Songwriters: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford
Original Release: Invisible Touch
Definitive Version: Live at Wembley Stadium, 1987. This show seemed to mark the coronation of Genesis as no longer a weird little art band that instead was a mammoth worldwide pop act. However, because it came at the end of a very long tour, Phil’s vocals were shot. Consequently, he couldn’t hit the high notes throughout this song, particularly during the “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” chorus.
So he dropped them down an octave, and it actually fit the song better. Tonight, Tonight, Tonight is a song of contrasts. It’s this quiet little song that builds to a triumphant climax musically, all the while the protagonist is wallowing deeper into despair. Phil’s more understated vocals emphasize that contrast and make it seem even more that the protagonist is swallowed up by the tumult around him.
I always liked this song. At the start of this here list, I figured it top 25 anyway, but I kept moving it up each time I listened to it in front of several songs that I thought would be ahead in the end.
Actually, now that I think about it, I haven’t “always” liked this song. In fact, the first time I heard it, I … well, I didn’t not like it, but I had an almost violent reaction to Invisible Touch as a whole that tainted everything that was on it.
The summer after I graduated from Wabash, Scott and I got into basketball in a big way. It wasn’t so much the game as it was the dunking. Who didn’t like dunks back in the Eighties, when Dr. J held court and Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb and Michael Jordan took the shot to unparalleled heights?
Dad always had a basketball hoop on his garage, but the new family next door took down their basketball hoop in 1985. Dad took it and put it up so there were two on his garage, but this second one he put at 8 feet. Well, now I could dunk. So could Scott.
In the summer of 1986, we were out there almost every day I didn’t have to work and sometimes in the evening when I did. We’d play Horse and come up with all of these elaborate dunk shots. It got so I even could pull off a 360 on the short rim.
Our favorite dunk was the Matt Move, where we had our 2-year-old brother sit on his trike under the basket. We then would leap over him to dunk. He loved it. Laura, however, not so much. (We never touched him once.)
It was during this time when Invisible Touch hit the streets in June 1986. Invisible Touch was the first album that I was keenly aware of its release. (The single came out the previous month.) If it isn’t the most anticipated album release I ever had, it has to be behind only Vs.
At the time, Genesis was unquestionably my favorite active band. In the span of eight months in 1983-84, I bought Seconds Out, the new “geometric figures” Genesis album and cemented my love by seeing them live for the first time. The interim two years had been punishingly long, particularly because Phil Collins’ solo career had mushroomed to the point where even Phil himself was openly suggesting that Genesis might be done. During that time, I discovered Duke, which only deepened my appreciation of the band.
So when it was announced that Genesis was going to release a new album, I couldn’t wait. Invisible Touch was the first album I bought the day it was released. I went to Record and Tape Outlet after I got off work, bought a vinyl copy and raced over to Dad’s house to give it a ceremonial first listen with Scott in his basement bedroom.
It’s all but impossible to describe the level of disappointment we both had by the end of the album, but I’ll try. By the final notes of The Brazilian, we both were slumped over, silent, wondering what the Hell happened to our favorite band.
Yes, Genesis had gone pop with Abacab, but that album and the Genesis album that followed still had depth and darkness to the music. Here … it was like the band flipped the dance-pop switch. You practically could hear the coke use in the polished gloss of the Eighties synth sound that Genesis adopted in place of its previous more hallucinogenic Seventies synth sound.
Wordlessly, I removed the offending record from the turntable and slipped it back in the album cover. Then Scott and I went out to play some Horse and played like we felt. We couldn’t make a shot, didn’t want to make a shot, seemingly lost the will to live. Scott said later it was like the crappiness of the album affected our play.
At the end of the day, when I returned to my grandparents’ home where I stayed that the summer, I left the album in the foot well of the back seat of the Tragic Mazda. I didn’t even bother to take it inside to put with the rest of my records.
Days turned into weeks. Scott’s broken wrist (good ol’ No. 88) effectively ended our basketball for the rest of the summer, although toward the end of his time on the DL, Scott originated the Cast Move, where he’d dunk one handed with a loud clunk as plaster hit steel. Needless to say—but I’ll say it anyway—he didn’t make me replicate the shot in every detail.
Finally, one day, I decided to pull Invisible Touch out of its purgatory in the back of my car and give it another try. I don’t remember whether anything in particular compelled me to do this other than maybe a different day, with lowered expectations, I might form a different opinion.
I noticed, however, that a month of sitting in a car in the middle of summer warped the record, although not enough to where it wouldn’t play at all. (I was surprised it still was playable, honestly.) Invisible Touch, the song, still sucked, but the next song, Tonight, Tonight, Tonight wasn’t that bad.
As I listened, I tried to imagine what the song would sound like live—and, better, what it looked like on stage. I decided Tonight, Tonight, Tonight probably would be pretty cool live—a lot of fog and lighting effects. Yeah, OK, that works. I like that one.
The rest of the album, under a similar review, sounded a lot better, although it still didn’t measure up to the admittedly high standards I had going in. About a week later, I told Scott I gave the album another chance, and it was OK, particularly that song Tonight, Tonight, Tonight (subsequently dubbed T-cubed). He was dubious but said that when I left for Northwestern, he’d give it another chance. He came around to my way of thinking.
The final conversion happened when I saw Genesis do almost all of the songs on the album live for the first time in September 1986 (good ol’ No. 409). Domino sounded really good. Heck, even The Brazilian was successfully rehabilitated. (Invisible Touch itself, however …)
But Tonight, Tonight, Tonight was the special effects winner of the night, as I suspected it could be when I reappraised the album. It was even better live than on the album, and by the end of Genesis’ tour the following year, it had become one of my favorite Genesis songs … although, for some reason, they decided not to play it in Cleveland in February 1987. But then, you already know that story.