In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
You don’t release a ballad as the first single. That’s been general-consensus pop-music wisdom for a long, long time. The first single from a new album has to grab people’s attention. It has to be bright and loud and uptempo. That song has to force the world to notice you. Once you’ve got the people’s attention, that’s when you hit them with the ballad and show that you’ve got range. But when you’re dealing with Phil Collins, you’ve got to flip that whole strategy around.
When Phil Collins, the genial Genesis drummer, released his third solo LP No Jacket Required early in 1985, he was mostly known for singing about his own romantic devastation. Collins had recorded his 1981 solo debut Face Value while recovering from the shock of divorce, crafting heart-wrenched depressive ballads while playing around with a drum machine in his suddenly-empty house. Collins’ primal-moan electro-blues had made him enormously successful, and his first two albums had both sold millions. In 1984, Collins had scored his first #1 hit in America with “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now),” a sad-bastard movie theme that he’d originally written for Face Value. Collins had become a brand-name pop superstar by sounding like he was mired in permanent existential despair.
When you’ve got a brand, you’ve got to protect it. So: Ballad. When Collins got started on making No Jacket Required, he wanted to prove that he wasn’t just a ballad guy and that he could make fun, uptempo dance-pop. For the most part, that’s what No Jacket Required is. But “One More Night,” the album’s first single, comes straight from the endless hurt-well that inspired Face Value. The first No Jacket Required song that the world got to hear was also the saddest song on the album. You’ve got to give the people what they want, even when they want to hear your voice emanating from a black hole of grief.
At least on paper, Phil Collins seemed like he was doing pretty fucking well in 1985. “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)” had once just been a leftover track on Collins’ cutting-room floor, but Collins flipped it and made it into a hugely successful soundtrack song. That song got Collins nominated for an Oscar. That same year, Collins also co-produced his friend Eric Clapton’s album Behind The Sun, and he sang and played drums on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” the all-star charity single that almost immediately became the biggest-selling single in UK history, a distinction that it held for more than a decade.
Around the same time, Collins produced and played on Chinese Wall, the 1985 solo album from the Earth, Wind & Fire singer Philip Bailey. “Easy Lover,” the first single from that album, was a duet from the two Phils. It became a yuppie-soul smash, topping the UK charts and getting as high as #2 in America. (It’s a 7.)
Also: Phil Collins wasn’t heartbroken anymore! In fact, by the time he made No Jacket Required, Collins had already married Jill Tavelman, his second wife. Presumably, this meant that Collins was no longer wading through the psychic muck of his 1980 divorce. But you definitely can’t tell from listening to “One More Night,” one of the most unapologetically self-pitying songs ever to top the Hot 100.
The narrator of “One More Night” is not a guy who’s gotten over a breakup. It’s the sound of someone pining for something that he knows is over: “I know there’ll never be a time you’ll ever feel the same/ And I know it’s only words/ But if you change your mind, you know that I’ll be here/ And maybe we both can learn.” He tells his ex that he can’t wait forever, but he also makes it plain that he can and will wait forever. That narrator doesn’t even know if his ex is still single: “I was wondering: Should I call you?/ Then I thought maybe you’re not alone.” But he keeps pleading anyway, asking again and again for one more night.
Collins wrote “One More Night” the way he wrote many of his songs: While playing around with his drum machine and thinking about American soul music. (In a Playboy interview around that time, he said that he was thinking about a Jacksons song, though he didn’t specify which one.) Once Collins figured out the chorus, which is mostly just the title repeated a bunch of times, the rest of the song came quickly.
Collins co-produced “One More Night” with his regular collaborator Hugh Padham, who’d also done “Every Breath You Take” with the Police. (Speaking of the Police: Collins met Sting while they were making “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” together, and Sting sang backup on a couple of No Jacket Required tracks.) Together, Collins and Padham came up with a soft-glow synth-soul backing track for the song.
“One More Night” sounds rich and expensive and maybe even futuristic, but not in ways that overwhelm its own bummed-out nature. In the song’s video, we see Collins alone, playing piano in a London pub owned by Virgin Records honcho Richard Branson. Director James Yukich, who later made the 1994 Double Dragon movie, films Collins in soft sepia. The place is closed, and Collins’ only audience is the bartender who looks on balefully while wiping down glasses.
Toward the end of the song, saxophonist Don Myrick, who I guess had been sitting in the dark that whole time, tootles out a sympathetic solo. (Myrick was a key member of Earth, Wind & Fire’s great Phenix Horns. In 1993, at the age of 53, Myrick was shot dead by an LA cop who said that he thought Myrick’s lighter was a weapon.)
The strength of “One More Night” is that it sounds like the kind of song that a sad, heartbroken schlub could sing alone at a piano in an empty pub. It’s not, of course. The production is rich and expansive, full of sharp little details. It’s not a cluttered song, but all the subtle elements — the soft thud of the drum machine, the glimmering sustain of the keyboards, the easy burble of the bass — fill it out. I like the tiny little 808 sycopations and the echoing beeps that come in as the song progresses. Collins didn’t do anything halfassed, and “One More Night” doesn’t have the cheap thinness of so many synthy ’80s songs. Instead, it’s warm and buttery, and it reaches a small and unforced climax when Myrick shows up for that thoughtful, restrained solo.
Collins really sings, too. It almost seems unfair that a drummer could have a voice that smooth and expressive. Collins’ voice really glides on that hook — “one more night” — and he nicely underplays the emotive theatrics of his own verses. Collins wants to let you know that he’s being ripped apart, but he also doesn’t want to make a big show of it. I appreciate that.
“One More Night” isn’t one of Collins’ best songs. It’s not quite brash enough for that. Collins was always capable of sustaining a mood and then jolting you out of it, often via crashing drum fill. On “One More Night,” that jolt never arrives. Instead, Collins just evokes a feeling and then languishes in it, slowly layering on new sounds in ways that you might only notice on the tenth listen. His touch is deft, and the song works, but it also has a way of fading into the background.
In any case, “One More Night” was only the beginning. Apparently, it was smart move, at least in this case, to release the ballad as the first single. Collins was already a star before 1985, but No Jacket Required blew his previous two albums out of the water. No Jacket Required topped the album charts for seven weeks and eventually sold 12 million copies in the US alone. The same week that Phil Collins squirmed through the Oscars, watching Ann Reinking’s deeply strange lip-synced performance of his song, Collins had the #1 album and single in the US. Collins will appear in this column again soon.
BONUS BEATS: In his 1986 movie The Color Of Money, Martin Scorsese used “One More Night” to soundtrack a scene of Tom Cruise trying to hustle people at pool and impressing Paul Newman. Here’s that scene:
BONUS BONUS BEATS: The recovering teen idol Jordan Knight released a cover of “One More Night” on his album Love Songs in 2006. Sadly, he did not retitle it “One More Knight.” Here’s that cover:
(As a solo artist, Jordan Knight’s highest-charting single is 1999’s “Give It To You,” which peaked at #10. It’s an 8. As a member of New Kids On The Block, Knight will eventually appear in this column.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the solo “One More Night” cover that Veruca Salt’s Nina Gordon posted on her website in 2009:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: The dancehall star Busy Signal also released a “One More Night” cover in 2009; this might be the only thing that Nina Gordon and Busy Signal have in common. Here’s the Busy Signal version: