When Phil Collins Was Accused of Plagiarizing Prince
When critics accused Phil Collins of plagiarizing Prince in 1985, they probably weren’t saying anything that the Genesis frontman hadn’t considered himself.
“Sussudio,” Collins' song from his multi-platinum LP No Jacket Required, was an instant success — but there was no denying it resembled Prince’s “1999,” which came out three years earlier.
Collins himself owned up to the influence right away, telling Billboard: “I loved that song. I bought it when it first came out and I used to listen to it on the road. I just took the tempo … I locked it into the drum machine. That was the end of it.” Confirming he was a “big fan,” he added, “I’d love to sound like Prince.”
He was probably more than ready to face the music since many people involved in the recording of “Sussudio” had noticed the similarity. “I remember when I first had the demo … there wasn’t a bass part on the song at all,” guitarist Daryl Stuermer said later. “The bass line in the song changed how it first sounded, so it actually ended up sounding less like ‘1999’ after the bass line was laid down.”
By the time No Jacket Required arrived, Collins had become known for using soul and R&B elements like horn sections to fill out his music, which lent another Prince-like element to “Sussudio.” But Collins told Rolling Stone: “If anyone thinks I’m ripping off specific songs, that is up to them, but I’m not plagiarizing black music. ... I’m a white guy from Hounslow in London. Because of my love of R&B and the fact that I surround myself with black musicians, music critics think I’m trying to convince people that I’m half-black. I have never been under any misconception of who I am or where I come from.”
Perhaps referring to the bass line, he reported: “‘Sussudio’ was changed once because it was starting to sound a bit too much like Prince. I could never write a song like Prince, because I’m not from that environment.”
Obviously not — but it seemed like he took a Prince-like lyrical approach built around the titular made-up word. “[I]t’s about a younger man’s fantasy for an older woman,” he told Billboard. “Because she smiles at him he automatically thinks she fancies him and she becomes the object of his masturbatory fantasies. … It’s like the first tumble on a sofa with your first girl or clambering around the back of the car.”
Phil Collins - ‘Sussudio’
Prince - ‘1999’