the start of each song? Oh, I’ll never sleep now.