Chasing Cars was never No 1. How did it become the century’s biggest UK radio hit?

What can we learn about how to write an enduring pop classic from Snow Patrol’s success with a song that peaked in the charts below Paris Hilton?

So, you want to write a record-breaking radio smash. Bad news: Snow Patrol beat you to it. Their song Chasing Cars has just been named as the most popular UK radio hit of the 21st century. But don’t despair, because we can still learn plenty from the song’s enduring success.

Play the long game

Fun fact: Chasing Cars was never a No 1 record in the UK. On its release in 2006, it enjoyed a slow climb to No 6, during which time it was outsold by Paris Hilton’s Stars Are Blind (which got to No 5). It was the 14th best-selling song of the year, which sounds OK until you learn that I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair) by Sandi Thom was the fifth. But now we can prove definitively: slow and steady wins the race.

Get it on a big TV show

Or any TV show – every one helps. Just before its release, Chasing Cars was used in the season-three finale of One Tree Hill. Then it was used in the season-two finale of Grey’s Anatomy, exposing it to a further 22.5 million US viewers and for ever entwining it in popular culture with the fates of lovelorn and preposterously attractive medical professionals.

Keep it basic

Chasing Cars is simple: it is based around a two-note guitar riff, while the verses consist of three lines, each containing just three or four syllables. It suits rock, pop and easy-listening stations, while the lyrics are so oblique that listeners can project their own meaning on them, for any situation. In 2016, Chasing Cars topped a list of “most requested indie funeral songs”, prompting the disquieting mental image of looking at a corpse while listening to a song where someone asks you to lie down with them “and just forget the world”.

Be anonymous

Be honest, can you picture any members of Snow Patrol? Any of them. Even the singer? Of course you can’t. This is the real key to Chasing Cars’ success. Snow Patrol are so completely generic that Chasing Cars will always exist as a song without context, rather than as the work of identifiable humans.


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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