Speed of Sound (song)

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This article is about the song by Coldplay. For other uses, see Speed of sound (disambiguation).
"Speed of Sound"
Single by Coldplay
from the album X&Y
B-side "Things I Don't Understand"
"Proof"
Released 23 May 2005
Format 7", CD, 10", 12"
Genre Alternative rock, post-Britpop
Length 4:49 (album version)
4:23 (radio edit)
Label Parlophone
Writer(s) Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion, Chris Martin
Producer(s) Danton Supple, Coldplay
Certification Gold (RIAA)
Coldplay singles chronology
"Moses"
(2003)
"Speed of Sound"
(2005)
"Fix You"
(2005)

"Speed of Sound" is a song by British alternative rock band Coldplay. It was written by all members of the band for their third album, X&Y. Built around a piano riff, the song builds into a huge, synthesiser-heavy chorus. It was released on 23 May 2005 by Parlophone Records as the lead single from the album.

Coldplay vocalist Chris Martin admitted that the song was developed after the band had listened to English art rock singer Kate Bush. The song's drum beat is similar to Bush's 1985 song "Running Up that Hill". Upon the song's release, it charted in the UK Singles Chart in the number two position. In the United States, it debuted at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100,[1] their first top ten hit in the country, and their most successful song until "Viva la Vida" reached number one in 2008.

"Speed of Sound" was recognised Song of the Year by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and it was nominated twice at the 48th Grammy Awards. The song won a Brit Award in the category for Best British Single in 2006. The track's music video was nominated for four MTV Video Music Awards. "Speed of Sound" was also the billionth song downloaded from the iTunes Store.

Background[edit]

In an interview, Coldplay vocalist Chris Martin revealed that the song was written in mid-2004 and was inspired by Martin's daughter, Apple, and English alternative rock singer Kate Bush: "That's a song where we were listening to a lot of Kate Bush last summer, and we wanted a song which had a lot of tom-toms in it. I just had my daughter up also, and was kind of feeling in a sense of awe and wonderment, so the song is kind of a Kate Bush song about miracles."[2] The drumbeat of the song was inspired by Bush's 1985 song "Running Up that Hill".[3] In a 2011 interview with Howard Stern vocalist Chris Martin admitted that "Speed of Sound" was one of his least favourite songs. He said that they never play it live and that mainly just didn't like the recording of the song and that he doesn't like playing it because of his dislike for the recording. Martin has said in multiple interviews, "We just didn't get it right."

In a separate interview, bassist Guy Berryman, in discussion of "Speed of Sound", said: "We were listening to a Kate Bush song called 'Running Up that Hill' and we were really trying to recreate the drums on that song for this song, and the chords. Some bands are reluctant to admit that they take things from other artists and bands that they listen to and we're shameless in that respect, we don't mind telling."[4]

Composition[edit]

The music of "Speed of Sound" is built around a repetitive piano riff.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

"Speed of Sound" is a piano-based song. The song benefits from an insistently ornate keyboard riff and a busy but less-hummable chorus,[5][6] in which the song builds into a huge drum beat and a synthesiser-heavy chorus, which also includes an upbeat tempo.

The lyrics in the song are cryptic; the ending lines of the third verse emphasise in belief and faith: "If you could see it then you'd understand/ah, when you see it then you'll understand," and "Some things you have to believe/others are puzzles puzzling me."[7] The fourth line in the second verse alludes to discovering your place in the world: "How long am I gonna stand/with my head stuck under the sand."[7][8]

In his review of X&Y, Bill White of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper noted that the "slowing ... creative juices" evident in "Speed of Sound" compare to "melodies from both Jeff Buckley ('Last Goodbye') and Keane ('Everybody's Changing')".[9]

Release and promotion[edit]

Coldplay released "Speed of Sound" in the US on 18 April 2005 as the lead single of their third album. The song made its radio premiere on BBC Radio 1 with Lamacq on the day of the release on 19 April.[10] The single was pressed with two B-sides: "Things I Don't Understand" and "Proof". The song premiered in the UK on 23 May.[11]

"Speed of Sound" was beaten to the number one spot on the UK Singles Chart by the novelty song "Axel F" by the Crazy Frog,[12][13] instead peaking at number two for a week, although it did stay in the Top 75 for sixteen non-consecutive weeks.[14] However, it became Coldplay's first UK download number one,[12] and also became Coldplay's first and (at that point) biggest single to chart in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number eight,[15][16] making it the band's most successful single until "Viva la Vida" reached number one in 2008.[17] The single marked the first time a British band entered directly in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart since "Say You'll Be There" by the Spice Girls.[14] The song was also the billionth song downloaded from Apple, Inc.'s iTunes Store.[18][19] A ring tone was available from Cingular Wireless, which had a song clip from "Speed of Sound" available a week before it was heard on radio.[20] The song was also included in "Weird Al" Yankovic's polka medley "Polkarama!" from his 2006 album Straight Outta Lynwood.

Critical reception[edit]

The song was met with a polarised response from critics upon its release.

Rolling Stone magazine gave a mixed review, calling it "an appealing but not thrilling song" and noted "...it sounds a bit like..."Clocks" but without the swagger."[21] PopMatters felt that the song "comes close to sounding too safe, almost like the band is on autopilot."[22]

MusicOMH commented that "Speed Of Sound, the lead single, has 'Clocks'-like drumming contrasts with synth sequences that remind more of Enya than rock music" and criticised it for sounding "familiar and far older than it is."[23] Pitchfork Media likewise criticised the song's "uncanny resemblance to 'Clocks'" and continued "Certainly, it rarely hurts to stick with what works, but this is not just a near-exact replica of its successful predecessor; it's also a less memorable song riding a piano hook that has so deeply infiltrated the pop-culture landscape that I've become numb to it." The reviewer did, however, comment that "the track's vocal melody outperforms the one from 'Clocks' by a hair."[24]

The Village Voice felt that the song was "unusually accomplished, fresh, and emotional."[25] Paste Magazine praised the song, saying that it "reveals the hand [Coldplay are] playing: a piano riff as memorable as the one in 'Clocks,' ringing guitars, martial drums, orchestral pomp and, in the center, Chris Martin's keening vocal, so vulnerable and yet forceful enough to stand out from the mass of sonic detail."[26] The New York Times, contrariwise, dinged X&Y for "trying to carry beauty of 'Clocks' across an entire album – not least in its first single, 'Speed of Sound,' which isn't the only song on the album to borrow the 'Clocks' drumbeat."

"Speed of Sound" was nominated for two Grammy Awards in the categories of Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance By a Duo or Group With Vocals at the 2006 Grammy Awards.[27][28] The song won an MTV Europe Music Award in the category for Best Song.[29] In December 2005, "Speed of Sound" appeared at number nine on Q magazine's "100 Greatest Tracks of the Year".[30] In 2006, the song won a Brit Award for Best British Single.[31] That same year, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) named the track Song of the Year.[32][33]

When asked by Howard Stern in an interview whether any of Coldplay's hits were songs that the band thought were terrible, lead singer Chris Martin mentioned "Speed of Sound," and went on to explain that "we did a shit recording...I like it, but we just didn't get it quite right on record."

Music video[edit]

The music video has a two-storey-high LED display in the background

The video promo for "Speed of Sound" was shot on a Los Angeles sound stage on 22 and 23 April 2005.[34] Shooting took place on large sets backed by large Light-emitting diode (LED) displays developed by Element Labs.[35] The performance-based video was directed by Mark Romanek.[36][37] The video features the band performing in front of a curved ellipse wall that consists of 640 Element Labs' VersaTubes placed on 6" centres.[38]

The on-set animations were programmed and performed live during the shoot.[39][40] Romanek wanted the song's stem "split out" and to have the drums, bass, guitar, and vocals on separate tracks, which were then animated, and the lights were synthesised to each of the tracks. In the end, Romanek and Michael Keeling, the lighting designer, opted to use Chris Martin's vocal track to animate "because it had such dynamics. Roughly 75% of the video is driven by voice-activated animation", said Keeling.[38]

The video opens in pitch-black, followed by a light framing Martin as he reaches skyward out of the shadows. The scene then shifts to the band, as they play the song. When Martin spread his hands, the two-story-high LED lights erupt in a colour of rainbow hues. The LED background changes its colours as the band proceeds with performing the song. The video concludes its ending with the band lined up, one-by-one, and the LED set displaying a white light background.

The video debuted on 23 May 2005 and proved successful on video-chart programs.[41] It debuted on 11 June 2005 on Fuse's No. 1 Countdown Rock, at number six,[42] and retired on 5 August at number seven of the countdown.[42] It also reached number sixteen in MuchMusic's Countdown a month after its debut.[43] At the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards, the video was nominated for four nominations in the categories of Video of the Year, Best Special Effects, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography.[35][44] The video was the ranked at number 10 on VH1's Top 40 of 2005.[45]

Track listing[edit]

CD single
No. Title Length
1. "Speed of Sound"   4:51
2. "Things I Don't Understand"   4:55
3. "Proof"   4:10
  • UK CD CDR6664, 7" R6664, 12" 12R6664, 10" 10R6664
  • Australia CD 872 9862 released 23 May 2005 by Capitol Records
  • Japan CD TOCP-40179 released 11 May 2005 by Toshiba-EMI

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (2005) Peak
position
Australia (ARIA)[46] 9
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[47] 23
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[48] 34
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[49] 31
Denmark (Tracklisten)[50] 7
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[51] 3
France (SNEP)[52] 42
Germany (Media Control Charts)[53] 19
Ireland (IRMA)[54] 11
Italy (FIMI)[55] 2
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[56] 6
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[57] 13
Norway (VG-lista)[58] 11
Polish Singles Chart[59] 1
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[60] 2
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[61] 34
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[62] 22
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[63] 2
US Billboard Hot 100 8
US Billboard Pop Songs 25
US Billboard Alternative Songs 5
US Billboard Adult Pop Songs 3
Year End Chart (2005) Peak
position
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[60] 9
US Billboard Hot 100 57

References[edit]

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External links[edit]