The Real Star Of ‘The Hangover’ Is … Phil Collins?

Over the weekend, Todd Phillips’ Las Vegas super-comedy “The Hangover” narrowly missed becoming the top movie in the country (it was edged out by crotchety animated Ed Asner and “Up”) (UPDATE: Looks like it prevailed after all!). The movie is a fantastically hilarious trip through a bachelor party gone horribly, horribly wrong and features guest appearances by a baby, a tiger and Mike Tyson, who plays air drums along with Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” It’s yet another instance where somehow, some way, Phil Collins has been given a gold medal in the cool Olympics.

The oft-maligned Collins has had a rough time of it in the mainstream, selling millions of records but mostly getting dismissed as either “the guy who ruined Genesis” (not true) or “the guy who wrote those stupid songs for Disney’s ‘Tarzan’” (unfortunately true). But it seems like you can’t flick a drum stick without bumping up against a nod to Collins’ greatness (and specifically the majesty of “In the Air Tonight”).

» In 2006, ad agency Glass and a Half Full Productions created a spot for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar (a British candy) that became a viral hit. The vaguely inexplicable clip begins with a close-up on a gorilla (or rather, a man in a gorilla suit) with the opening bars of “In the Air Tonight” playing over it. The camera slowly pulls out and reveals that the simian is sitting at a drum kit, and when the signature drum fill hits, the ape goes to town.

» Here’s a great piece of trivia: Who was the first musician to appear as himself in a “Grand Theft Auto” game? It’s not a famous rapper or a metalhead, it was actually (you guessed it) Phil Collins. 2006 saw the release of Rockstar Games’ “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories” for the PSP. One of the highlights of the game involved saving a Phil Collins concert from a crime family, and your reward was actually viewing a virtual performance by Collins, who played (of course) “In the Air Tonight.”

» Tyson apparently isn’t the only athlete who digs the man who sang “I Can’t Dance.” According to his playoff profile, Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star point guard Mo Williams listens to “In the Air Tonight” to psyche himself up before every game. He’s not the only NBA player to use Collins to prepare — during their run at the NBA Championship in 2006, the Miami Heat used the song during the starting lineup announcements.

» “In the Air Tonight” doesn’t always translate to success, though. This year, the Carolina Hurricanes used the song as a warm-up tune before games in the NHL playoffs (the ‘Canes were bounced in the Eastern Conference Championship), while Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche uses it as his at-bat song (the Pirates continue to be perennial basement dwellers).

» Perhaps strangest of all is the number of shout-outs Collins gets in the hip-hop world. “In the Air Tonight” has been sampled by MCs like DMX, Joe Budden, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Beanie Siegel, none of whom appear to otherwise be interested in adult contemporary rock from the 1980s. Collins even collaborated with Lil’ Kim on a remake of “In the Air Tonight” for a German-only release of an album called “Urban Renewal,” which featured hip-hop and R&B acts covering Collins tracks (including Ol’ Dirty Bastard running through “Sussudio” and Montell Jordan crooning “Against All Odds”).

It remains to be seen exactly why everybody is so into Collins, though that ominous intro and drum fill does make for nice entrance music (it’s only a matter of time before it ends up in the WWE, though UFC fighter Ed Herman has used it as his walk-to-the-cage music). Collins’ musical output has been relatively quiet in the past few years (he toured with a reunited Genesis last year, but the last new music he put out were songs on the soundtrack to “Brother Bear” in 2003. Perhaps this wave of adoration comes from the fact that Collins announced a sort of semi-retirement so he can focus on his collection of Alamo memorabilia and rappers are working on bringing the king back. Or maybe “In the Air Tonight” is just a great song.