I thought that “Counting Stars” was pretty spectacular when it ascended the charts months after being released. “Let Her Go” however, recently made its way onto the iTunes Top 10 after staying under the radar for over a year. It was released on July 24, 2012. This is the oldest song on this blog, and it recently joined all of the newer songs that I have written about, some of which are still in the Top 10. Just a little background on Passenger: He is a British singer-songwriter that is famous in the folk-rock genre and whose actual name is Michael David Rosenberg. He has been active since 2003 when he was a member of the band that also went by the name Passenger, until the band broke up in 2009 and he carried on a solo career that included, at one point, performing on the street for money. “Let Her Go” is off of Passenger’s third album, All the Little Lights. It gained popularity in Europe and Oceania in early 2013, but as we now know, it has really taken off only recently.
This song makes heavy use of simplicity, a recurring theme that many musicians use these days with varying success. However, despite sounding simple, the song actually uses two sets of chord progressions – one for the verses and the other for the chorus. The instruments that the song uses are acoustic guitar, bass, violin, some synthesizer, and background chorus to fill in the gaps. The first chord progression heard in the intro to the song is actually the one used for the chorus – we’ll come back to that. The chord progression that starts with the first verse is actually in e minor. It goes from e minor to C major to D major to b minor. It’s kind of like a “down two, up one, down two…” pattern. This chord progression, along with the one in the chorus, definitely have a strong place in folk rock. The chorus to this song can come up and begin without the listener even noticing. The only thing to kick off the chorus is a drum kick, a cymbal crash, and the new chord progression, followed by some violin. The chorus modulates the song to G major, however the chorus starts on C major. The chords are C major, G major, D major, and finally e minor. This modulation shifts the song to a happier tone, but the chorus is short lived and quickly goes back to the second verse without much of a transition. In fact, transitions between verse and chorus happen quickly in this song, and the two sound very similar to each other – perhaps the artist did this on purpose to keep the listener’s focus on the lyrics and his voice, and to keep the background music and chords as a subtlety.
Next we’ll look at the lyrics. The message in this song is one that has been expressed in all kinds of mediums in art throughout the ages: “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone”. I did a project in my 11th grade English class that analyzed Emily Dickinson’s “Water, Is Taught by Thirst” and my group found out that this was the main message. Later in life when I saw the opening lyrics to this song, I immediately thought of this poem. It’s only five lines: “Water, is taught by thirst.//Land—by the Oceans passed.//Transport—by throe—//Peace—by its battles told—//Love, by Memorial Mold—//Birds, by the Snow”. It is comparable to the first few lines of “Let Her Go”: “Well you only need the light when it’s burning low//Only miss the sun when it starts to snow//Only know you love her when you let her go//Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low//Only hate the road when you’re missin’ home//Only know you love her when you let her go”. Both the poem and this song give examples of things that we humans tend to take for granted and not appreciate at the moment that we have them. Anyways, I don’t want to get too literarily analytical here, but the message is timeless. In this particular song, the subject matter is losing a significant other.
Overall, this is an interesting song, particularly because it had been out for over a year before reaching the Top 10 iTunes singles, and also because it is from a relatively unknown singer songwriter – but hey, that’s what Lorde was before “Royals”. Are the lyrics a bit too cliché? Maybe. Does it sound a bit too sappy and emotional for tough guys to blast while cruising down the road? Probably. But everyone has their own preferences and this song appealed to enough people to make its way into the Top 10, so I’ll give it credit. Of course, “Wrecking Ball” has been in the Top 10 for a month or two now, but this song got there without a shocking new haircut and a music video featuring naked wrecking ball acrobatics, so I’ll take it.