How to Save a Life

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"How to Save a Life"
Single by The Fray
from the album How to Save a Life
Released August 28, 2005[1]
Format Digital download, CD single
Genre Pop rock, Adult contemporary
Length 4:23 (album version)
3:58 (radio edit)
Label Epic
Writer(s) Isaac Slade, Joe King
Producer(s) Mike Flynn, Aaron Johnson
The Fray singles chronology
"Over My Head"
"How to Save a Life"
"Look After You"
The Fray UK chronology
"How to Save a Life"
"Over My Head (Cable Car)"
How to Save a Life track listing
"Over My Head (Cable Car)"
"How to Save a Life"
"All at Once"
Audio sample
file info · help

"How to Save a Life" is a song by American pop rock band The Fray. It was released as the second single from their debut studio album of the same name on August 28, 2005. The song is one of the band's most popular airplay songs and peaked in the top 3 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States. It became the joint seventh longest charting single on the Billboard Hot 100, tying with Santana's "Smooth" (1999), at 58 consecutive weeks. The song has been certified 3x Platinum by the RIAA,[2] and has sold 4.7 million downloads as of January 2015, the fourth best-selling rock song in digital history.[3]

It is the band's highest-charting song to date, topping the Adult Top 40 chart for 15 consecutive weeks and topping the Canadian Airplay Chart. It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 2007, but lost to "Dani California" by Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Song meaning[edit]

According to lead singer Isaac Slade, the song was composed and influenced by his experience while working as a mentor at a camp for troubled teens:

Slade claims that the song is about all of the people that tried to reach out to the boy but were unsuccessful. As Slade says in an interview, the boy's friends and family approached him by saying, "Quit taking drugs and cutting yourself or I won't talk to you again," but all he needed was some support. The boy was losing friends and going through depression. He lost his best friend and could not deal with it. The verses of the song describe an attempt by an adult to confront a troubled teen. In the chorus, the singer laments that he himself was unable to save a friend because he did not know how.

While this was the original intent of the song, the band has opened the song to interpretation. They created a website where fans were welcome to submit music videos they had made for the song. This arose from the response that Slade got from the song:[4]

From an interview with Slade by Bob Wilson in Sauce, Slade was asked, "'How to Save a Life', was apparently inspired by an experience you had as a mentor to a boy who had a drug problem. What's the story behind that?" Slade answered:[5]

Commercial success[edit]

The song is the band's first to achieve significant popularity outside of the United States. "How to Save a Life" was a top five hit in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Due to an early leak by BBC Radio 1 in the United Kingdom, where it was the band's debut single, the song was released in that country five weeks earlier than planned. It debuted in the UK Singles Chart at number 29 on January 21, 2007 via downloads alone. Instead of its planned release date which was to be 26 March 2007, the single was physically released in the UK on 29 February 2007 and gradually rose up the charts, reaching number 5 on February 25, staying there for four weeks. It eventually peaked at number 4 on 8 April and ended 2007 as the year's 11th biggest-selling single in the country.[6] On March 29, "How to Save a Life" peaked at number 1 in Ireland, becoming their first and only number one single in the country to date. The song only stayed at the top spot for a week but sales still proved strong after it fell from number 1.

The song was ranked No. 24 on Billboard's Best Adult Pop Songs of the Decade,[7] and No. 47 on Billboard's Top 100 Digital Tracks of the Decade.[8] It was also ranked No. 58 on Billboard's Hot 100 Songs of the Decade[9] and No. 56 on Rhapsody's list of the Top 100 Tracks of the Decade.[10] The song was the 25th most downloaded song of all time on iTunes as of February 2010.[11] The song has sold over 4.7 million copies in the US as of January 2015.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

The song was first featured on ABC's Grey's Anatomy, after Alexandra Patsavas, the music supervisor for the show, saw the band perform in Los Angeles. She was impressed with their performance, particularly with the song "How to Save a Life".[citation needed] Alexandra then incorporated the song into "Superstition", an episode of the show's second season (first aired on March 19, 2006). After its usage in the episode, the song became a minor Hot 100 hit. The song became an "unofficial theme" for the other members of the Grey's Anatomy production after the episode aired, leading to the decision that the song would be used in the main promotion for the third season in the show. Grey's Anatomy is credited with bringing popularity to the song[13]

The song was then featured on NBC's comedy medical series Scrubs, towards the end of the popular episode "My Lunch" on April 25, 2006, when a patient dies and Dr Cox transplants her organs to three patients; however, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, the patient died of rabies and therefore the three transplant patients also contract the disease and eventually die, leading Cox to a breakdown over the guilt.

One week after the promotion for Grey's Anatomy's third season began to air, "How to Save a Life" advanced from position No. 51 to position No. 29 on the Hot 100. As the promotion played, the song continued to climb on the charts, reaching a peak position of No. 3 in the Billboard issue marked October 7, 2006. On September 21, 2006, a Grey's Anatomy version of the music video (similar to the one made for Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars") was shown prior to the third season premiere of the show. The song was also released as one of the tracks on the Grey's Anatomy, Vol. 2 soundtrack album, and would later be used in the trailer for the Australian release of the show. The all time platinum hit lyrically originated as an ASCAP productional advantage in 2005.

In addition to Grey's Anatomy and Scrubs, the song has been aired in episodes of One Tree Hill, Ghost Whisperer, The Hills, NCIS, 8th & Ocean, Cold Case and in the United Kingdom for the final episode of Big Brother 2007, Waterloo Road, the encore episode of Echo Beach and in promos for series 22 of the BBC's Casualty. HBO used the song for its "Summer Image" television campaign, and it was also used in the trailer for the film Reign Over Me.

During the season preview for the new Tila Tequila show A Shot at Love, "How to Save a Life" plays as the backdrop music.

During Season 8 of American Idol 2009, "How To Save A Life" was played when finalist Danny Gokey exited the auditioning room and celebrated the passing of his first audition with his family and friends, in reference to Gokey's wife passing away of complications from congenital heart disease.

A piano cover version by Piano Tribute Players was played in the premiere episode of Season 2 of The Vampire Diaries during a scene at the Lockwood mansion.

Grey's Anatomy revisited the iconic song in its seventh season's music event episode, aired March 31, 2011. The song is sung by the cast and incorporated into the storyline. The lyrics to "How to Save a Life" are made relevant by overlaying the song to a stressful operating room scene in which the fate of Callie Torres and her baby are decided.

Four seasons later, Grey's Anatomy used the song again at the end of Derek Shepherd's life in the April 23, 2015 episode, providing some symmetry as Meredith remembered all of the good times she shared with her husband.

Other variations[edit]

Bryan Preston, a former lead blogger at conservative website, reworked the lyrics to address terrorism. Retitled "How to Take a Life", Preston made a video of the song, himself singing the lyrics while noted conservative pundit Michelle Malkin played the piano. The video juxtaposed images and video of radical leaders speaking and clips from terrorist training videos and camps.[14]

Australian musical comedy trio, The Axis of Awesome, perform a number of short parodies of the song: "How to Bake a Scone", "How to Catch a Duck" and "How to Kill a Hooker".[15]

The popular Gaming website made a parody song and video making fun of the PlayStation 3's slow initial success called "How To Kill A Brand"[16] that was met with much controversy from the PlayStation 3 supporters around the world. The song focuses on criticizing online play and the lack of a good game lineup. It was written and sung by the site's founder Doc Adams and the video was created by podcast community member MFreakinJ. Adams once said he had writer's block when writing the song.

Another version of "How To Save A Life" has being used as a tribute to those who were killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York's Twin Towers, the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, and the passengers of a plane that went down in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, with audio from shocked civilians that were recorded when the attacks happened.

Music videos[edit]

The original music video, which premiered on VH1 on 12 September 2006, featured the recurring themes of light and stopped time. This music video shows the scene of a car crash and all of its presumed victims in pause. There is a recurring light throughout the video shining brightly in the dark woods that the video takes place in. Scenes of the band playing in a dark warehouse are intercut with the story going on outside. This version of the video was placed at No. 21 of the year by VH1's "Top 40 Videos of 2006".

Another version of the music video juxtaposes scenes from Grey's Anatomy to scenes of the original music video. However, all the scenes of the presumed car crash victims are excluded and only scenes of The Fray playing in a warehouse are shown.

A third music video, directed by Mark Pellington, was released for the song on 6 December 2006. The video features various kids, most of which seem to be between 12–18 in age, all who appear to be depressed and suicidal, or possibly mourning the loss of a loved one. All of these children have lost a significant loved one prior to the video. Many of the kids cry and scream in the video, all against a white background. Scenes of the band playing the song against this same white background are also shown throughout the video. Many numbered steps are shown alongside the kids, such as "Remember", "Cry", or "Let It Go". The video ends with each child finding a catharsis and making peace with themselves or others. This version of the video debuted on MTV's Total Request Live at No. 9, and has since gone on to top the countdown at No. 1 on 21 December 2006, becoming the band's first TRL No. 1, and also becoming the last No. 1 video on TRL for 2006.

Track listings[edit]

UK CDS 1[17]
  1. "How to Save a Life"
  2. "She Is" – Acoustic from Stripped Raw + Real
UK CDS 2[18]
  1. "How to Save a Life"
  2. "How to Save a Life" – Acoustic from Stripped Raw + Real
  3. "She Is" – Acoustic from Stripped Raw + Real
  4. "How to Save a Life" – CD-Rom


The Fray

Produced by Aaron Johnson, Mike Flynn

Charts and certifications[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "CHR". Friday Morning Quarterback. 
  2. ^ "Recording Industry Association of America". RIAA. Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  3. ^ a b Polk, Christopher (January 31, 2015). "The 15 Most Downloaded Songs in Rock History". Yahoo! Music. Retrieved February 5, 2015. 
  4. ^ Gardner, Elysa (July 12, 2006). "Debut 'How to Save a Life' takes on a life of its own". USA Today. Retrieved May 4, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Diving Into – The Fray" (PDF). Sauce. June 9, 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-02-18. 
  6. ^ BBC Music. "Top 40 Singles of the Year 2007 ". Retrieved 2007-12-27
  7. ^ "Best of the 2000s: Adult Pop Songs". Billboard. Archived from the original on January 27, 2010. 
  8. ^ "Best of the 2000s: Digital Songs". Billboard. Archived from the original on January 27, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Best of the 2000s: Hot 100 Songs". Billboard. Archived from the original on 2009-12-21. 
  10. ^ Editorial, Rhapsody (2009-12-09). "Top 100 Tracks of the Decade – Rhapsody: The Mix". Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  11. ^ Herrera, Dave (2010-02-25). "The Fray, Frank E and Ryan Tedder make list of Top 25 iTunes downloads – Denver Music – Backbeat". Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  12. ^ "Top 10 Rock songs downloaded (Of all time)". 
  13. ^ "How 'Grey's' got that catchy new "theme" song". New York Post. 24 September 2006. Archived from the original on May 12, 2007. 
  14. ^ "New Vent: "How to Take a Life"". 
  15. ^ "How to bake a scone" on YouTube.
  16. ^ "How To Kill A Brand," aka "The PS3 Song," on YouTube
  17. ^ Fray, The – How To Save A Life (CD) at Discogs
  18. ^ Fray, The – How To Save A Life (CD) at Discogs
  19. ^ " – The Fray – How To Save A Life". ARIA Top 50 Singles. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  20. ^ " – The Fray – How To Save A Life" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  21. ^ " – The Fray – How To Save A Life" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  22. ^ " – The Fray – How To Save A Life" (in French). Ultratip. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  23. ^ "The Fray – Chart history" Canadian Hot 100 for The Fray. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  24. ^ " – The Fray – How To Save A Life" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  25. ^ " – The Fray – How To Save A Life". GfK Entertainment. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  26. ^ "Chart Track: Week 13, 2007". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  27. ^ "Top Digital Download – Classifica settimanale dal 11/05/2007 al 17/05/2007" (in Italian). Federation of the Italian Music Industry. Retrieved July 7, 2012. 
  28. ^ "Classifica Mix e Singoli – Classifica settimanale dal 24/08/2007 al 30/08/2007" (in Italian). Federation of the Italian Music Industry. Archived from the original on September 10, 2007. Retrieved July 7, 2012. 
  29. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – The Fray search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  30. ^ " – The Fray – How To Save A Life". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  31. ^ " – The Fray – How To Save A Life". VG-lista. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  32. ^ "Portugal Digital Songs – Peak". Billboard. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  33. ^ "SNS IFPI" (in Slovak). Hitparáda – Radio Top 100 Oficiálna. IFPI Czech Republic. Note: insert 200650 into search.
  34. ^ " – The Fray – How To Save A Life". Singles Top 100. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  35. ^ " – The Fray – How To Save A Life". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  36. ^ "The Fray: Artist Chart History" Official Charts Company. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  37. ^ "The Fray – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for The Fray. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  38. ^ "The Fray – Chart history" Billboard Pop Songs for The Fray. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  39. ^ "The Fray – Chart history" Billboard Adult Contemporary for The Fray. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  40. ^ "The Fray – Chart history" Billboard Alternative Songs for The Fray. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  41. ^ "The Fray – Chart history" Billboard Adult Pop Songs for The Fray. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  42. ^ a b "Archive Chart: 2012-05-05" UK Singles Chart. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "sc_UK_The_Fray" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  43. ^ "ARIA Top 100 Singles 2007". ARIA. Retrieved 2012-04-15. 
  44. ^ "Official UK Singles Chart of 2007" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-04-15. 
  45. ^ "Billboard Hot 100 Year-End 2007". Retrieved 2012-04-15. 
  46. ^ "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 2007 Singles". Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved 12 December 2014. 
  47. ^ "Canadian single certifications – The Fray – How to Save a Life". Music Canada. Retrieved February 6, 2012. 
  48. ^ "Guld og platin i August" (in Danish). IFPI Denmark. Archived from the original on August 7, 2009. 
  49. ^ "Italian single certifications – The Fray – How to Save a Life" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved December 12, 2014.  Select Online in the field Sezione. Enter The Fray in the field Filtra. The certification will load automatically
  50. ^ "Latest Gold / Platinum Singles – RadioScope New Zealand". Archived from the original on July 24, 2011. Retrieved August 11, 2011. 
  51. ^ "British single certifications – The Fray – How to Save a Life". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved December 12, 2014.  Enter How to Save a Life in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Select Platinum in the field By Award. Click Search
  52. ^ "American single certifications – The Fray – How to Save a Life". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved October 31, 2009.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
  53. ^ "Certificeringer – The Fray – How To Save a Life" (in Danish). IFPI Denmark. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 

External links[edit]