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Michael's Number Ones: "Bring Me to Life" by Evanescence

Updated: Mar 3



DATE

WEEKS

March 22, 2003

7

There's a very small number of songs that I can remember where I was the first time I heard them. "Bring Me to Life" is one of those songs. It was December 8, 2002, and I had just landed in Seattle, where I had moved with my dad after my parents' divorce. I turned on alternative rock station KNDD in the car, and when the song came on, I wasn't sure what to make of it. It was so unlike any other song I was familiar with. But I knew I needed to hear it again. And again.


The decision to move from New York to Lynnwood, Washington, was not an easy one for me. I was leaving my friends and essentially my whole universe behind because I didn't want to be separated from my dad. So maybe hearing "Bring Me to Life" that first time was the universe's way of saying things were going to be alright. That this new chapter of my life might be strange and unique, but that it was necessary for me to experience it.


Of course, given how big a hit "Bring Me to Life" became, I would've heard it regardless of where I was living. And maybe I'd still be writing this column if I still lived in New York when the song broke big. But I know it wouldn't have been nearly as special to me.



Amy Lee was born in 1981 in Riverside, California. Her father worked as a disc jockey, and her family moved to various places in the U.S. before settling in Little Rock, Arkansas. Lee took an interest in the piano as a child, and wrote poetry touching on deep themes like eternity and loneliness. At school in Little Rock, she was bullied for dressing differently than her classmates, but found a respite in the school's choir, where she gained confidence in her voice.


When she was 13, Lee met Ben Moody at a Christian youth camp where they bonded over their love of music and that they were essentially misfits from the rest of the campers. The two formed the band that would become Evanescence while in high school, and recorded two demo EPs in the late 90s that got some attention on the local alternative station in Little Rock.


The demos eventually caught the attention of Wind-Up Records co-founder Diana Meltzer. Feeling the duo could benefit from a change of scenery to focus on making their debut album, the label relocated Lee and Moody to Los Angeles. The time in L.A. saw them write several songs that would eventually make the cut of the album, but they were frustrated that in stretched to about two years.


Behind the scenes, Wind-Up didn't know what to do with the band. Female-led bands were a rarity on the rock charts in the early 2000s, and that characterization might be generous. Post-grunge and nu metal were decidedly male subgenres, and if you turned on a rock radio station at the time, the chances of hearing a new song with a female vocalist were improbable. When "Bring Me to Life" was released, the last time any song with a female vocalist topped the Modern Rock chart was Hole's "Celebrity Skin" in November 1998.


(Unfortunately, this is going to reflect in this column as well; it would be three whole years after "Bring Me to Life" before another song with a female vocalist reached number one on my chart.)


Given that reality, the label threatened not to release Evanescence's debut album unless they hired a male co-vocalist. But the duo refused and went back to Little Rock. The label then came up with a compromise: have a male vocalist only on "Bring Me to Life", which was slated to be the lead single from the record. Reluctantly, Lee agreed to rewrite the song, and Paul McCoy, the lead singer of Louisiana hard rock band 12 Stones, was brought on to for the male part.



"Bring Me to Life" is gothic and orchestral, owing its sound as much to Siouxsie & the Banshees as to Korn. It opens with a piano, something a band like previous Number Ones artist Coldplay might have been able to get away with, but was a tougher sell for a band trying to compete for hard rock airplay.


But it didn't matter for me. That piano is cold and introspective, and Lee's lyrics amplify that feeling. "How can you see into my eyes/like open doors?/Leading you down into my core/where I've become so numb." She needs someone to save her from the dark, to save her from the nothing she's become. Lee wrote the song whilst in an abusive relationship, and a friend asked her if she was happy. According to Lee, she was "just going through the motions of life" at that point. Those lyrics really connected with me, and it helped that Lee was the one singing them.


Can we talk about Amy Lee as a vocalist for a moment? God damn. I don't think I'm being hyperbolic to say that she's probably the best rock vocalist of the century so far. Her voice is operatic, but never feels like it's above the music she's singing to. If anything, the music is built around her voice, that's how great it is.


Which leads me to Paul McCoy's parts. They're... fine. They don't do anything to detract from the song for me, and making the song a male-female duet does amplify the despair Lee's narrator conveys during the song. But when you have a vocalist as talented as Amy Lee on the song, it's a tall order to find anyone able to complement her. Having McCoy rap his parts doesn't help his cause, either.


Given that a band like Linkin Park, who's already been in this column and will be again, were coming off their massive album Hybrid Theory, it's natural that Wind-Up Records wanted to catch lightning in a bottle by riding the rap-rock wave at the time. But it feels slightly regrettable that McCoy's parts feel like they anchor what should be a timeless song to a very specific time period. Evanescence were never trying to be Linkin Park. "Bring Me to Life" is the only time the band really went near what other nu metal bands were doing.


Because radio programmers can be stupid more often than not, the song met resistance when it was released to radio nationally. To my knowledge, KNDD was one of the first stations outside of Arkansas to play "Bring Me to Life". Soon enough, however, the rest of the country followed suit. The song appeared in the Ben Affleck superhero movie Daredevil, a movie that outgrossed films like School of Rock and Kill Bill: Vol. 1 during the year. Eventually it topped Billboard's Modern Rock chart, the first with a female vocalist since "Celebrity Skin". It crossed over to pop radio too, peaking at #5 on the Hot 100. It topped the charts in the United Kingdom, Italy, and Colombia, as well as going top 10 in dozens of other countries.


Evanescence's debut album Fallen did big business when it was released in March 2003. The whole album builds on the gothic, theatrical tendencies hinted at in "Bring Me to Life". Lee feels like she's crafting her own universe on Fallen, built from the chaotic experiences she had growing up. It clearly struck a chord with music fans, and probably showed that the macho-centric world of post-grunge and nu metal were on its way out. To date, the album has sold over 10 million copies in the United States.



Neither of the next two singles from Fallen, reached the top of my chart, but they came close. "Going Under" also got early airplay on KNDD, prior to getting an official release in the summer of 2003. Once it did, it went to #2 on my top 40. That song was what Lee wanted to be the first single from the album, and is more representative of the album as a whole than "Bring Me to Life". Alternative radio validated this by playing it enough to push it to #5 on that chart.



Then there was "My Immortal", a gorgeous ballad that was probably my favorite track on Fallen when I first listened to it. The song is spare and tender and an incredible showcase for Lee's vocals. When the song was released to radio, a different version of the song featuring the whole band and orchestration was used. This bothered me because I felt like the band harmed what was a terrific song on the album. In retrospect, I realize the album version would've done nothing on the radio. Despite my feelings at the time, "My Immortal" made it to #2 on my top 40, and became the band's second top 10 single on the Hot 100, reaching #7.


Fallen was and is one of the tentpole albums of the 2000s for me. It's a huge reason why I fell in love with goth, emo, and shoegaze bands of the past, present, and future. Evanescence weren't done with making hit songs that I loved, either. We will see them again in this column.


EXTRAS

Here's the scene from a 2011 episode of The Office where Will Ferrell air-juggles to "Bring Me to Life":



THE NUMBER TWOS

Audioslave's brooding, contemplative second single, "Like a Stone", peaked at #2 behind "Bring Me to Life".



Also peaking at #2 behind "Bring Me to Life" was Finch's despondent, ear-bleeding emo classic, "What It Is to Burn".



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