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Michael's Number Ones: "In the End" by Linkin Park



March 16, 2002


I feel like nu metal has always occupied an uneasy place in the pop music landscape. There was too much hip-hop influence for traditional metal fans to feel comfortable with, yet it was too heavy for some alternative rock fans to warm up to. Add to that the disturbing images and news that came out of Woodstock 1999, a festival loaded with the nu metal zeitgeist of the day, and it probably never stood a chance.

Then there's Linkin Park, a band that threaded the needle of pop success better than any other nu metal band. As much as I liked other nu metal bands like Korn, Disturbed, even Limp Bizkit, they mostly got blown away when I heard Linkin Park's debut album Hybrid Theory. I don't know what that says about my musical tastes or hard rock bona fides. I just know it's a fucking great album. They came along right around the time my top 40 got going, so it seems fitting that their biggest hit from that album wound up being their first #1 on my chart.

Mike Shinoda, Rob Bourdon, and Brad Delson were high school classmates in the Los Angeles suburb of Agoura Hills when they decided to form a band called Xero after graduating. They would go on to add Joseph Hahn and Dave Farrell to the group, as well as vocalist Mark Wakefield. The band struggled to gain traction at first, and Wakefield would soon leave the group. Needing a new lead vocalist, the band's A&R rep, Jeff Blue, recommended Chester Bennington.

Bennington grew up in Phoenix as one of four children, and led what could charitably be called a troubled childhood. Between the ages of 7 and 13, he was sexually abused by a older friend, not revealing the name of his abuser until years after it ended. His parents divorced during this time, and he went on to excessively use drugs and alcohol in high school. When he was 17, Bennington and a friend formed a band called Grey Daze, which put out two full length albums in the mid-90s before Bennington left the group in 1998. He was ready to quit music when he got the call to join Xero.

Xero would change their name to Hybrid Theory, but despite the great chemistry between Bennington and Shinoda, still struggled to gain a record deal. Blue, now working for Warner Bros. Records, was able to get them signed to the label on the condition that they change their name again to avoid confusion with another band. They wanted to call themselves "Lincoln Park", but changed the spelling to Linkin Park in order to acquire a domain name for their website. It wouldn't be the last time an artist intentionally misspelled a word in their name to stand out on the internet.

Warner Bros. didn't know what to do with Linkin Park when they heard their demos. Shinoda's incorporation of hip-hop confused label executives who wanted them to make a straight-up rock record. The label wanted Shinoda fired from the group, but Bennington refused to allow it, which paved the way for the band to record their debut album, Hybrid Theory, and release it in the fall of 2000.

Of course, hip-hop and rock music had been intertwined for years before Linkin Park came along. But the guys in Linkin Park were on to something different. No one had really tried having two vocalists on most tracks, one singing and one rapping. The first single from Hybrid Theory probably reflected the label's hesitancy to play up the hip-hop aspects of the group, but "One Step Closer" is a banger nevertheless. It made sense within the same radio ecosystem of songs like Papa Roach's "Last Resort" or Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff", but it still stood out. I gravitated to the song enough where it reached #9 on my top 40. The song would peak at #5 on Billboard's Modern Rock chart, and became the band's first Hot 100 hit, where it reached #75.

The next single from the album was another rock-centric track, but still carried the band's momentum. "Crawling" was a staple of MTV2's rotation in the spring and summer of 2001, and the song got to #8 on my top 40. It mostly matched the success of "One Step Closer", getting to #5 on the Modern Rock chart and #79 on the Hot 100.

By the fall of 2001, Warner Bros. decided to send "In the End", which heavily features Shinoda rapping, to radio stations. The lyrics are rather existential in nature, meditating on how life seems to pass us by. Shinoda raps, "Time is a valuable thing/watch it fly by as the pendulum swings/watch it count down to the end of the day/the clock ticks life away". Later on, Bennington sings, "I had to fall/to lose it all/but in the end/it doesn't even matter".

One thing I've always appreciated about Linkin Park's music is how well they know how to craft a song. Sometimes an album can be overproduced to the point of inflexibility. But that's not the case for me with Linkin Park. You can tell the themes in the songs are pretty heavy, likely informed by Chester Bennington's difficult past. The instrumentation and beats on "In the End" allows those lyrics to breathe in certain places, while not overpowering the message of the chorus. It's fucking brilliant.

In the fall of 2001, I was on a Saturday morning bowling team with a kid who was obsessed with Linkin Park. I hadn't quite understood his fascination with the band, but "In the End" made me realize what he saw in them. He even made me a mix CD featuring a bunch of the band's B-sides and other hard rock songs of the day when I moved to Washington State at the end of 2002.

"In the End" struck a nerve with me in a way their previous singles hadn't. The song was stuck for six weeks at #2 behind Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head", and once I finally began to tire of that song, "In the End" was there to swoop in. Even though it only logged a single week at the top, it was still a song I had no problem hearing for months and years to come. And the public seemed to feel the same way. The song became the band's first #1 on the Modern Rock chart, and saw heavy airplay on pop radio, eventually reaching #2 on the Hot 100. It also wound up causing Hybrid Theory to do big business with fans, ultimately selling more than 13 million copies.

Two other songs from Hybrid Theory would reach my top 40 later in 2002. "Papercut", an international single release that nevertheless got airplay in the U.S., got to #9 on the chart, and "Runaway" got to #28. That summer, the band released a remix album of Hybrid Theory tracks and B-sides called Reanimation. Two of the songs from that album would also reach my top 40. The Jay Gordon remix "Pts.OF.Athrty", which also had what I thought was a really cool CGI video directed by turntablist Joe Hahn, got to #22 on my chart, while "My<Dsmbr" reached #17.

By the end of 2002, Linkin Park had established themselves as a force to be reckoned with for music fans. And while they'd never be able to top the success of Hybrid Theory, they would come pretty close with their next album. But we'll get into that later. We will see Linkin Park again in this column.


Speaking of Reanimation, here's that album's remix of "In the End" by KutMasta Kurt, titled "Enth E Nd", which also features lyrics from hip-hop artist Motion Man.

In 2004, Linkin Park collaborated with Jay-Z on a mashup EP titled Collision Course, which also included a special concert and making of documentary for MTV. One of the tracks fused "In the End" with Jay-Z's "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)", titled "Izzo/In the End". Here's footage of their performance:

(Jay-Z will eventually appear in this column. "Numb/Encore", which also appeared on Collision Course, peaked at #11 on my top 40.)

Three 6 Mafia member Juicy J sampled "In the End" on the track "Smoke Dat Weed" from his album Chronicles of the Juice Man. Here it is:

(Juicy J's only appearance on my top 40 came when he was featured on Katy Perry's song "Dark Horse", which peaked at #26 in 2014. Katy Perry's biggest hit on my top 40, 2011's "E.T.", peaked at #2.)

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