March 3, 2001
Most times the build-up to a new song becoming your favorite is gradual. You hear it for the first time and decide it's pleasant enough to not turn the channel or hit the skip button when it comes on, until one day you realize just how much you like the song. But then there are times when you may not register a song for weeks, until one day it hits you like a bolt of lightning. At that point, you not only fall in love with the song, but start to actively seek it out, as if it were an addiction. That's the case with "Hanging by a Moment", the debut single from Lifehouse that set the bar for every song on my top 40 that came after it.
Looking back, it seems mind-boggling to think about. Nothing about the band or the song would have portended that it could have spent over one-fourth of the year at #1, or spent an incredible 48 weeks in my top 40. Lifehouse looked and sounded like a lot of other bands at the time, riding the wave of grunge-adjacent pop rock to radio success. Then again, that's probably what they had going for them, since I sure as hell liked a lot of those bands, and still do for the most part. When I listen to "Hanging by a Moment" today, I don't skip the song or change the station. It still stirs up feelings of what it was like to live in that moment just prior to 9/11. But for whatever reason, it doesn't inspire the starstruck hypnotism that it did in the spring of 2001. And if I'm being honest, it probably hasn't for a few years now. It's a good song, maybe even a great song. The best song of the 21st century? That's asking a lot.
Jason Michael Wade was born in 1980 in Camarillo, California, just north of Los Angeles. His parents divorced when he was young and he moved with his mom to Seattle, though by 1995, he would make his way back to Los Angeles. He formed a band called Blyss with Sergio Andrade and Jon Palmer and played shows at high schools and colleges in the L.A. area. The group even put out a record in 1999 called Diff's Lucky Day. By 2000, the band made the wise decision to change their name to Lifehouse and repurposed some of the tracks on that Blyss album for their major label debut No Name Face, one of which will soon appear in this column.
"Hanging by a Moment" came was written late into the recording process for No Name Face. Wade claims the whole song came to him in five minutes. Reading back the lyrics, I couldn't find anything that seemed revelatory to me when it was current. Wade's narrator in love with someone and is trying to understand how those feelings will affect him. "I'm falling even more in love with you/Letting go of all I've held on to".
There's an interpretation out there that Wade was writing about finding God, and while I've never really thought about the song in that way, I can kinda see how someone might think that. "Forgetting all I'm lacking, completely incomplete/I'll take your invitation, you take all of me now." This led some people to call Lifehouse a Christian rock band, and Wade has always disclaimed these attempts. It's a tricky situation to be in, since once an artist is pigeonholed as "Christian music" they're rarely able to cross over to secular radio. Other acts have dealt with this since then, most notably Evanescence, a band that will eventually appear in this column. Living in a country where a segment of the population has wanted to impose their religion on the whole of society for much of its history, it's not surprising people would want to leverage a person's faith into a wider definition of their work.
Then again, I suppose one might call my reaction to the song's quality as a religious awakening. I can't explain the euphoria that came over me the moment I realized how much I loved the song. I had probably seen the video a few times and heard the song on New York's alternative station at the time without thinking much of it. Then one day: boom. Around the time it started to cross over to pop radio, it was as if lightning struck me. I couldn't get enough of the song.
It was also the song that really got me obsessed with the music charts at the time. It looked for a while like nothing would stop it from reaching #1 on the pop radio and the Hot 100. But they had the bad luck of getting stalled by pop juggernaut of Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mya, and Lil' Kim's cover of "Lady Marmalade" for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. I liked "Lady Marmalade" well enough for it to reach #7 on my top 40, but I remember being supremely pissed that "Hanging by a Moment" got blocked out of #1. I saw that cover for what it was - a sprawling, maximalist promotional vehicle for Baz Luhrmann's film. It did the job just fine of course, but because everything about the song bashed you over the head, it was never going to hold up in the long run, at least not compared to a song like "Hanging by a Moment".
And that proved true by the end of 2001, when Billboard named the song its #1 song of 2001. It was only the third time a song had been the #1 of the year without reaching #1 on the Hot 100, a testament to the song's staying power. The previous year "Breathe" by Faith Hill also accomplished the feat despite peaking at #2. At a time when it seemed teen pop was dominating pop culture, the charts told a different story. Whether that's a reflection of the music or the way the charts work probably depends on your bias for or against that music.
The song wound up staying on the Hot 100 for over a year, but at no time did I ever feel like I was tiring of the song, even as it eventually moved down my top 40. I was very excited for the follow up single "Sick Cycle Carousel", but I realize now there was no way that song could've possibly approached the success of "Hanging by a Moment", especially since that song was nowhere near finished on radio. The video for "Sick Cycle Carousel" got some VH1 play in 2001, but the song stalled at #21 on my top 40. Still, Wade had proven himself to be a capable songwriter, and my love for the band wasn't going to ebb that easily. Lifehouse will be back in this column soon.
THE NUMBER TWOS
Moby's only crossover hit, the dystopian Gwen Stefani collaboration "South Side", peaked at #2 behind "Hanging by Moment".
Also peaking at #2 was Nelly's breezy smash "Ride Wit Me".
Linkin Park's debut single, the nu metal banger "One Step Closer", peaked at #9 behind "Hanging by a Moment".