Was there a more popular song in the mid-1990s?
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Perhaps there were songs that made more money or boasted more radio plays, but amongst people worldwide, did this song not make the biggest impression? Just start singing the first two words with a falsetto voice in any public space: “You say….” and you’ll likely have an instant chorus of strangers to back you up.
In fact, the lyrics in the opening stanza are:
I only hear what I want to
And you say
I talk so all the time, so
That’s right, Lisa Loeb’s smash hit song, “Stay (I Missed You),” was all over the airwaves after its release in May 1994.
The track, which was the lead single from the original soundtrack of the signature ‘90s movie Reality Bites was written and performed by Loeb, and originally written around 1990 (after Loeb graduated from Brown University and started her band, Nine Stories) for a potential musical project from Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oates).
But that’s where the magic begins.
After deciding to keep the song for herself, Loeb’s NYC friend and neighbor, the famed actor Ethan Hawk, heard the song and sent it to producer/actor Ben Stiller, who directed Reality Bites. The rest is pop culture history.
Soon, the easy-listening pop song became a No. 1 hit on Billboard, which garnered Loeb the distinction of being the first U.S. artist to land that spot despite not being signed to any label.
“Stay (I Missed You)” was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance Duo or Group but ultimately lost out to All 4 One’s hit, “I Swear.”
“At the time I was having arguments with my boyfriend, who was actually my co-producer as well—we made records together,” Loeb told Songfacts of the inspiration for the “breakup” song. “And then I go off into some other areas: I remember somebody close to me was going through severe, severe depression. A lot of times in my songs, I get into some phase where I describe some other situation, and there’s a whole verse in there about somebody who is very, very depressed. But yeah, it was a story about a breakup I was going through and that situation where it’s gotten into your head too much.”
For the now-53-year-old Maryland-born Loeb, the song remains a calling card. Whether she’s selling her trademark “cat-eye” eyeglasses or performing her new batch of Grammy Award-winning kids’ songs, the track remains her most signature achievement.
That is partially the case because the song’s music video was also everywhere in the mid-‘90s. Who didn’t want to walk around that big apartment building, dashing around pillars as Loeb did seemingly millions of times on our televisions?
Speaking to this Seattle publication three years ago, Loeb said the hit song afforded her numerous professional freedoms. As such, she still loves playing the tune today at shows.
“I have to say, it was pretty much all freedoms. Some musicians don’t love playing hit songs all the time, but I personally love it,” Loeb said. “As a music listener, I love hearing people’s hit songs. I feel like I think about that a lot. I can see it from different perspectives. People want to hear the songs they know. Like, yesterday, a couple of us played music in front of the congresspeople and senators and the [cell] phones came out, there were tears. People have a connection to the song and it’s just such a magic feeling to play a song that connects to people like that.
“It’s also a gateway song into my other music. It’s a song that leads people to come hear me play my other songs. But also, creatively, having a hit song that goes No. 1, it’s an amazing thing. I wasn’t signed to a label yet. And the people in the industry assumed I had to have–that I needed–my creative freedom. They understood. All the creative people I work with and the business people I work with, when I’m making creative things, they understand I need a lot of creative control and I’m used to having creative control.”
And thanks to the track being so ubiquitous then, it remains a mainstay in culture today. Thank goodness we never had to say goodbye and thank goodness we never had to truly sing for the last time:
And I thought what I felt was simple
And I thought that I don’t belong
And now that I am leaving
Now I know that I did something wrong
‘Cause I missed you
Yeah I missed you
(See the full batch of lyrics here.)
Photo credit: Estelle Massry/CouCou Photography