Phil Collen: my top 6 not-so-guilty pleasures of all time
When Def Leppard's Phil Collen gets home from a long tour, the first thing he does is crank up some CDs of the latest shred-guitar monsters, right? Well, not so much. "In general, that’s not really what I’m all about," he says. "If you look at my record collection, you might see Parliament-Funkadelic next to Wes Montgomery. On my iPod, you've got dance music and R&B. I don't spend a lot of time checking out my peers."
The axe superstar describes his tastes as being "all over the map," and he says that he's always found room for a wide range of music on his playlist. “I remember when the Sex Pistols came out," he says, "and I got into them just like my friends did. But that didn't mean I threw out my Genesis records. Good music is good music."
Collen cites EDM titan Skrillex as one of his current faves and says that hard rockers might learn a thing or two from the DJ's mash-up abilities. "Skrillex is extreme hard rock without guitars, extreme hip-hop without vocals," he says. "To combine the main elements of two different genres is a pretty big achievement." Calling himself a "massive dubstep fan," Collen favors aggressive, wobbling basslines and savage synth loops when working out (which, judging from his well-sculpted physique, we're going out on a limb and guessing is quite often). "Dupstep is really exciting, and it gets me pumped up," he enthuses.
The guitarist acknowledges that music fans can sometimes become intransigent about stepping outside of their comfort zones, and he theorizes that insecurity might be at the root of such inflexibility. "You have to look inside yourself and figure out why you're resistant to something," he says. "A lot of times, there's no good reason. It’s OK to like Lady Gaga, it’s OK to like Britney Spears, and it's fine to admit that they have talent. You don't have to like everything, but don't be afraid to let it in. Love what you love. If somebody has a problem with that, well, that's their own small-mindedness."
On the following pages, Collen scrolls bravely through his iPod and stops at six not-so-guilty pleasures. There's not a whiff of a hammer-on solo to be found on any of them, but in their own unique ways, they rock his world all the same.
Erykah Badu - Live (1997)
“I love her so much. She really started the neo-soul thing off. There were other artists circling around the genre, but she really nailed it and changed the landscape, and everybody else followed. I love Jill Scott, too, but she came after Erykah.
“Lyrically, melodically, there’s a cool ‘fuck-off’ quality to what she does. The studio albums are awesome, but I like this live record because it totally captures her vibe. I have it on my phone, my iPod – it’s everywhere. I listen to it on the bus when I want to chill out. There’s real depth, soul and an earthiness to the grooves. A tremendous album.”
James Brown - 20 All-Time Greatest Hits! (1991)
“Just wonderful. It’s so full of sex, soul, rock ‘n’ roll – a jam-packed, vital expression of everything that made James Brown one of the best artists ever.
“I remember watching a live performance of Mick Jagger doing Brown Sugar, and he was phenomenal, but he was a white guy interpreting soul. It was totally different from James Brown, who was dirtier, nastier and scarier – he was coming from a very pure place.
“You can’t beat the songs on this album, and they all sound fresh. The singing, the grooves, the musicianship – everything about it is astonishing.”
Stanley Clarke - Journey To Love (1975)
“I would have to say that Stanley Clarke is my favorite musician. I’ve seen him a bunch of times live, and he just blows me away. He's got such amazing grooves and melodies. Even though he’s an impeccable player and has extraordinary technical ability, he doesn’t overindulge and go crazy. He plays what the music needs.
“This album has Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, and they’re all spectacular. It was a beautiful introduction to fusion for me. You can get off on the playing, but it’s the spirit of the music that carries everything. Stanley sets moods and sustains them.”
Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue (1959)
“I’m not a big fan of Bitches Brew. In fact, I think it’s the emperor’s new clothes – ‘Oh, we have to like Bitches Brew because that’s what everybody says we have to like.’ But this album is one of the truly great ones.
“It’s the classic jazz album. It gets into the mood of what jazz is. You can tell the band is really listening to one another, and it affects what they’re doing; their communication is something you can almost feel. Lots of musicians don’t really listen to each other; they’re playing, but they’re in their own worlds. The players on Kind Of Blue are working together, and they’re totally on fire. It’s perfect for all the right reasons.”
David Guetta - One Love (2009)
“I really like dance and electronic music, and I think what David does with the genres is cool. On this record, you've got Akon, who's fantastic; Fergie sings her ass off – there’s so many great people on the tracks.
“David gets dissed, but I think it’s because he’s so popular. It’s a little like Steven Spielberg before he won his Oscars. Not that I'm comparing him to Spielberg, but when you're that huge, people tend to slag you. There’s a bit of that backlash with David Guetta. People think he’s bubblegum and cheesy. But if you really listen to his style, he’s really doing it. Put this stuff on at a club and watch the people go crazy.”
Skrillex - Bangarang (2011)
“I love this record. I know some people go, ‘Oh, my God, it’s techno! It’s electronic!’ But screw it – it’s great stuff. He’s very daring, and he’s creating a new language with the way he mashes things up.
“I remember hearing him on Pandora, and I was so blown away. It was one of those moments where you can’t believe that somebody can still surprise you. My son Rory, who’s 22, has been into dubstep for years. He’s played me a lot of different artists and songs. But when I heard Skrillex, I knew he was doing his own thing.
“I’ve heard the arguments – ‘They can’t be good because they don’t play real instruments.’ So what? Does that mean photography isn’t an art because you’re not painting? Modern art just means that something touches you. What Skrillex does is extreme, it’s fun, and it’s fantastic.”