The Personal Meaning Behind “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips

Wilson Phillips’ name is synonymous with their career-defining hit, “Hold On.” Comprised of sisters Carnie and Wendy Wilson, the daughters of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, and Chynna Phillips, daughter of the late John Phillips and his ex-wife Michelle Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas, the trio has released five albums, beginning with their blockbuster 1990 self-titled debut.

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Their streak of five hit singles was led by the debut “Hold On” which launched them to the top of the charts. Below, we look at the meaning behind “Hold On.”

Meaning Behind the Song

The song was co-written by the trio’s Carnie Wilson, Phillips, and hit songwriter Glen Ballard, the latter of whom is the producer behind Alanis Morissette’s classic album, Jagged Little Pill, and was involved in several of Michael Jackson’s albums, including Thriller.

Ballard had the melody of an incomplete song that he presented to Wilson and Phillips to help with the lyrics. Despite its cheerful melody, the song is deeply personal for Phillips and born out of a period of her life when she was battling substance abuse.

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Phillips was in Alcoholics Anonymous at the time she wrote the lyrics that received resounding support from her co-writers when she presented it to them.

“I was really in a dark space when that lyric was written,” Phillips expressed on The Kelly Clarkson Show, noting that she was dealing with drug abuse and was in a bad relationship at the time. “I was really at a point in my life where I felt like I was at a crossroads and if I didn’t get my life together and stop doing drugs…I was in a lot of pain and I just said, ‘If I don’t change my course, I’m going to be in a lot of trouble’ So I knew that I was at a crossroads that I either had to hold on for one more day or just die.”

That sentiment became the core focus of the song, the lyrics sounding almost autobiographical as the first verse speaks of feeling locked up in chains and living in pain. Phillips translates that message directly into the signature lyrics in the chorus as the trio sings don’t you know things can change?/Things’ll go your way/If you hold on for one more day/Can you hold on for one more day?/Things’ll go your way/Hold on for one more day.

On the Radio

Phillips managed to pull herself out of her struggles and recalls hearing the song for the first time on the radio on her birthday, February 12. “What a great gift that was,” she says. Bandmate Carnie recalls that the group was driving through Tennessee at the time they heard the song on the radio, the memory reaffirming their passion for music. “Just knowing that we were so young when this happened—we were on tour, we didn’t know anything except we were a group, we loved to sing and we were just embraced by the world and we’re grateful for that,” Carnie professed.

The Message Today

While on The Kelly Clarkson Show, Wilson revealed that she’s been sober for 15 years, asserting that the song’s message is as relevant today as it was when it was released. “I need it now, in this world, in this time,” she says. “You need inspiration like this and songs that can help get you through it.”

“Hold On” became Wilson Phillips’ first No. 1 hit when it topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1990 and was nominated for multiple Grammy Awards. The song rose to national attention two decades after its release when it was featured in the 2011 film Bridesmaids, wherein Wilson Phillips makes an appearance as themselves performing the track.

Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images

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