"Angels" was the fourth single from Williams' debut album, Life thru a Lens. It has been credited with saving the singer's floundering solo career, and is used to conclude almost all of his concerts. The song was the 38th best selling of 1997 in the UK, and the 26th of 1998. It was the 34th best selling single of the decade. Despite only reaching a peak of No. 4, it is Williams' biggest-selling UK single and according to Official UK Charts Company figures passed the million sales mark in June 2009, with a combination of both physical and download sales. It has sold 1.11 million copies in the UK as of November 2012. It was released in 1999 in the U.S., after his debut of "Millennium". The U.S. released video has Williams atop a roof, watching the city below.
"Angels" re-entered the ARIA Top 100 at #91, on 5 May 2008. Due to download sales, the song has re-entered the UK Charts on a number of occasions in recent years.
The video for "Angels" was directed by Vaughan Arnell, and filmed at Saunton Sands. It shows Williams walking around a beach, kicking a football and riding a motorbike with a woman whilst a helicopter flies around them from above.
In November 2013, English singer-songwriter Olly Murs released a music video promoting his song "Hand on Heart", imitating the video to "Angels". Also directed by Arnell, and shot in black-and-white, the video featured a cameo appearance by Robbie Williams himself. "Imitation is the highest form of flattery. I am easily flattered, and I love Olly. We always have a good time together and this was no exception," commented Williams.
The writing credits attributed to the song were Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers. However, it later emerged that an unknown Irish songwriter, Ray Heffernan actually composed much of the song a year earlier. In an interview with RTE, Heffernan said that he met Williams in a Dublin pub and brought him back to his home where they embarked on a songwriting session. Heffernan played him the basis of what would become "Angels" and they recorded an early version of it. Heffernan acknowledges however that Guy Chambers later added the chorus. Heffernan was paid £7,500 for the use of the song, relinquishing any rights to royalties. He was uncredited as a songwriter but received a cryptic message on the CD, saying: "Even fallen angels laugh last, thanks to Ray Heffernan".
Robbie Williams claimed he wrote the song with Guy Chambers in 25 minutes and the song is about his aunt and uncle. Williams and Chambers were sitting outside a cafe watching a water fountain; this is what inspired them for the chorus. Williams is irritated that many people assume it was written by his former co-writer Guy Chambers. In an interview he said; "It pees me off because everyone thinks Guy penned 'Let Me Entertain You' and 'Angels', but they're my songs."
At the 2005 BRIT Awards, "Angels" was voted by the British public the best song in the past 25 years of British music, though it had only reached number four on the singles chart. Williams performed the song live with Joss Stone then. In a survey by UK digital TV station Music Choice, it even came in at number one as the song people would most like to be played at their funeral.
The video for "Angels" opens a visibly anxious Simpson on an empty stage rehearsing for a performance. She can be seen in intercut scenes staring into space, as if she has lost her self-confidence and ability to perform. As the song progresses, however, white roses can be seen scattered around her as a sign of hope, and soon Simpson begins to regain her confidence. The song then shifts into its instrumental bridge to correlate with the emotions of the characters, as Simpson proceeds to climb to the top of the building for her final performance. There she is greeted by a youth orchestra, and finishes the song.
Simpson's version of "Angels" performed relatively poorly as the track failed to break into the Billboard Hot 100 (though it did reach number six on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles). However, the song did become a moderate success on the Top 40 Mainstream and Hot Digital Tracks. Both Simpson, and her father and manager Joe Simpson, had hoped this song would lead to her first Grammy nomination, as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, her 1990's rivals, had each been already been nominated as well as winning. The song's downloads were not allowed to help it. Despite this relative failure, the single was featured on Now That's What I Call Music! Volume 17 in the United States.
In 2005, Yuridia, former contestant of the popular Mexican show La Academia, released "Ángel", a Spanish version of the song which she had interpreted during her stay in the reality show, as her debut and lead single. In Mexico, as well as in other parts of Latin America, "Ángel", became an instant hit, leading her debut album of almost the same name to achieve Diamond status in Mexico and becoming one of the most recent best selling Mexican singers and the best female Mexican seller of the past decade.
"Ángel" reached 32 on the BillboardHot Latin Songs chart and La Voz de un Angel managed to climb into the top 20 on the Billboard Hot Latin Albums chart, peaking at 16. In Mexico the song became the most successful song of 2005, leading the charts during 13 week.
In December 2006, British classicalcrossover group All Angels released a cover version of Angels, with a classical touch to the song. Bookmakers put odds of 7-1 on them for getting a UK Christmas number-one single with their cover.
Later in that year, he decided to re-record the song, with a different arrangement and production, for his debut album. The version is also available for digital purchase since 27 October 2008, when it was released to help promote the pre-order of Archuleta's album. The track, however, has not been released as an official single yet.
Archuleta's version of the song has become the second highest charting version in the United States after the original performed by Robbie Williams. It managed to enter the Billboard Hot 100 at #89 due to digital downloads. On the Canadian Hot 100 the song peaked at #64.