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Michael's Number Ones: "Clocks" by Coldplay



DATE

WEEKS

March 1, 2003

2

What really makes a song a classic? I guess that's one of the questions this column in general tries to answer. Because different people can consider wildly different songs a classic. At one time or another, the songs featured in this column were my favorite, but by no means does that make them classics.


"Clocks", on the other hand, is a classic. You can't convince me otherwise. It's stood the test of time, and is one of those songs that I don't understand how anyone can dislike. Coming from an album that, to that point, was one of my favorites I had ever heard, it captured a euphoria I had for music that made me feel something bone-deep that I never felt before.




"Clocks" was the last song written for A Rush of Blood to the Head. The band believed they had already completed the album when they wrote the song, and after recording a demo, planned to shelve it for their third album. When Coldplay's manager, Phil Harvey, heard the demo, he immediately encouraged the band not to wait for their third album to complete the song. It wound up delaying the release of the album by two months.


Martin's narrator in "Clocks" seems to be battling forces he can't control. "The lights go out and I can't be saved/Tides that I tried to swim against/have brought me down upon my knees." There's an urgency in Martin's voice as the song progresses. "Confusion never stops/closing walls and ticking clocks/gonna come back and take you home/I could not stop that you now know."


I can't seem to find anything describing Martin's motivations about the lyrics. Toward the end, he seems to wonder if the situation he facing was of his own making. "Come out upon my seas/Cursed missed opportunities/Am I a part of the cure/Or am I a part of the disease?" I think that's a near-universal feeling that whenever someone tries to solve a problem, perhaps in a relationship, that might inadvertently cause it to become worse.


Still, the lyrics feels vague enough that someone could apply them to many situations in life. The best songs often use malleability to their advantage. But then, I don't think the lyrics are the central feature of the song. Of course, it starts with that fucking piano riff.


Chris Martin claims he was inspired to come up with that piano riff while listening to Muse, another English band who will appear in this column a few times. That took me aback at first, but I guess I can see the similarities between this song and some of Muse's better songs. I guess I'll have to listen to some of that band's pre-2004 catalog again to get the comparison.


That riff is an earworm without question. I would argue, however, the band takes the riff and runs with it, complementing it with their respective contributions. I love Will Champion's drumming at the end of the song, when his cymbal crashes feel like splashes of water hitting your face. That's basically how I'd describe the whole song: jumping into a pool or taking a cold shower on hot day. It's refreshing and invigorating and just leaves you feeling satisfied when it's over, even though you know you want to do it again.


I'm stunned to learn that "Clocks" only peaked at #9 in the United Kingdom, a respectable position, but still trailing the #2 peak of lead single "In My Place". Over in the United States, the song became their second top 10 hit on the Modern Rock chart, peaking at #9, whilst peaking at #29 on the Hot 100, their highest peak to date on that chart. The song's reputation over time has grown considerably, however, earning spots on many 2000s decade best-of lists.


For many bands, a song like "Clocks" could become an albatross around their necks, something impossible to follow up. But when you have an album like A Rush of Blood to the Head that just flows from one great song to another, that's not likely to happen. It certainly wasn't the case for me. We will see Coldplay back in this column soon.


EXTRAS

Here's "Shining Down" by Lupe Fiasco featuring Matthew Santos, which uses a hook that's very similar to the one on "Clocks".



(Lupe Fiasco's biggest hit on my top 40, 2008's "Superstar", which also featured Matthew Santos, peaked at #7.)


Here's Alicia Keys covering "Clocks" for a performance for iHeartRadio.



(Alicia Keys' biggest hit on my top 40, 2001's "Fallin'", peaked at #2. As a featured artist, however, she will appear in this column.)



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