The Oscars Snubbed Phil Collins in Favor of Another Performer Singing His Hit Song
Oscar nominations would normally be a highlight for most celebrities, but it wasn’t for Phil Collins in 1985. He did attend the awards show but took his place in the audience rather than on the stage. The legendary rocker who earned fame as a drummer for Genesis and pursued a successful solo singing career learned that even the greats get snubbed sometimes.
Collins writes the title song for a motion picture
The work that would earn Collins his first Oscar nomination was originally intended for his 1981 album, Face Value. The song about lost love was called, “How Can You sit There.” Collins didn’t like it much and chose not to release it.
“That song was written during my first divorce,” Collins told NPR during an interview in 2007. “My first wife and the kids had gone and I was left there. The song was written out of experience as opposed to a ‘what if’ song. If that personal stuff had not happened to me at the time, I probably would never have made an album, and if I was to have made an album eventually, it probably would have been a jazz/rock thing.”
In 1984, Collins was approached by director Taylor Hackford who needed a song for his new movie, Against All Odds. Collins then rewrote the unreleased song and changed its uninspiring, original title. It became his first solo hit in the United States.
The Academy refuses to let Collins perform his song
According to Rolling Stone, Collins was “thrilled” at the prospect of performing his hit on the Oscar stage. Expecting to be asked, he reworked the schedule for his No Jacket Required tour that had begun in February, so that he would be free to attend the awards on March 25th. Unfortunately, he was never asked. According to The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits by Fred Bronson, the show’s producers likely did not know who Collins was.
When the vice president of Atlantic Records, Paul Cooper, offered to have Collins perform, he received this response from the show’s co-producer and writer, Larry Gelbart. “Thank you for your note regarding Phil Cooper. I’m afraid the spots have already been filled.”
Damage control ensued two days later. Bronson states that co-producer Gregory Peck then told Daily Variety that they did know Collins, but made the decision based on “showmanship.” Peck also reportedly told the Los Angeles Times that the Academy preferred to use performers from the movie industry, rather than promote recording artists. Whether Peck knew it or not, Collins had appeared as an extra in A Hard Day’s Night.
Dancer, actor, and choreographer Ann Reinking was chosen to sing Collins’ song. Reinking, whose award-winning career is summarized in Playbill, turned out to be a better dancer and actor than she was a singer. Her reedy, rather breathless performance lacked the power and emotional edge Collins brought to the piece. She even lip-synced part of it during the included dance number as Collins fumed in the audience.
Collins’ scathing reaction to the snub
Adding insult to injury, the Oscar went to “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” by Stevie Wonder. The next day, Collins was apparently still smarting from the loss and the snub. “It was awful,” said Collins of Reinking’s performance. “But I’m glad I didn’t sing the song now, after what they did to Ray Parker.”
Ray Parker Jr.’s theme for the movie, Ghostbusters, was also nominated. He performed his hit that night with odd staging as if no one involved had watched the film. A write-up on the performance appeared in The Guardian. “There was a forklift truck. There were three gun-toting “Ghostbusters” dressed in heavily shoulder-padded purple shellsuits. And, inexplicably, there was Dom DeLuise. Awful.”
Watch his performance with a chorus of dancing ghosts here.
Collins went on to make cringe-worthy comments to Rolling Stone regarding Wonder’s win as well. “He is one of my heroes, but I have serious doubts about whether or not that song was actually written for the film. He’s blind, Black, lives in L.A., and does a lot for human rights.”
Sour grapes aside, Collins would later receive two more Oscar nominations in the best original song category. He finally won the coveted award with “You’ll Forever Be In My Heart” for the 1999 animated film, Tarzan and yes, he got to perform it.