A few years ago, I made a mix CD of some of my favorite songs and gave copies to my friends. One of the songs on the CD, Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up”, is currently being used to advertise the Where the Wild Things Are movie, and most of the other songs I shared hold up equally well, including Bright Eyes’ “First Day of My Life” (one of the best love songs I’ve ever heard), Doves’ “Black and White Town”, Jill Sobule’s “Cinnamon Park”, The Thrills’ “Big Sur”, Stereophonics’ “Dakota”, Keane’s “This Is the Last Time”, Interpol’s “Evil” (which has an awesome video, btw), Deena Carter’s “In a Heartbeat”, and Easyworld’s “How Did It Ever Come to This”. Of course, I also added Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day”, but in my defense, this was before the song got chosen for American Idol and started getting played 14 times every hour on the radio.
I ended the CD with one of my all-time favorite songs, “How to Be Dead” by Snow Patrol.
When I first ran across the video for “Chocolate”, a Snow Patrol single that spent two weeks on the Modern Rock chart, but otherwise didn’t make a major impression in the United States, I was intrigued. The video portrayed hundreds of people reacting to the world ending, from people running frantically and a couple having sex for the last time to a woman holding her crying child, while the band members calmly played their song. Towards the end, the sand in the hourglass runs out, and everywhere, people fall to the ground and shield themselves from the inevitable horror. Except… nothing happens. As they’re beginning to comprehend that fact, Gary Lightbody, the lead singer of Snow Patrol, walks over to the hourglass and turns it over, and the panic begins anew.
Although the song wasn’t bad, I was actually more impressed by the video, so I searched for more. Fortunately, I came across “Run”, a song that peaked at #15 on the Modern Rock chart in America, but was actually a Top 5 hit in the UK. The song was provocative and unforgettable. The last time I’d heard a song that instantly created a mood and a mystique like that was almost 20 years earlier, when “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)” by Mike + the Mechanics played on the radio. I bought Snow Patrol’s Final Straw CD the next day.
And that’s when I heard “How to Be Dead”. I’m not completely sure what the song is about—it sounds like an argument between a drug addict and the woman who is tired of being hurt by him—but when she says, “You’ve not heard a single word I have said. Oh my god,” there’s something so heartbreaking about the way Gary sings the line (even though everyone’s probably heard and/or said something like that a thousand times in their lives). A clichéd complaint suddenly becomes far more serious than it should be, although it doesn’t hurt that earlier, she asks him, “Why can’t you shoulder the blame? / ‘Cause both my shoulders are heavy from the weight of us both”.
When Snow Patrol released their second major label CD, Eyes Open, I bought it the week it went on sale, but I didn’t like it nearly as much as I had enjoyed Final Straw. In fact, a couple of years later, when I was watching a season of Smallville on DVD, I heard “You Could Be Happy” played and went online to find out who sang it. To my surprise, not only was it Snow Patrol, it was on the Eyes Open CD. (Then again, the song is so fatally precious, it’s not surprising I had forgotten all about it.)
With all the great songs on Final Straw, I have to admit it’s almost shocking to me that Snow Patrol’s only major hit in the US came from Eyes Open. One Tree Hill featured “Chasing Cars” on their May 3, 2006 episode, but it was the song’s appearance in the emotional season finale of Grey’s Anatomy two weeks later that propelled it into becoming a major hit. “Chasing Cars” peaked at #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and spent more than ten months on the chart.
Snow Patrol appeared again on the Hot 100 in 2007 with “Signal Fire”, a song from the Spider-Man 3 soundtrack, but the song debuted at #65, fell to #85 the next week, then disappeared from the chart.
I don’t begrudge the success of “Chasing Cars” at all. But I have to admit, I wish Eyes Open had been their first major label release, with Final Straw being their next, instead of the other way around. Maybe then, great songs like “Run” and “How to Be Dead” might have gotten more attention from mainstream radio. But you know what they say. If wishes were horses, bears would shit on the Pope, or something like that…