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Live? Seriously!

At the end of February 1990 Phil Collins embarked on his third solo tour in Nagoya, Japan, the final show of which would take place at Madison Square Garden, New York, in early October. The longest tour the singer and drummer of Genesis had ever been on so far took him through Japan, Australia, Europe and North America and saw him play in arenas, stadiums and amphitheatres. It also marked the end of two years of stage abstinence after Phil had been touring with Genesis, Eric Clapton, Robert Plant or solo for a couple of months every year from 1980 to 1987.

Phil Collins’ first live album came out in November 1990. A limited edition with a cardboard sleeve and 24 page booklet was also available. Do You Remember? and Who Said I Would were released as singles in Europe while the U.S. had an In The Air Tonight single, too. These songs were backed with live recordings from the Serious tour. The European B-sides consisted of various combinations of Against All Odds, Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore, Inside Out and/or The Roof Is Leaking. One of these even came in a lovingly made cardboard roundabout. This way three songs that had not made it onto Serious Hits … Live! became available in Europe, while the US B-sides, Take Me Home and Separate Lives were already on the album. Always was used to back Both Sides Of The Story in 1993 before it was included on Love Songs: A Compilation … Old And New in 2004.

The recording of Take Me Home is definitely from Rosemont, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago – easy to infer from Phil’s “thanks, Chicago”. To find out where the other songs were recorded I contacted the sound engineer on the album Paul Gomersall. It appears that the list of which song was recorded where does still exist at The Farm… somewhere. Gomersall has since moved to Australia, so he could provide only sketchy information from memory. The material for Serious Hits … Live! is probably from four shows in Uniondale NY, Paris, France, London, UK, and Rosemont IL. It is likely that the Paris recordings were not used because Phil had problems with his voice at that time so that one of the shows had to be postponed.

The first thing I noticed was that the album does not contain a full show, but only about half the songs that were played on tour. The order of the songs begins to follow the setlist only from In The Air Tonight onwards, though some parts (e.g. the band introductions and Always) were cut out.

Another striking characteristic is that the sound is very homogenous throughout the album though the material was recorded at different venues with completely different acoustics. The effect of this is that you get the feeling you are listening to one single show, but at the price of a sound that seems very polished – the audience can be heard only between songs. According to Paul Gomersall this standardization of the sound was intentional – and a whole lot of work at that!

The Serious Tour shows began with Hand In Hand as opposed to the album which kicks off with Something Happened On The Way To Heaven. This is one of only three songs of the then current album that was included on the live CD, and it was placed in the middle of the live set. It seems as if Phil had realized on the 1990 tour that this song was a good opener because (if you disregard the Drum Trio) he would open his First Final Farewell shows with it. The choice of Do You Remember? and Another Day In Paradise, two successful …But Seriously single releases for Serious Hits… Live! is hardly surprising. Fans may have rather wished for songs like Colours, Find A Way To My Heart, All Of My Life or I Wish It Would Rain Down. Yes, there was a good reason that…But Seriously was the album that featured most heavily in the live set. Father To Son was the only song that was never played live, probably not because it would not have worked live but because it is one of the most personal songs Phil has ever written.

Another block consists of four songs from various soundtracks. Against All Odds was not new to the set list since it had been played live in 1985. Separate Lives (from White Nights) and Two Hearts and A Groovy Kind Of Love (from the Buster soundtrack) were added to Phil’s solo repertoire only after the end of the No Jacket Required tour. Two Hearts has actually become almost inseparable from You Can’t Hurry Love since 1990. The latter song is the only representative of Hello, I Must Be Going on Serious Hits … Live!. Apart from that, only The West Side was played live on tour.

Almost all songs from No Jacket Required were included on Serious Hits … Live! (Sussudio, One More Night, Don’t Lose My Number, Who Said I Would, Take Me Home). Those that were not put on the CD were released as B-sides (Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore, Inside Out). If you compare the 1985 and 1990 live versions you will notice that particularly Sussudio and Take Me Home sounded much stronger and more mature than the album versions. The 1990 live versions actually sound more like the 12” mixes. Incidentally, Who Said I Would is the only song on Serious Hits … Live! that was never put out as a single (except for the live version).

coverEasy Lover is a song that stands out from the others. Phil originally recorded it in 1984 with Philip Bailey and Nathan East for Bailey’s album Chinese Wall, but did not play it live in 1985. It was not released on any Collins release up to Serious Hits … Live! (and later on …Hits). In 1990 Phil would sing the song as an encore with Arnold McCuller and Fred White.

What would a Collins live album be without the classic: In The Air Tonight? This song is the only one included in Serious Hits … Live! from Face Value, though in 1990 Hand In Hand, Behind The Lines and The Roof Is Leaking were played, too. No other piece has evolved as much as In The Air Tonight. Not only because it is one of the very few songs Phil has played on almost every show since his very first live concert. The versions from 1982/83 to 1990 were rather traditional interpretations. From 1994 onwards the intro was increasingly extended to build up the tension for the highlight of each Collins show. 1990, however, was the last time a no-frills version like that on the album was played. The drumming, however, was as strong and powerful as never before and never again. The version on Serious Hits… Live! really gives the impression that Phil has been waiting for this moment all his life.

The album is excellent, at some points perhaps even too perfect. The band works together very well, creating live versions that are unsurpassed. Serious fans would probably have wished for a full show as a live album. Luckily, this wish has been fulfilled by the Seriously In Berlin live video and DVD. Serious Hits … Live! seems like a cleverly edited version of the show; fluent and still close to the original set.

One may doubt that the album contains “the hits”, as the album title suggests, but Serious Hits … Live! is definitely a “Best Of Live”. It is a pity that the live atmosphere suffers from an almost sterile sound produced by balancing the sound from various arenas and cutting back the audience noise to the space between the songs.

In the reviewer’s opinion the album (like several that were to follow) could have been even better if Collins had decided not to play it safe – e.g. by including less well-known songs or by trading sound perfection for live atmosphere.

by Ulrich Klemt
translated by Martin Klinkhardt

Here is a list of all songs that were played on the Serious tour and where to find them:

Serious Hits… Live!
Something Happened On The Way To Heaven
Against All Odds
Who Said I Would
One More Night
Don't Lose My Number
Do You Remember?
Another Day In Paradise
Separate Lives
In The Air Tonight
You Can't Hurry Love
Two Hearts
A Groovy Kind Of Love
Easy Lover
Take Me Home

B-sides (see above)
Doesn't Anybody Stay Together Anymore
Inside Out
The Roof Is Leaking

unreleased on audio
Hand In Hand*
That's Just The Way It Is*
Saturday Night & Sunday Morning*
The West Side*
All Of My Life**
Heat On The Street**
Find A Way To My Heart**
Behind The Lines
I Wish It Would Rain Down
People Get Ready

* released as video on Seriously Live In Berlin
** released as video on …But Seriously, The Videos (footage from Sydney)