Coldplay's "Clocks" is one of the five tracks nominated for the Record of the Year Grammy, but it was nearly left off the band's 2002 album, A Rush of Blood to the Head.
As soon as frontman Chris Martin played his bandmates "Clocks," everyone knew it was special, but they didn't think they had time to include it on the LP. "We already had 10 songs for the album," said Ken Nelson, who produced the record, "and then Chris came in late one night and wrote 'Clocks' on piano."
As with most things Coldplay, the song is suffused in contrasts and contradictions. The sparse, delicate number is hardly loud, yet it's unquestionably urgent. At various moments, piano, drums and guitars gently wrangle for domination, suggesting the tune was painstakingly assembled, although that's hardly how it went down.
"It just arrived; it wasn't planned on at all," Martin told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "The riff just came out, and I showed it to [guitarist] Jonny [Buckland], and he wrote these cool chords underneath it, and we had a song that was mega."
But because they figured it was too late to get the song on A Rush of Blood to the Head, they made a demo of the track and included it on a CD they marked "Songs for #3," which featured pieces they planned to save for their third album. It was a friend who intervened and convinced Martin to tackle the track right away.
"He heard it and said, 'No, you must do that song now 'cause you're going on [in the lyrics] about urgency, and you're talking about keeping this song back. That doesn't make sense,' " Martin told the Plain Dealer.
As the members of Coldplay added their ideas to Martin's sparse, melodic music bed, "Clocks" became more than a pretty piano pop song. It achieved a dynamic tension that juxtaposed with the main piano line.
"As it was building with the bass and some of the guitars, we were all thinking, 'This is good,' " Nelson said. "I remember when Chris was doing the vocal, there were quite a few people in the room, and we were all just staring and thinking, 'My God, this is something really special.' "
In the lyrics to "Clocks," Martin seems to address the helplessness of being in a dysfunctional relationship he doesn't necessarily want to escape. "Lights go out and I can't be saved/ Tides that I tried to swim against," he sings at the beginning. The most poignant expression of ambivalence comes at the end of the second verse when Martin moans, "Come out upon my seas, curse missed opportunities/ Am I a part of the cure or am I part of the disease?"
"I reckon everybody questions whether they're useful to the world or not," Martin told MTV News shortly after the record's release. "Some people think they're doing marvelous things. Hitler thought he was doing great things for the world, and yet we'd all say, 'No, no, no, he was doing terrible things.' Some people would say that Coldplay is a great thing for music and the world. Other people would regard us as the devil incarnate, so of course it's always a conflict."
The other material on the CD marked "Songs for #3" is not currently being considered by Coldplay for their third record. The band is in a Liverpool, England, studio with Nelson working on 11 new songs, some of which were played during their last tour (see "Coldplay Enter London Studio To Begin Work On Third Album"). In a month, Coldplay will move to Air Studios in London to continue working on the album. No release date is scheduled.
"They want to take their time to make sure it's really, really strong," Nelson said. "They always want to deliver the best album they can, and this is going to be a fantastic album. I actually believe it's going to be stronger than A Rush of Blood to the Head."
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Check out the story behind each of the Record of the Year nominees: