The Real Reason Phil Collins Quit Genesis

The news that Phil Collins was leaving Genesis was presented with levity. "Genesis ... are currently seeking a vocalist," read the group's statement (via Genesis News). "For the past 20 years, drummer Phil Collins has been temping as a singer, to great acclaim. Now however he has decided to move on in order to concentrate on his solo projects." To call Collins "acclaimed" in 1996 might have been a stretch. While the singer and the band were ubiquitous on the radio in the 1980s and '90s, he became so associated with inoffensive pop ballads that an army of vocal critics made it a habit of pillorying him as the embodiment of "consumerist vapidity," as The New York Times put it. Others blamed him for the transformation of Genesis from a more interesting conceptual band to a simplistic pop sound after Peter Gabriel left.

Such comments linger to this day, and Collins, who has admitted to feeling overexposed at the height of his fame, later felt the sting of being a media whipping boy. But the tide of opinion on him had just started to turn by 1995, and the move into solo projects wasn't necessarily a bold new direction. After all, he had been juggling his work as an individual with Genesis throughout the 1980s. One of his greatest hits, "In The Air Tonight," came off his first solo album, "Face Value." A few years before the split was announced, Collins' album "Both Sides" didn't do as well, and one might have expected him to take refuge in the stability of a band. But he was more than ready to go his own way.

A solo album during his Genesis years made Collins think it was time to move on

A persistent story holds that Phil Collins left Genesis because of his hatred for a single song: "Burning Rope." The source for this claim is an interview Collins gave to Modern Drummer in 1997. There, he did complain that he felt "Burning Rope was "a period piece. It doesn't make it in the 20th century. I know there are people who like this music, but I just couldn't get up on stage and play or sing this kind of material anymore." He also said that it was "[songs] like [that] that made me leave Genesis." But he never claimed to hate "Burning Rope," and the timeline is a little awkward for anyone wanting to pin his departure on the song — it was released in 1978, almost 20 years before he actually left Genesis.

The drummer gave more full explanation for why he left the group to The Baltimore Sun — and he brought up his solo album "Both Sides," not any Genesis song, as a contributing factor. That album may not have spawned any hit singles and faced mixed reviews on first release (its reputation has improved since), but Collins was proud of it. "I felt that I'd arrived at a place, musically speaking, that really was the most fulfilling for me," he said, and he was at an age where he no longer wanted to deal with the creative compromises that came with being in a band.

The break-up with Genesis was amicable

It was a long time from when Phil Collins first felt it was time for him to go his own way when he finally left Genesis. Despite his desire to leave, he still enjoyed working with bandmates Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, and he knew the split would be hard to go through. Before he told them his plans, he told the band's manager, Tony Smith. "He said, 'Well, listen. We don't have to make any decisions yet,'" Collins told The Baltimore Sun. Though Collins had been sure of what he wanted to do for over a month, Smith advised him to wait a full year before making any hard decisions.

When Banks and Rutherford started talking about doing another album, however, there was no avoiding the issue. According to Collins, the split was an amicable one when it came. "Mike said, 'You want to leave. We understand. You want to do something else. It's cool. It could be me, could be Tony,'" he told the Sun. "And Tony said, 'Well, this is a sad day. But I understand.'" Collins would later say that he was glad to see Genesis carry on without him, as he never wanted his departure to mean the end of the band.

The lighthearted tone of the band's announcement was designed to soften the blow for fans. Collins had another album out within a year, "Dance Into the Light," and Genesis put out "Calling All Stations" with Ray Wilson on vocals in 1997.