June 9, 2001
We never feel like we have enough time with our parents. If we're lucky, we'll get 50-60 years where we have them in our lives to make us feel better than we don't fully have our shit together. Of course, a lot of us don't get that much time. I'm 37, and I'm grappling with the fact that there will soon be a day where I won't be able to talk to my dad every week. And even then, that's still a lot of time to have with a parent, more than Pat Monahan of Train had with his mom before she died of cancer. That loss inspired him to write "Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)", which despite being a #1 on my top 40, probably resonates with me much more now than it did when it was current.
Patrick Monahan was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1969 as the youngest of seven children. After high school, he started a short-lived Led Zeppelin cover band called Rogues Gallery, before moving to San Francisco in 1993. There, he met Rob Hotchkiss and formed a duo that played the coffeehouse scene in northern California. They eventually added Charlie Colin and Scott Underwood to the group, and independently released their self-titled debut in 1998. That album would be a slow burn for the group, with the lead single "Meet Virginia" slowly gaining traction on alternative radio, where it peaked at #25 on Billboard's Modern Rock chart. Soon pop radio would take notice of the band, and the song crossed over, eventually peaking at #20 on the Hot 100.
Train came along at just the right moment to have success. Rock music was splintering into a few different sub-genres at this time. On the one side, post-grunge and nu metal dominated rock radio, while more acoustic and melodic bands were finding pop success with inoffensive carpool radio fare. Train squarely fit into the latter category, but that's not a knock on them. I was a still a devout pop radio listener at the turn of the century, even though I gravitated toward the rock side of the pop charts. Bands like Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox Twenty were safe enough that I could listen to them without raising any eyebrows, but still allowed me a gateway to the heavier stuff that I soon couldn't get enough of. (Goo Goo Dolls probably would've had a few #1 hits on my chart if it existed prior to 2001, but their biggest hit was 2002's "Here Is Gone", which peaked at #15. Matchbox Twenty will eventually appear in this column.)
A song like "Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)" shouldn't have worked for me on the surface. Without knowing the context, the lyrics could come off as slight and meandering. What the song had going for it was that insanely catchy piano riff. Really, all of the instrumentation on the song is top shelf. There's a guitar riff in the bridge that's bright and sunny and just pops off the speakers.
The video got massive airplay on VH1. At first, it was going to be a plot-driven video, with a girl being depicted running away from home and to a train station where she sees the band playing. Instead, the band was filmed performing the song at Union Station with a string ensemble and fans filtering in. (There's a joke somewhere about the band Train performing at an actual train station. Just don't expect me to look for it.) It's a simple and straightforward concept, putting the focus on the meat of the song.
And about those lyrics. Monahan claimed the opening lyrics of the song came to him in a dream about his mother after she passed away. He felt like she had traveled through the universe with "drops of Jupiter in her hair". The whole song reads as a dialogue between Monahan and his mom, with him wondering where she's been since passing away, and how she could come back to him. "But tell me, did you sail across the sun?/Did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded/And that heaven is overrated?" I can't say the entire song is magnificently written, but the earnestness that it's sung elevates every aspect of the song. By the time the song goes into the "na na na" part at the end, it's easy to feel carried away.
Train saw their biggest success to that point with "Drops of Jupiter", as the song reached #5 on the Hot 100 and spent almost a year on the chart. They released two more singles from the album, with second single "Something More" peaking at #29 on my top 40 in the fall of 2001. The band came close again to the top spot on my chart two years later. The lead single from their 2003 album My Private Nation, "Calling All Angels", got to #2 that year. It was a decent-sized hit nationally as well, peaking at #19 on the Hot 100.
That would be the band's last top 40 hit on my chart, but the band wasn't done by any means. After their 2006 album For Me, It's You flopped, they followed it up with Save Me, San Francisco in 2009. That album was led by the earworm "Hey, Soul Sister", an enormous hit for them that got all the way to #3 on the Hot 100. I hated "Hey, Soul Sister" and didn't understand why it was so successful, especially at a time when it seemed like bands like Train had faded from relevancy on the pop charts. To be honest, I still don't understand it. Pop music seemed to be in hyperdrive in 2009 and 2010, with artists like Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas making music that would've made my head spin in 2001. Maybe pop radio needed a song like "Hey, Soul Sister" to pump the brakes on all the maximalism going on at the time. But that still didn't make it make any sense.
Train got one more top 10 hit on the Hot 100, with 2012's "Drive By" peaking at #10. After that it seems everybody was content letting them live strictly on Adult Top 40 stations. They've continued to put out albums since then, most recently 2022's AM Gold. But their days of pop hit-making seem to be behind them. Either way, I'm pretty certain they won't be appearing in this column again.
Madonna's third single from Music, "What It Feels Like for a Girl", with its banned-from-MTV music video, peaked at #7 behind "Drops of Jupiter".