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  • Writer's pictureReece Bithrey

Album Of The Week - Phil Collins - The Essential Going Back

(Picture Credit - Spotify)

From Marillion last week to Phil Collins the next, the prog rock gods continue, although not in a way that might be expected.

I've discussed my love for both Genesis and Phil Collins at length in columns in the past, picking out my favourite albums of theirs, and it's a surprise that I hadn't written about Going Back before now. Compared to other Collins solo efforts such as Face Value and No Jacket Required, there's no big hits here, well, none of his own certainly. Going Back is at heart a Motown covers album and whilst he has collaborated with the likes of Lamont Dozier on Two Hearts and classics such as You Can't Hurry Love have been given the Collins once-over, it took until 2010 for a full album of such tunes to be released. Six years later and Collins' entire back catalogue was remastered, deeper cuts of live shows and demoes added and rereleased, which gave the world The Essential Going Back, a fourteen track taste of the original release that clocked in at nearly thirty songs.

It's clear from the outset that Collins really has nothing to prove; it seems like from the release of both this and 2002's Testify that he doesn't give a stuff what people think, especially given the undeserved yet scathing reviews that it received. Going Back did gain a slightly warmer reception from critics, although some stated that it stuck too true to the original recordings. As opposed to looking upon this as a bad thing, the fact is that it's because Collins sticks true to the original Spector-like recordings that makes The Essential Going Back such a great listen. There's this certain familiarity to the likes of Uptight (Everything's Alright) and (Love Is Like A) Heatwave as a result of this, making you feel at home as soon as those opening bars play.

(Phil Collins at The Prince's Trust Gala, 2010. Picture Credit - NME)

The opening Going Back, a cover of a Goffin and King classic, originally performed by Dusty Springfield if memory serves me correctly, is a nod to Collins' true intentions with this record. "I think I'm goin' back/To the things I learned so well in my youth" he croons, with a reflection on youthful innocence and what adulthood has brought with it. It acts as a fine case in point to portray Collins' remarkably preserved voice and even though the man can't really drum anymore, he sure can still sing. It's on such ballads where his voice takes centre-stage and with every passing lyric and listen, it just keeps getting better. The simplicity of such upbeat follow-ons as Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue) proves this point again and even with a full band behind him, backing vocals and all, Phil still sounds as crisp as ever. There's a certain parallel between the opening songs here and those on Collins' debut 1981 Face Value with the issues of love and adulthood cropping up time and again, especially given that the two records were both recorded in years following divorces and relationship issues.

There is some more upbeat fayre present on the aforementioned (Love Is Like A Heatwave), one of Going Back's two singles upon its original release, as well as the The Miracles' marvellous Going To A Go-Go. Both have got this brilliant orchestral backing that makes them absolutely fly with this optimistic bounce that his smash hit rendition of You Can'tHurry Love had back in 1982. This is threaded throughout The Essential Going Back thanks to the back-and-forth between heart wrenching ballads and the more typical uplifting tunes that the Motown sound has come to be synonymous with over the years. A lot of the marvellous instrumentation across the entire album can be attributed to Collins' usage of The Funk Brothers, namely Bob Babbitt, Eddie Willis and Ray Monette, who were a vital part in creating the signature, tight-knit sound that formed the backbone of Motown records from the late fifties to the early seventies. The effects of that sound run deep and allow Collins' fantastic versions of songs to stand up against the originals in a way few covers can.

(Collins recording Going Back in Geneva. Picture Credit - Sound On Sound)

Being such a big Motown fan growing up, it should come as no surprise that The Essential Going Back features a nice mixture of crowd pleasers and also some deeper cuts that might not be ones fans are familiar with. The likes of The Ronettes' Do I Love You aren't the first tracks that come to mind in the seemingly endless string of hits that the Motown sound cultivated. As with the rest of the album, they're more than just simple recreations and are definitely a pleasing listen in the wider context of Collins' ardent love for Motown. It's evident also on the crowd pleasers such as the groovy romp that is Papa Was A Rolling Stone, originally recorded by The Undisputed Truth, although it was the reworked Temptations version that became a big hit. To reiterate, all of the songs here have got this wonderful familiarity that only comes with proper versions of songs recorded in a faithful way. It can be intriguing to go off piste, but more often that not, it misses the true intentions of a song. A good case in point comes from Summer Breeze, a song originally recorded by Seals and Crofts, but the popular version is arguably an unfaithful cover from the Isley Brothers.

The back-end of The Essential Going Back is positively feelgood by comparison to its heart-wrenching ballad that opens proceedings. It's a combo of well-known and obscure that comes courtesy of The Marvelettes' Too Many Fish In The Sea and Stevie Wonder's Uptight (Everything's Alright). The former is a proper groove that makes great use of the horn sections and tambourine that became key so people could recognise a song's backbeat, an innovation that the Motown sound brought with it. It could be said that even with Norman Whitfield's big production on the original that Collins' version has got a bit more depth and vibrancy to it that modern technology has helped to provide. The rocking rendition of Stevie Wonder's Uptight (Everything's Alright) is arguably this album's finest achievement, especially with its thumping drums, cool bassline and horns. With the song being such a classic, it's hard to even hold a candle to, but Collins and the band have done it proper justice and really pulled the rabbit out of the hat.

It's best to think of The Essential Going Back as a particularly strong gateway drug to the Motown sound. Phil's renditions of classics and deeper cuts alike make for a properly brilliant listen and it's an album that's hard not to listen to compulsively. He's always been a master of both creating and covering some absolutely fantastic tracks over an esteemed career and this covers album proves just that.

If you want to pick up a copy, I’ll leave an Amazon link here:

Or, if you’d prefer, here’s a Spotify link:

More musical magnificence to come next week!


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