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Signature Songs: Angel – Sarah McLachlan

Some songs are so iconic, they eclipse everything else in an artist’s catalog.

These songs are signature songs, the songs artists become associated with for the rest of their careers and for future generations.

Artists with signature songs are not to be confused with one-hit wonders who have only one successful song over the entirety of their careers.

Signature songs are simply the songs most people recognize by an artist, the ones even non-fans know, the ones crowds at every concert can sing along to.

For Sarah McLachlan, that song is “Angel.”

Angel by Sarah McLachlan

Sarah McLachlan was so ubiquitous in the late 90s, from her string of hit songs on the radio to her brainchild Lilith Fair, it’s almost impossible to believe she had only one #1 song in the U.S.

The song was “Angel.”

(It should be noted, McLachlan fared better in her native Canada, scoring five #1 AC hits, but still, oddly, only one #1 song that wasn’t “Angel.”)

Written about the overdose death of Smashing Pumpkins’ keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin, “Angel” is a heavy, yet soaring song that captures the essence of loneliness, suffering, and the desire to escape in a way only a fellow musician familiar with the rigors and hardships of the road could.

A strange song to be a radio hit, for sure, “Angel” is a prime example of mid- to late-90s radio, when meaningful songwriting scored big on certain frequencies of the airwaves.

Angel Stats

“Angel” topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart on March 6, 1999 and remained there for 12 weeks, ending the year as the song with the longest consecutive stretch at #1 on the chart.

The song was also a Hot 100 hit, peaking at #4.

In Canada, “Angel” hit #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #9 on the Hot 100.

The song was named Billboard’s “Hot Adult Contemporary Track” of 1999, and McLachlan was named BMI’s Songwriter of the Year (though, in another strange twist, “Angel” wasn’t included amongst her Award-Winning songs).

Why was it so successful?

No one is immune to death or loss, which surely played into the popularity of McLachlan’s haunting music and lyrics. (Since its release, “Angel” has become a staple  on the funeral circuit.)

The song also appeared in, and on the soundtrack of, the movie “City of Angels,” one of the most successful films of 1998.

City of Angels

But, even with all of that, would this song be nearly so signature for McLachlan without those heartbreaking ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) commercials? Hard to say.

What we can say is those ASPCA commercials with their images of abused animals showing on-screen while “Angel” plays in the background certainly brought the song back into public consciousness in an unforgettable way in 2008.

Angel Songwriters

“Angel” was written by Sarah McLachlan.

Angel Lyrics

You spend all your time waiting
For that second chance
For a break that would make it okay

There’s always some reason
To feel not good enough
And it’s hard at the end of the day

I need some distraction
Oh, beautiful release
Memories seep from my veins

Let me be empty
Oh, and weightless
And maybe I’ll find some peace tonight

In the arms of the angel
Fly away from here
From this dark, cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear

You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You’re in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort here

So tired of the straight line
And everywhere you turn
There’s vultures and thieves at your back

The storm keeps on twisting
Keep on building the lies
That you make up for all that you lack

It don’t make no difference
Escape one last time
It’s easier to believe

In this sweet madness
Oh, this glorious sadness
That brings me to my knees

In the arms of the angel
Fly away from here
From this dark, cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear

You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You’re in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort here

You’re in the arms of your angel
May you find some comfort here

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