In terms of rock music being played on the radio, you might say the ’90s were the last gasp of such an occurrence, with regards to its actual penchant for FEELING like a golden era of sorts. Matchbox Twenty is kind of a deceptively prominent denizen of this period, a band that wrote catchy songs that received prominent airplay that, still, critics and journal bigwigs don’t typically see fit to extol to the prized short list in rock history.
Of course, there are plenty of bands in history that received widespread exposure, pumped out songs that are internalized and sung along to, but yet fell perhaps short of elite canonizing positioning by the critics. In fact, if memory serves correctly, that’s part of the semantic vehicle of the new book on the band America, who had several popular hits such as “Horse with No Name”; “Sister Golden Hair” and “Ventura Highway,” among others.
I guess it just tickled me, though, to hear half of a bar singing along to “3 A.M.,” the third single off of Matchbox 20’s ’96 album Yourself of Someone Like You, and truthfully just their second BREAKTHROUGH chart-dweller, as with “Push” being a kind of ’97 summer anthem, I must confess to have never heard “Long Day” in my life, as far as I know. But I just THINK of the world as hating my music (I was 14 when “3 A.M.” came out and prone to long sessions at the public pool where the radio played Tonic, Blues Traveler, LIVE and the likes) and my enjoyment of it, as a result my listening to it being like a sort of guilty pleasure, as if embodying something like a trespasser or walking experiment, guinea pig. So when I think to myself that this song has truly stood the test of time and can soundtrack an episode of a whole table of people singing along to it in a public place, I KNOW that it’s actually classic in an objective sort of way, and I look back to all these spiny malcontents that ripped it, people who’ve probably never sung along to a song in a bar in their life, let alone written one that would soundtrack such an occasion, with an amused glint, if you will.
“3 A.M.” is a song that punches its meal ticket by simple, direct musical means, but, I think, some lyrics that extend beyond the boundaries of the mundane. I mean, how many new songs do you hear nowadays that are actually have discursive objectives that fall outside the realm of some conquest seeking, either romantic, professional or what have you? Really, in this way, it follows suit of its album mates “Push”; “Real World” and “Back 2 Good,” each of which peppers some distinction and real-life nuance into its message.
Matchbox 20’s 1997 dirge paints a sympathetic picture of an old lady, like a deeper and more elaborate incarnation of Pearl Jam’s “Elderly Woman behind the Counter in a Small Town.” It might be Rob Thomas’ mother about whom the tune is penned. I’m not really sure but at the same time it doesn’t matter and I’ll even go one step further — the fact of it not mattering IS THE WHOLE POINT. It’s a tale of the ubiquitous, universal human experience, of living life on this planet amidst disappointments and setbacks, in this case highlighting an individual who “only sleeps when it’s raining” and declares in titular poignancy “It’s 3 A.M. / I must be lonely”, the song itself getting by in avoiding being sappy, rather shimmying along at a brisk pace and with crisp rock and roll horsepower. It’s not the best song of the ’90s — it’s arguably not even the best song on the album, but drink to it, ’cause this sucker has survived.