In Random Tracks, I review a random hit song from any point in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 going from the chart’s beginning in 1958. If you like what I’m doing, comment and let me know what random Hot 100 hit song you want me to review.
Lifehouse- “Hanging By A Moment”
PEAK: #2 on June 16, 2001
SONG AT #1 THAT WEEK: Christina Aguilera, Lil Kim, Mya, and Pink’s “Lady Marmalade”
Last year, Billboard published a list ranking the Top 50 songs in a new genre they had dubbed minivan rock. Minivan rock follows in the footsteps of yacht rock in genres that only came into being well after the fact when people found a better way to distinguish hit songs from a period that didn’t fit into other genres popular in its time. It essentially covers the late-‘90s/early-‘00s period of heavily polished and poppy rock songs that you can imagine showing up in popular teen movies and TV shows from the period. These are songs that while nominally rock were inoffensive and catchy enough to crossover to pop audiences.
On that Top 50 list, Billboard’s pick for the top minivan rock song is one that is undoubtedly the biggest. In 2001, “Hanging By A Moment,” the debut single from LA-based alt-rock group Lifehouse, was a big crossover hit with both rock and pop audiences. It’s not exactly what comes to my mind first when I think of minivan rock but it does encapsulate much of its qualities. The song has a loud chorus full of blaring distorted guitars and frontman Jason Wade singing in the type of angsty delivery that would have sounded very familiar with the many alternative/post-grunge singers littering the charts in 2001. But like much of what is defined as minivan rock, “Hanging By A Moment” isn’t going to offend anyone listening. Perhaps it’s that inoffensiveness that explains why it became 2001’s biggest song.
The origins of Lifehouse start in Los Angeles around the mid-‘90s when teenager Jason Wade settled in Los Angeles after growing up with missionary parents that often moved around a lot around the world. (When Wade was born, the #1 song in America was Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Coming Up.”) His parents had recently divorced so he started writing songs as a way of dealing with the process. Not long after moving into LA, he got together with bass player Sergio Andrade who lived right next door to Wade. The two of them worked on songs together and after teaming with a few other local players formed Blyss.
From what I could find, Blyss started out performing at local schools and churches. It was those performances that caught the attention of producer Ron Aniello, a man who in recent years has found good work with Bruce Springsteen producing his last four albums. Through connections, Aniello got Blyss a deal with DreamWorks Records, the now-defunct music subsidiary of DreamWorks Pictures. Blyss made their recording debut in 1999 with the EP Diff’s Lucky Day which was mainly distributed through their concerts and friends.
By 2000, Bless, now renamed as Lifehouse, began work on their debut album No Name Face. The album was almost done but the band needed one more song that would complete it all. Enter Jason Wade to come up with the final song, one that he had completely written literally within ten minutes. As Wade explains in detail to Billboard in 2017, one day he was recording a vocal at Aniello’s home studio for another song when a melody came into his head. During a break, Wade went into a room with an acoustic guitar and immediately banged out what would become “Hanging By A Moment.” In that same interview, Wade said he didn’t write the song with the intention of it being a big hit but his bandmates realized its potential and in another Billboard interview back in 2000 stated, “It was the most uptempo, radio-friendly song. We all decided it was the right choice to release it as the first single.”
Lyrically, “Hanging By A Moment” is about loving someone so much you’d live your whole life for them. In a 2017 Songfacts interview, Wade, when asked what the song meant, said it was inspired by his childhood and enjoying life, “I would say it is about just trying to stay in the moment, stay present, and enjoy the moments as they’re happening around you.” The lyrics are vague enough that people have speculated about the song being spiritual in nature which Wade touched on in his 2017 Billboard interview, I didn’t really think about it when I was writing it. I knew at the end of it that it was a love song, and I kind of come from that world, so it can be interpreted as a spiritual song or a love song. I feel like people have just been taking it for whatever they want it to be through the years — which I’m totally fine with, because I think that music should be interpreted how the listener wants to interpret it.”
Wade may not have thought of “Hanging By A Moment” as a pop hit but he certainly wrote it as one. The chorus takes up a good majority of the song. On the full album version, Wade sings the chorus first in the quiet tone of the verses almost as a warmup to the headbanging lounges performed later. (In just the first minute, the chorus pops up twice.) While there are verses, they’re short compared to the chorus and seem to exist as a way of preparing you for the big singalong. That was the right choice. Structurally, the song shares a lot with what Max Martin was perfecting at the time.
While there is a lot to appreciate about the song, “Hanging By A Moment” doesn’t do a lot for me overall. There are some cool aspects to like about the song from the droning saw of the bass that opens the song to the intense playing on the chorus. But the music’s a little too clean and processed sounding for my tastes. Jason Wade, like the rest of the song, performs the song with a good intensity that tells you he’s giving his all but it doesn’t leave you with much in the way of personality. That’s ultimately my main problem with what we know as minivan rock, the whole anonymous nature of the music.
“Hanging By A Moment” was released to radio in September 2000, a month ahead of No Name Face’s release. Throughout the fall and into the winter, the song quickly dominated rock radio eventually going to #1 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart (now called Alternative Airplay) in January 2001. It was around that time when “Hanging By A Moment” was released to pop radio beginning to gain enough crossover traction to debut on the Hot 100 at #76 in February, the same week it debuted on the all-genre Airplay chart. While radio was putting “Hanging By A Moment” into heavy rotation, fans and casual listeners couldn’t buy it right away on CD as DreamWorks played the then-popular music industry practice of withholding a song from an immediate retail single release to build up radio airplay and album sales. This meant if you wanted to buy “Hanging By A Moment” you had to buy the No Name Face album.
DreamWorks did eventually release “Hanging By A Moment” as a CD single in April helping to further boost it up the Hot 100 through the spring and into the summer. It eventually peaked at #2 for four non-consecutive weeks in June and July. While it couldn’t overtake the Moulin Rouge all-star cover of “Lady Marmalade” and Usher’s “U Remind Me” on the Hot 100, “Hanging By A Moment” outlasted it and all of its competition staying on the chart for a total of 53 weeks and was the most played song at radio in 2001. Thanks to that performance, Billboard would name “Hanging By A Moment” the #1 single of 2001 following Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs’ “Wooly Bully” from 1965 and Faith Hill’s “Breathe” from the year before in being named as the biggest song of the year despite not going to #1.
For Lifehouse, the impact of “Hanging By A Moment” was felt almost immediately. They had started promoting the album performing with Pearl Jam in small side stage gigs but once the song blew up were opening for Matchbox 20 in full arenas and soon went on their own headlining tour. The success of “Hanging By A Moment” helped No Name Face to go double platinum and reach #6 but it didn’t launch any more hits. The two other singles, “Sick Cycle Carousel” and “Breathing,” failed to chart. The band followed up their massive breakthrough with 2002’s Stanley Climbfall, an attempt to go in a harder rock direction but it did not land in the same way as their debut. The album peaked at #7 but sold only 411,000 copies and its lead single “Spin” peaked at #71.
A sophomore slump wasn’t the band’s only problem. There was band member turnover to the point where Jason Wade remains the only original member in the band now. In 2004, DreamWorks Records had gone out of business and was absorbed into Geffen Records to which Lifehouse followed with. With the new label and new lineup, Lifehouse released a self-titled album in 2005 that was an attempt to go back into the mainstream and was led off with the drippy ballad “You and Me.” The self-titled album went gold peaking at #10 which was a far cry from the days of No Name Face but “You and Me,” after steady airplay buildup, peaked at #5 helping Lifehouse escape one-hit-wonder status. (It’s a 5.)
Lifehouse hasn’t made a big hit since but their songs popped up a lot throughout the ‘00s as they became a popular choice for many shows of the time like Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, Criminal Minds, and Cold Case. They were a particular favorite of Smallville, the superhero series, using their songs right from the first episode which premiered in October 2001, a few months after “Hanging By A Moment” had its chart peak. The connection between the show and the band became so strong that Lifehouse showed up in one episode to perform during a prom scene.
In recent years, Lifehouse has continued to put out albums and tour constantly. To this day, Wade seems to be the type of artist that still gets a kick out of his biggest hit. Last year after Billboard’s list was released, they published another interview with Wade for his reaction and he sounded pleased with the new minivan rock distinction noting he first heard “Hanging By A Moment” for the first time on the radio literally in a minivan. At the end, he even expressed interest in doing a minivan rock package tour in the vein of yacht rock, “I get fully nostalgic when talking about the Goos or Matchbox Twenty. It was such a powerful rush of music, when people were still selling 12 million records. That was a different time.”
BONUS BEATS: “Hanging By A Moment” is one of those massive hit songs that becomes instantly forgotten once it falls off the charts. There are a few TV shows that use “Hanging By A Moment” but none of them are available online for me to share. With limited options for Bonus Beats, I’ll have to resort to this version of “Hanging By A Moment” recorded by Kidz Bop for a 2002 album: