Phil Collins Paranoia | Discernment

Phil Collins Paranoia

¬†Having reached an age at which I definitely have to accept that I’m no longer hip (I suspect that my use of the word ‘hip’ gives a lot away), I have succumbed to Phil Collins Paranoia. Maybe you’ll recognise the symptoms: every time I hear a new record that I like, I am struck by a crippling fear that this, finally, will be my Phil Collins.


I don’t buy records any more. I basically lost interest when CDs came in, and I’ve never quite recovered.

That’s not absolutely true, but it sounds good if anyone asks. It lends me an air of rather mournful cool, I find. The reality is far more messy. My mum bought be a CD player when I was 16 in an effort to remove me and my Ride EPs from the living room. I should have been grateful; I was not. The problem was that I didn’t have any CDs to play on the damned thing. All my records were on vinyl. I felt like I’d been exiled (although I do concede, in retrospect, that my endless playing of Hole¬†LPs may have got a bit much). I never quite recovered. Sure, I bought and loved a few records over the years, but I lost the sense that I was a music fan.

Nowadays, having reached an age at which I definitely have to accept that I’m no longer hip (I suspect that my use of the word ‘hip’ gives a lot away), I have succumbed to Phil Collins Paranoia. Maybe you’ll recognise the symptoms: every time I hear a new record that I like, I am struck by a crippling fear that this, finally, will be my Phil Collins.

My parents grew up in the golden age of pop music. It’s hard to imagine the sheer privilege of watching the creation of modern music unfold in real time, wave upon awesome wave. Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Stones, Cream, Pink Floyd, David Bowie: these were the records that filled my mother’s collection when I was growing up. And, next to them, the looming orange face of Phil Collins.

How could it be that a generation raised in the white heat of the musical crucible embrace such a parade of naffness in the 1980s? Collins’ No Jacket Required sold 25 million copies worldwide. I am listening to it right now on Spotify. It’s horrible: tinny bass, weird levels of echo in the production, and the kind of keyboard sound that spreads over your ears like grease. The two things that Collins personally sees to, the drums and the vocals, are the least impressive parts of it.

It appears that most people who bought it agree with me. My husband, Herbert, whose obsessive record collecting often finds him flicking through dusty boxes records in charity shops, tells me that he is haunted by copies of No Jacket Required, which crop up more than any other record in his searches. Aha, you may say, that’s probably because people have exchanged their vinyl copies for CD or MP3. But you rarely see a Beatles record in a charity shop. When you ask people of that generation what they saw in Phil Collins, they tend to go quiet in the manner of a veteran asked about the war.

I shouldn’t pick on Phil Collins; it wasn’t just him. The eighties spawned a genre that I’ll call Fartcore: bands who combined cheesy production values with a ‘back to basics’ approach to rock’n’roll that would make John Major blush. Dire Straits, Status Quo, Level 42, The Travelling Wilberries: musicians united only in their boringness. This is less of a musical movement, and more of a sustained attack on youth and joy. The worst part of it is, these records were bought by people who should have known better.

Cut forward twenty years. It is the turn of the new millennium, and the children of that generation are embarking on adult life themselves. These are my people. They grew up listening not only to their parents’ great records, but also punk and hip hop, dance and grunge. They larged it at the Hacienda and made mud angels at Glastonbury; they spent lost summers in Ibiza. What had they learned? Nothing. They minute they got a sniff of a mortgage, they rushed out to buy Coldplay .

That was when I started to worry. From that moment on, every time I heard a new record and liked it, I could help but ask the question: is this actually good, or is it my Phil Collins? So many good people before me had stumbled. Which particular musical bullet would have my name on it?

Phil Collins Paranoia has its protective function, but it also has side-effects. Once you’ve started watching for the moment that Fartcore will claim you as its next victim, all the pleasure is sucked out of music forever. Bang goes your joyful, innocent response to each new tune on the radio; bang goes your simple faith in your ability to like something or not. Everything is ruined. You will find yourself grudgingly clinging to records that you know are alright, and eschewing any new recordings, just in case they catch you out.

Now I have a child of my own, it’s even worse. I would hate for him to be sitting in the back of the car, listening to the 900th iteration of ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’, and silently promising himself that he’ll jump off a cliff when he turns twenty-one.


Part 2 coming up on Monday: Amamzing Radio‘s Shell Zenner helps me to find my way through new music. And it works.



  1. So so true – heard the new Daft Punk album and part of me was terrified that this wasn’t any good but the sort of thing that will make my children cringe and shun me in public…

    Am considering buying NME again just to have a way of double checking if the things I listen to have any ‘cred’

    Oh but do I feel middle aged now

    • BettyHerbert

      YES! I dithered over the Jake Bugg album because I was so concerned it was going to secretly be naff and embarrass me. I had a brush with Gomez a few years ago that I’m not proud of.

  2. Parents will always embarrass their children, no matter what. I’ll always remember the kids at school whose parents tried too hard to be hip and “down with us”. It was slightly embarrassing, to say the least.
    Can you imagine the poor offspring of Mick Jagger, or Paul Macartney? *shudder*
    On that basis, I’m proudly advocating that we all embrace the middle aged record collection. Fighting it simply defies the natural order of things.
    Now excuse me while I go and put my Adele CD on…

    • BettyHerbert

      Ha! I think I’m going to go full whack and refuse to have anything on the radio but R4. That’s the middle class way.

  3. Jonathan

    You think Phil Collins is uncool? ha!

    I’ve seen Michael Bolton. Twice. Both times I went to see him because of the support act. You might think that’s an excuse. In the first instance it might be – the support act was Julia Fordham. But the second time it was Kenny G who is possibly the only act uncooler than Bolton himself. I enjoyed all of them (for full disclosure, yes although I was in my early twenties I did have a mortgage).

    I also love – I mean really love – the music of Yes. Again, in many circles this is regarded as a mortal sin against cool.

    We should rejoice in being uncool. Being uncool – as you so nearly say – is about maintaining a joyful innocent response to things that move you. Naff, or not. That’s worth so much more than being part of the cool clique. It’s life affirming.

    I’ve heard Stephen Fry talk about ‘the fascism of cool’. He’s right about that. And he’s cool.

    (You LIKED Gomez ! OMG *unfollows* – ;o) )

    • BettyHerbert

      You going to a Michael Bolton concert just to catch Kenny G has made me a very, very happy woman Jonathan. You ROCK uncool!

  4. I’m a classical pianist, piano teacher, and classical concert reviewer. There is cool and uncool classical music too, believe me. The more esoteric and unapproachable it is, the more “cool” it seems to be. Yet I suspect its advocates and fans secretly wish they could admit to liking Ravel’s Bolero or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Holst’s Planets, or that stalwart of the Last Night of the Proms, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March. Just because these works are popular, doesn’t mean they are bad. In fact, the Bolero is amazing, done well (without Torvill & Dean twirling around on ice), and the Four Seasons are alive with colours and textures (personally, I am less keen on Elgar and Holst!).

    • BettyHerbert

      I might need a wee chat with you about that Fran! I was just writing about the time I admitted to liking the week’s anthem when I was a chorister, and the choirmaster sneered at me because it had a hummable tune. I know nothing about classical music (except a narrow range of choral composers), but I know that Classic FM is looked down-upon.

  5. geoff

    dont be such a snob

  6. Nothing wrong with ClassicFM if it gets people listening to classical music! Betty, I will email you with some thoughts about discernment and classical music. As you can imagine, it’s a veritable minefield, but I am happy to offer some personal thoughts on the subject, or even a guest post??!

  7. Claire Fifi

    Eeek, Betty, Fran and I have teenage sons. I listen to most of my son’s music(whether I want to or not..) and like most of it, ESPECIALLY Daft Punk. I don’t care if people think I am cool or uncool, one of the joys over being over a certain age is that you know your own mind and can say so! Fran has often played wonderful piano music (choons..) to me that I don’t know or have never heard of. Some I love, others I hate. She knows which are likely to appeal to the masses..but this does not put her off trying the more esoteric! Don’t be afraid to ‘fess up to your musical tastes!

    • BettyHerbert

      Brava, Claire! I am also enjoying my son’s music – if continually humming the theme to Peppa Pig counts!

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