The Story of Pop: 2002 (Chapter 30)

With the big hits from the year that saw the outrageous antics of Footballers’ Wives hit our TV screens, and when Keira Knightley starred in the Brit flick Bend It Like Beckham, this is The Story of Pop: 2002. This week: a song which needs introduction only by piano…

  • Artist: Vanessa Carlton
  • Song: A Thousand Miles
  • Released: 22/07/2002
  • Writers / Producers: Vanessa Carlton / Ron Fair / Curtis Schweitzer
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #6
  • Weeks on Chart: 23

After a good solid three years of poptastic, all-singing and all-dancing ladies, 2002 was absolutely a bit of a renaissance commercially for those who were a bit more creative, that wrote and performed their own music. 90s stalwarts of the contemporary singer-songwriter genre, including Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow, both released brand new albums this year for example.

And there was also a new generation coming through too; from the sophisticated jazz and blues of Norah Jones, through to the spirited pop-rock of Michelle Branch. And this week’s featured artist unquestionably fell into that bracket too – with a song that was to be inescapable wherever you went in the world that year.

Born in Milford, Pennsylvania in 1980 as one of three to a pilot dad and a pianist / music teacher mum, Vanessa Carlton was initially all set for a career in ballet, training at the American School of Ballet in New York City at the age of 14 in 1994. But it was her earlier childhood love of music that was to prevail in the end, and in particular that of the classical music that her mum had exposed her to at the age of 2.

And so instead she embarked on her dream of pursuing a career in music. After being introduced through showcasing to singer-songwriter Peter Zizzo, she recorded some demos with him that in turn ended up in the hands of Jimmy Iovine at A&M Records, who signed her on the spot. Vanessa then set to work on tracks for an album, but none seemed to be quite hitting the mark and she felt there was a great lack of direction from her record label.

But it was when one track in particular, then titled “Interlude”, with a distinctive pizzicato piano riff she had composed as far back as 1998 at her parents’ house, reached the ears of one Ron Fair, who was then president of A&M Records, that things started happening. He set about producing and arranging “Interlude” with full orchestration and instrumentation into the song that would eventually become “A Thousand Miles”.

Written by Vanessa about an unrequited crush she had on a fellow student at The Julliard School for Performing Arts in New York, whom she had met in her time at the American School of Ballet, she described it as “a combination of reality and fantasy. It’s about a love that so consumes you that you do anything for it. That’s how I felt at that time.”

Audiences on both sides of the Atlantic were already aware of it, as the finished version was heard on the soundtrack of the 2001 film Legally Blonde starring Reese Witherspoon. When finally released the following year, as her debut single from her first album Be Not Nobody, “A Thousand Miles” promptly went stellar.

Accompanied by its memorable Marc Klasfield directed promo video, which saw Carlton drive a piano around downtown Los Angeles, on the Billboard charts in America, it was a top 5 smash, whilst here in the UK it initially charted on import sales alone at #93.

On it’s full UK release at the end of July, it stormed into the top 10 at #6 and went onto to stay on the chart for the rest of that summer. As a solo artist, however, it was to be Vanessa Carlton’s only huge hit of that scale in this country.

She would have one more brush with UK chart success in 2003, when she was a guest  vocalist on Counting Crows‘ cover version of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” for the soundtrack of Hugh Grant / Sandra Bullock romcom Two Weeks Notice, which hit the top 20 and made the top 50 on the Billboard charts.

Two years later was when one of the more lasting legacies of “A Thousand Miles” was established, thanks to it’s extensive use in the 2004 comedy caper White Chicks, starring Marlon and Shawn Wayans, where Terry Crews sang an improvised version of the song that has changed how many people view it to this day!

But perhaps crucially what Vanessa Carlton did with this song was formally usher in a new era in the 21st century of female pop performers and writers, who were keen to do things on their terms and offer up something that was a break from the norm. This is perhaps the greatest success of all of a song like “A Thousand Miles”.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 2002. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop2002.

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