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Michael's Number Ones: "If I Am" by Nine Days

Updated: May 9

This is a regular column in which I review every song that hit number one on my personal top 40 chart, starting with its inception in 2001.

PEAK DATE: January 6, 2001

WEEKS AT #1: 3 Weeks

I need to start this column by stressing that I am not a professional music critic. Nor have I ever played music with any competency since I was a teenager. I had aspirations to be a musician, and made my dad buy me both an electric and acoustic guitar. But since I rarely took the time to practice, well, here we are.

What I have always been, however, is a music fan. When I was a kid, my dad's car radio always seemed to be tuned to WPLJ, and eventually that was what my alarm clock was set to when I woke up in the morning to go to elementary school. In the 90's, bands like Gin Blossoms, Counting Crows, No Doubt, and Third Eye Blind were always soundtracking my mornings. Summers were even better because I could watch MTV and VH1 during the day, when music videos were still priorities for those channels. Soon I would make Saturday morning countdown shows a staple of my weekends. WPLJ had Rick Dees' top 40 show, but soon I realized Casey Kasem's far superior American Top 40 was just down the dial on Z100.

Soon enough, I was looking up music charts from Billboard and Radio & Records magazines, and eventually I got an idea that I could create my own music chart based simply on my favorite songs at the moment. And thanks to the internet, still in its ascendancy in 2001, I discovered there were other people in the world doing just that. Thus began my personal music chart. I should point out that it actually began on October 13, 2001, but because I'm a completist, I eventually stretched it back to the beginning of the year and made those charts canon. My motivation for doing the top 40 would come and go over time, but it never fully went away. And 22 1/2 years later, my top 40 lives on this (lightly trafficked) website.

A few years ago, I discovered that Tom Breihan of Stereogum was doing a regular column reviewing every number one on the Billboard Hot 100 since its inception in 1958. As of this writing, he's made it to the fall of 2010. It's an excellent column, and it's basically what inspired me to do something similar with my chart. Every week, I'll write a post reviewing in chronological order every song that's hit number one on my top 40. It's entirely possible that once I start, I'll give up after a few weeks because of boredom, frustration, life, or what have you. Or it could go on for as long as I'm able to use a keyboard. I can't say I'll be giving Tom a run for his money, but if I keep up with this regularly, who knows? I might even borrow some features from his column with some tweaks to make it appropriate for my chart.

But oh boy, are we starting with a doozy. Because not only can the band in the spotlight here be fairly called a one-hit wonder, it's not even the song that got them their one hit. You would be forgiven for not knowing or remembering this song, or the band itself. But if you do, then maybe you're just the person who should be reading these posts.

Rock music was in kind of a weird place at the turn of the century. Grunge had metastasized into a brooding facsimile labeled post-grunge, while nu metal and "pop rock" emerged as complements on alternative radio. All three subgenres would find homes on my top 40 in the early 2000s, but pop rock was what I gravitated to the most in my youth. Nine Days falls squarely in that category.

The band was formed in Long Island in the mid-90s by John Hampson and Brian Desveaux. They eventually became a five-piece group, and recorded their debut in 1995 in nine days, hence their name. Two more albums followed, but none of them received anything more than local attention. Still, the band pressed on trying to make the move to a major record label. The 90s were a fallow period for rock music in the New York area, with the punk rock heyday of CBGBs long since past, and the bands like the Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs not yet on the horizon. (The Strokes' biggest hit on my chart, "Juicebox", peaked at #2 in 2005. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs will appear a few times in this column.) Hampson pressed on by writing songs for demos to present to labels, one of which would be "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)".

"Absolutely (Story of a Girl)" initially charted on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart, eventually reaching #10 there. But its true home would be pop radio. With its propulsive, hooky chorus, it fit right in alongside bands like Matchbox Twenty, Third Eye Blind, and Vertical Horizon. I saw someone describe bands like these as "minivan rock", as in it's what your parents would play on the radio as they drove the kids to school or soccer practice. While the term feels derisive, I can't think of a better way to describe artists like that who dominated top 40 radio in the early aughts.

The titular "story" of the song seems to be about a girl who doesn't seem to be happy with herself or her life, and is constantly fighting with the narrator, but the narrator loves her in spite of this tension. It's an eminently relatable song to anyone who's been in a relationship, and Hampson claims he wrote it for his girlfriend at the time and future wife, Teresa. "Absolutely" would top the Mainstream Top 40 chart and peak at #6 on the Hot 100 in the summer of 2000, driving sales of their fourth album, The Madding Crowd, and assuring a follow-up single.

"If I Am" follows a similar theme with "Absolutely", centering around the ups and downs of a relationship. The narrator wants to be with their partner, but their timetables for marriage don't seem to line up. "Now you could have it all/if you learned a little patience/For though I cannot fly/I'm not content to crawl." There's uncertainty running through the song, as Hampson seems to be reassuring himself that he's not going to disappoint her in the chorus. "If I am/another waste of everything you dreamed of/I will let you down."

Desveaux said in an interview with MTV News,

"[The song] is about having patience. It's about two people in a relationship and one person wants all these things, like marriage, commitment, the whole nine yards. And the other person is kind of saying, 'Just have some patience. It will all come, but I can't do this right now. Just wait for me,' you know."

For my part, as a 14-year-old when the song was released, I had no experience whatsoever with romantic relationships. Candidly, it would be a long time before I could directly relate to the subject matter of the song. But something about it just clicked for me in the fall of 2000. Maybe it was the desperation in Hampson's voice that connected with me. In any event, when I was stretching back my charts to the beginning of 2001, the song had cemented itself in my brain enough to claim the first official number one on my top 40.

Unfortunately, the song didn't enjoy the same success nationally that its predecessor did. It topped out at #27 on the Mainstream Top 40, and #68 on the Hot 100. It only wound up spending eight weeks on my personal top 40, a consequence of the song quickly fading from pop radio. This was a time when radio programmers had immense power over what became hits and who could become stars, or at least have stable careers. In Nine Days' case, radio got the hit it wanted and tossed them to the side. The band's 2002 follow-up album, So Happily Unsatisfied, failed to reach the album charts, as did their 2003 album Flying the Corporate Jet. The band has put out some music here and there since then, but it's safe to say they won't be appearing again in this column.

My favorite fact about the band is that in the years since Nine Days, Hampson became a schoolteacher in Long Island. I have to wonder, does he tell his students he was in a band that had a top 10 hit song before they were born? Does he wait for them to discover it on their own? I remember once having a gym teacher in high school who played football for a few seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. We all have multiple chapters in our lives and careers, and though it's essential to live in the moment, it never hurts to relive those past chapters when they brought you happiness. Hopefully they last longer than nine days.

Honorable Mentions

U2's majestic lead single from All That You Can't Leave Behind, "Beautiful Day", peaked at #3 behind "If I Am". Had my chart existed in 2000, this likely would have been a #1 hit. It takes me to that other place and teaches me I'm not a hopeless case.

3 Doors Down's debut single "Kryptonite" peaked at #4 behind "If I Am". It too would've likely been a #1 song the year prior, and was one of my favorite songs of 2000.

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