July 27, 2002
One thing I find interesting when I look back on my old personal charts is how they don't always fall in line with what the rest of the world was thinking. That's really the beauty of it, isn't it? Everyone's tastes are different, and one person's timeline for liking an artist doesn't usually sync up with their success on the charts.
Take Jimmy Eat World, for example. They had a breakout year in 2002. And while the song that catapulted them to fame that year did well enough on my top 40, it was the follow-up single that wound up being one of my favorite songs of 2002.
Jim Adkins was born in 1975 and grew up in Mesa, Arizona. In high school he played in several bands, and eventually formed the band that would become Jimmy Eat World with childhood friend Zach Lind. They joined guitarist Tom Linton and bassist Mitch Porter in 1993 to fill out the band. The "Jimmy" in Jimmy Eat World is not Adkins, but Linton's younger brother. Their brother Ed fought with Jimmy Linton constantly, and made a drawing of Jimmy shoving the Earth into his mouth, with the caption "Jimmy eat world".
The band independently released their self-titled debut in 1994. They soon signed with Capitol Records, while Porter left the band and was replaced by Rick Burch on bass. They released their major label debut Static Prevails in 1996, moving away from pop-punk and toward a proto-emo sound that bands like Sunny Day Real Estate were carving out around this time. Despite that, the album made little impact. They would find a better reception with their third album Clarity. The song "Lucky Denver Mint" became a surprise hit on influential Los Angeles alternative station KROQ. Still, it wasn't enough for Capitol Records, and the label dropped the band.
Without a label to support them, Jimmy Eat World decided to record their next album while the members each took up day jobs to support themselves. They put out a compilation album and did a five-week tour of Europe in 2000, which helped keep the band a going concern. They worked once again with producer Mark Trombino, who produced their previous two albums. Trombino worked for free on the album, believing the record's commercial success would be enough to reimburse him for his efforts.
Bleed American would be released on July 24, 2001, and the title track was the first single. "Bleed American" would get as high as #18 on the Modern Rock chart, but after the September 11 terrorist attacks, radio stations were on edge about playing songs that might be considered insensitive. Clear Channel infamously released a memo listing songs that they discouraged radio stations from playing, and "Bleed American" found its way on the list. Of course, the song has nothing to do with harming Americans, but nevertheless it disappeared from radio after the attacks. Not wanting the album cycle to be short-circuited as a result, the band and their new label, DreamWorks Records, re-released the album as Jimmy Eat World in the United States.
I didn't really get into "Bleed American" when I heard it at the time, and that indifference carried over with the second single, "The Middle". I was tripping both times, because both of those songs are undeniable. "The Middle" just packs a punch as efficiently as a band can do. I remember when I briefly took guitar lessons that my teacher used the song as an example of quick chord changes. Fortunately, I realized my folly in time for the song to peak at #3 on my top 40. For the band, the song was an immediate breakthrough. It became their first #1 song on the Modern Rock chart, and crossed over to pop radio in the spring of 2002, peaking at #5 on the Hot 100.
"Sweetness" was actually written during the sessions for Clarity, but the band didn't get a chance to add it to the album after "Lucky Denver Mint" became a surprise hit. The lyrics seem like they were written to be a call and response at live shows. There's no real story to them or anything. "If you're listening/sing it back/string from your tether unwinds".
But that doesn't matter. Adkins puts everything he has into singing the song. Combine that with the insanely catchy guitar hooks, and you get a classic. I remember feeling like I just wanted to jump up and down every time I heard the song. It's absurdly electric. Even after alternative stations played the song to death in the decades since, it's still a song that can get me moving if the mood is right.
By the time the song hit #1 on my chart, I wanted to get the album, but I was annoyed that they were forced to change the name of the album in the States. Later that summer, I went on a vacation to Vancouver, and there I was able to find a copy of the album with its original title. I wouldn't regret the purchase. The album is full of powerful, hooky chords, balanced by a couple tender ballads that don't come near being treacly.
In hindsight, it pointed toward a future for alternative music away from macho-sounding nu metal and post-grunge bands. I don't know if I'd ever call Jimmy Eat World an emo band, but they were adjacent enough to the sound that it made them darlings of alternative radio, and of my CD player.
"Sweetness" wound up being another hit for the band on alternative radio, peaking at #2 on the Modern Rock chart. Although it didn't get much airplay on pop radio, it's overall airplay was enough to carry it to a #75 peak on the Hot 100. They released one more single from Bleed American at the end of 2002. "A Praise Chorus" didn't have the same immediate hold that its predecessors had, but it still managed a #12 peak on my top 40, and got to #16 on the alternative chart.
The band would stay a constant presence on my speakers in the years to come. They released their next album, Futures, in 2004, and got a couple top 5 songs from it on my top 40. "Pain" would be the band's second and most recent #1 on the alternative chart, and got to #2 on my top 40. The next single, "Work", peaked for seven weeks at #4 on my top 40.
They kept coming close to the top of my chart with the lead singles from their next two albums. "Big Casino", off their 2007 album Chase This Light, would be another #2 peak for them on my chart. So would "My Best Theory", the first single from their 2010 album Invented.
When their 2013 album Damage and its first single "I Will Steal You Back" wound up being relative disappointments, it seemed Jimmy Eat World's window for being on my radar was starting to fade. They did get one more top ten hit on my chart with the song "Sure and Certain", which peaked at #6 in 2016. By this point, the band had a sizable catalog of hit songs and solid albums for radio programmers to lean on, so it's not like they would ever fall away from my ears. But here's the thing: when that's the case, sometimes nostalgia has such a pull that you just want to like a song much more than the mainstream wants to let you.
I have no idea if I'll ever get as far as 2022 with this column, but if I do, we will see Jimmy Eat World again when that time comes.
"Sweetness" seems to be a popular song for NHL fans. It was included on the soundtrack to EA Sports' video game NHL 2003, and both the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks have prominently played the song during home games in recent seasons. Here's what it sounded like after the Ducks won a home game during the 2021-22 season.