We Sing United
Here we have the final part in the series where we tell the stories behind the songs we’re singing this term. All the songs were chosen by the Green Heart Army in a vote of everyone’s favourites in Sing United’s back catalogue. All six of our Sing United shows are represented in the top 15.
Here is part 3 of ‘Meet the Songs’…
Always On My Mind
Our first three songs featured in our “Always On My Mind” show back in June 2019 at The People’s Theatre in Heaton, Newcastle. All the songs we sang were chosen to fit with our theme in support of issues surrounding mental health.
Everybody Hurts – R.E.M’s iconic song originally released on the album Automatic for the People.
American rock band R.E.M. first released “Everybody Hurts” on their 1992 album Automatic for the People. It reached number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100, and made the top ten in the UK. Their drummer, Bill Berry, wrote most of the song’s melody and Michael Stipe’s direct, accessible lyrics are deliberately simple to resonate with teenagers at the time.
The video for the song is captivating, with the band stuck in a traffic jam in San Antonio, Texas. Subtitles appear on the screen of the people’s thoughts as they sit in their cars. At the end of the video, all the people get out of their cars and walk, then they vanish. The inspiration for the video came from the opening dream sequence of Fellini’s 8½.
The song went on to become an anthem in the mid 90s for the disillusioned youth. It came out just before Kurt Cobain’s death and the disappearance of Richey Edwards (Manic Street Preachers). It soon embraced a wider significance and went on to feature in a number of charity appeals. In 1995, emotional support listening service The Samaritans used the song in an advertising campaign. Due to a high suicide rate but low crisis service take-up amongst young men, the advert comprised only of the lyrics to “Everybody Hurts” and the charity’s hotline number.
How To Save a Life – The Fray’s highest charting song so far…
American rock band, The Fray, hail from Denver, Colorado. School friends Isaac Slade and Joe King came together in 2002 to form the band. Their first album How to Save a Life was released in 2005. It was a huge success, going double platinum in the US. Their first single “Over My Head (Cable Car)” reached the top ten. But it was the release of their second single that brought worldwide fame. “How to Save a Life” charted in the top 3 in the US and was a top 5 single across many countries, including the UK. It was also in the top ten longest charting singles in US history at 58 consecutive weeks. Recent records show the song selling 4.7 million downloads and is the fourth best selling rock song in digital history.
The song itself…
The song was composed by the band’s lead singer, Isaac Slade. It was influenced by Slade’s experience working at a camp for troubled teenagers. He reportedly said, “One of the youngsters I was paired up with was a musician. Here I was, a protected suburbanite, and he was just 17 and had all these problems. And no one could write a manual on how to save him.” The song is about all the people who tried to help the boy but failed. As the boy lost friends and family through drug addiction, he was dealing with depression and couldn’t cope. The verses of the song are an account of an adult trying to confront the teenager to provide support. The chorus is the singer expressing his frustration and regret that he couldn’t save his friend. He didn’t know how to.
Though this was the original interpretation of the song, following its success the band created a website for fans to express their own feelings. They received an overwhelming response and all the different ways the song had touched the lives of so many.
Wake Me Up When September Ends – Green Day’s hit single from their 2004 album American Idiot.
American rock band, Green Day, formed in 1986 by their lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt. For the majority of their career the rock trio was made up by drummer Tré Cool. Originally part of the punk scene in California they had a few early releases through an independent record label. Their first album released on their major label Dookie was a huge success in 1994.
Their seventh album release in 2004 was the rock opera, American Idiot. The album was popular with a younger audience and sold six million copies in the US. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” was the fourth single released from the American Idiot album. Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong wrote it. The song is about his dad who died of esophageal cancer on September 1, 1982 when he was only 10 years old. It was a hit and reached number six in the Billboard Hot 100 and the top ten in the UK.
This song took on another role…
In the States the song became symbolic in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001. It also became closely associated with Hurricane Katrina which struck the Gulf Coast of the United States on 29 August 2005. Green Day performed the song at a benefit concert days after the disaster and released the live recording in dedication to the victims.
The music video is of a couple torn apart by the war in Iraq, intended to depict the central theme of loss in the song. When talking about writing the song, Armstrong said that it was the most autobiographical song he’d ever written and whilst saw it as “therapeutic” he still found it really difficult to perform.
Emergency Planet Earth
Here are the final two songs. We had planned to perform them at our ‘Emergency Planet Earth’ show in March 2020 at The People’s Theatre in Heaton, Newcastle. All the songs in the show were chosen to fit with our theme of the global issues surrounding the environment and climate change. Worldwide events ironically stopped us in our tracks just before show day…
Radioactive – Imagine Dragons song on the subject of embracing change.
Las Vegas Rock band, Imagine Dragons, opened their debut album Night Visions with “Radioactive”. They released the song in 2012 as the band’s second single. Musically it is an electronic and alternative rock song that lyrically tackles the need to embrace change. Frontman, Dan Reynolds, sings about the world becoming different and the need to break free and see things differently.
Recipe for success…
The success of the song is not by accident. There were a number of techniques used to make sure it was a hit. First was the combination of a number of genres of music in one song – Rock, Pop and Dubstep – all of which featured heavily in the charts at the time. What made “Radioactive” stick in people’s memories is the simple, repeating melody. The chorus sections are almost identical each time and divided into two hooks. The song keeps our interest as a new section is introduced every 14 seconds! So as the listener you get the element of surprises in the music, whilst the melody repeats in short phrases. Clever stuff!
The song featured heavily on many commercials and trailers. These include the video game Assassin’s Creed III, in addition to a number of films and soundtracks. It peaked at number 3 on the US Billboard Hot 100, 42 weeks after entering the chart. This set a new record for the slowest ever climb in chart history. “Radioactive” was nominated for two Grammy Awards, winning one of them for Best Rock Performance.
The song was written by British record producer, Alex Da Kid and was seen as one of the darkest tracks on the album. With lyrics like ‘I’m waking up to ash and dust’ and ‘This is it, the apocalypse’, it wasn’t hard to see why. However, Dan Reynolds describes the song as empowering and more of “an awakening; kind of waking up one day and deciding to do something new, and see life in a fresh way.”
Truth To Power – OneRepublic tackles climate change in a song with a strong message.
Formed in 2002, One Republic is an American pop rock band based in Colorado. The band is made up of lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Tedder, guitarists Drew Brown and Zach Filkins, cellist and bassist Brent Kutzle, with Eddie Fisher on drums and Brian Willett on keys. Their first success came as an unsigned act on Myspace in 2005 with “Apologize”.
“Truth To Power” was written by Ryan Tedder and T Bone Burnett for the film An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power. They wrote it as a call to action on climate change. Tedder spoke about the theme of the movie being that “the ‘truth’ leads to ‘power’ when it comes to standing up and helping to create change.” He wrote the song from the perspective of mother earth “turning the tables on those who’d betray her.”
The video features pictures of environmental disasters and people who have been affected by them. It then moves into clips of the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference protests, but ends on a positive with images of hope.
That’s it folks! We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about the songs we’re working with this term. Which one is your favourite?