10 Years, 100 Songs: #47. “If I Lay Here…”
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 1, 2009
Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.
One of the more unfortunate casualties of American Pop Culture in the Naughty Oughties was the successful soundtrack single. There were a couple legitimate blockbusters at the beginning of the decade–“Lady Marmalade” from Moulin Rouge, “Shake Ya Tailfeather” from Bad Boys II, “Independent Women” from Charlie’s Angels–but towards the end of the 00s, their numbers dwindled to virtual nil. The reason for this is fairly logical–in the iTunes era, the idea of shelling out money for soundtrack albums where you probably only care about one song is a little bit ridiculous, so artists and labels stopped squandering songs with high commercial appeal on them (and the filmmakers likely became less concerned with procuring them as well). Ultimately the day-to-day lives of you and I are affected little by the fact that Ja Rule and Incubus are not writing songs specifically for the latest Pirates of the Carribean movie, but I do miss seeing those vids with the film clips mixed in, and seeing weird soundtracks that mix in pop crossover smashes with weird indie one-offs, and so forth. Besides, who even cares about a new Batman movie when there’s no Seal or R. Kelly single to promote it?
Something interesting that did come of this decade, however, was the resurgence of the TV-promoted hit. Back in the 80s, it wasn’t particularly uncommon for an unknown song to appear at a prominent moment in a TV series, and for that sudden exposure to prod radio DJs to start playing the song and eventually propel it up the charts–which is how Billy Vera & The Beaters got a #1 hit with “At This Moment” six years after they released the song, thanks to a cameo in a critical Family Ties episode. This died out somewhat in the 90s, but experienced a revival in the 00s, once again thanks to iTunes, where viewers could hear “Don’t Stop Belivin'” used in an episode of Laguna Beach (or a few years later, The Sopranos) and immediately pay to download it, sending it booming up the sales charts. With teen dramas like Beach and The O.C. semi-incidentally serving as tastemakers for their impressionable audiences, the connection between TV and popular music was as powerful as ever, and adult shows started to pick up on the trend as well. Enter Grey’s Anatomy, and Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars.”
Grey’s had already had its hand in a couple crossover hits, getting Anna Nalick’s “Breathe (2 A.M.)” its first national expsoure and even providing Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” a small early boost on its way to super-smashdom. But the huge success of “Chasing Cars”–a top five hit for Snow Patrol in 2006–was almost entirely attributable to the song’s being used in the second-season finale of Grey’s, in some nutty episode where Katherine Heigl cheated hospital rules to get her bed-ridden beau a heart transplant, but he died anyway for some reason. I remember it appearing on the charts out of nowhere and confusing the hell out of me at the time–Scottish alt-rockers don’t generally hit the US top 40 without some sort of prelude–but when I listened to the song, and saw where it had come from, it made total sense. The song was so cinematic, so unbelievably dramatic and emotional, that even an appearance in a particularly game-changing episode of According to Jim probably should have been enough to do the trick.
We’d heard a little bit from Snow Patrol a couple years earlier with their minor modern rock hit “Run”–a song which sort of pegged them as a slightly more restrained Coldplay, highly enjoyable but not really foreshadowing any sort of long-lasting greatness. “Chasing Cars” packed the stately epic qualities of “Run”–the moderately plodding tempo, the ringing guitars, the arena-filling production–but blew them up about 100x, blasting Coldplay and all their other White Guys With Pianos minions all to hell. It was big, it was brilliantly written and structured, and it was really quite absurdly romantic. It was an unapologetic Go For It single that did seem destined for some sort of pop immortality, should it just get the exposure that it deserved. Grey’s was all the song needed to hit the ground running, quickly entrancing VH1 and then radio on its way to being one of the biggest hits of the year.
The key to “Chasing Cars”–and indeed, most if not all of the Snow Patrol songs I’ve heard–is its use of the song-long crescendo. You don’t see too many popular artists do this, since most take the safer and arguably smarter approach of hitting a couple high notes early in to make sure that listeners’ attention is kept rapt, and maybe just ratcheting it up a notch or two towards the end to give them their money’s worth. But as a general fan of not giving the game away too early in music (as my 8th grade summer guitar tutor taught me, all music is is tension and release), I salute Snow Patrol’s patience in keeping things at a near-untenable level of unease for its first two or three minutes of verse, with just the simple guitar riff, a couple tone-setting piano chords, and leadman Gary Lightbody singing. The verses are certainly melodic and somewhat touching, Lightbody dancing around the subject of “Those three words,” and sneaking a sutble title reference into the third verse–but you can’t shake the feeling that the song is hiding something more, something bigger and better, around the corner in the chorus.
Indeed the only real shifts in dynamic come in the song’s chorus, which starts off as a tight chug, amps up to a gentle pound, and eventually climaxes in a full-on explosive-laden air show. And holy hell, what a chorus. “If I lay here / If I just lay here / Would you lie with me and just forget the world?” If you can name me a love song this decade with a better chorus than that (and yeah, I’m sure you can, but you’ll probably have to think about it for at least like a half-minute), I’d like to hear it. It’s simple, it’s direct without being obvious, it’s intriguing and intimate and slightly dangerous without even really saying anything specific. What’s more, even in this crowd-pleaser of a chorus, though, the tension is still enormous, with Lightbody killing audiences by doing the “If I lay here / If I just lay here” double take before he gets to the main point of his question.
The chorus doesn’t really cut loose for full effect until after the third verse, after which there’s a pause that could almost constitute a fake ending–presenting listeners with the heartbreaking idea of the song cutting short without ever really going full-throttle. But then that “If I lay here” comes roaring back, and the entire song now kicks into fourth gear, guitars screaming, drums killing, strings soaring in the background. That final chorus even takes the lyrics themselves to the next level, replacing them the second time around with the song’s most outwardly romantic line: “All that I am / All that I ever was / Is there in your perfect eyes, they’re all I can see.” It’s moving enough, flag-waving enough and just perfect enough to make you glad that Lightbody and company made you wait the near entirety of the song’s duration to reach it. And after that, what else can the song do? It repeats the song’s primary chorus line one more time with all the instrumentation dropped out, and then it ends.
Though not as many people seemed to notice as probably should have, Snow Patrol actually strung together a pretty impressive resume of minor hits and just misses over the course of the decade. The recent “Crack the Shutters” was a quality “Chasing Cars” redux, the righteous “Signal Fire” would’ve been a smash off the Spiderman 3 soundtrack if the movie was released a decade earlier, and the crushingly melodramatic “Open Your Eyes” almost made the pilot episode of The Black Donnellys worth a damn all by itself (plus, take a listen to it and tell me if it wasn’t thoroughly ripped off by a certain recent #1 hit). Nonetheless, it’s easily “Cars” that remains the band’s defining moment, one of the most emotionally compelling singles of the decade, and a perfect demonstration of why synergy between the various mediums of our popular culture is still a crucial and highly vital thing.
(Have any thoughts or remembrances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)
The List So Far (Now With Links!):
100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia”
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)”
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly”
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar”
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)”
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious”
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space”
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below”
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)”
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”
90. Cassie – “Me & U”
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater”
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’”
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel”
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood”
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over”
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent”
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It”
81. 311 – “Amber”
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite”
79. Nas – “Made You Look”
78. Royksopp – “Eple”
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha”
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)”
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet”
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz”
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes”
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle”
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps”
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot”
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone”
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!”
67. Incubus – “Stellar”
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together”
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard”
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie”
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure”
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite”
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get”
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity”
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan”
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly”
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem”
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday”
55. Darude – “Sandstorm“
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue”
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside”
52. Luomo – “Tessio“
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids”
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)“
49. Freelance Hellraiser – “A Stroke of Genius”
48. Daft Punk – “Digital Love”