by Sean Smith
Today marks 18 years to the day that Jewel released her second studio album Spirit. The 1998 album was the long awaited follow up project to her wildly successful 1995 debut album Pieces of You, which since it’s release has gone 12 times platinum.
When Jewel burst onto the national music scene in 1995 with her debut album, the singer/songwriter made the stripped down sound of folk music regain some of the popularity that the genre had lost in the years since the genre was in its heyday decades prior. With the release of her 1998 album Spirit, Jewel proved that the success she found with her brand of folk music on Pieces of You was not just a passing fancy. Rather, she discovered that she had tapped into an audience who found value in the depth and sincerity of her lyrics. Fans of music that has a message. Music that can speak to an experience or emotion, describe the indescribable.
For this week’s edition of #tbt here on Clizbeats I want to take a moment to look back on and remember the very first single from Jewel’s Spirit album, “Hands.”
“Hands” was released in November of 1998 to radio as the lead promotional single for Jewel’s Spirit album. However, unlike most singles being put out at that time, her record label Atlantic Records did not release a physical single of “Hands” for fans to go out to the store and purchase. The reason for this was simple. At that time in the music industry artists were starting to sell more copies of single songs and less complete albums. Therefore, causing artists and their labels to generate less overall profit. The thinking by Atlantic was to force fans of Jewel to purchase her full album and not just buy the single. The plan seemed to work in this case, as Spirit debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 album chart selling close to 370,000 units in its first week.
The song “Hands” itself, was written by Jewel with the help of famed producer and songwriter Patrick Leonard, who also produced the album as a whole. Jewel talked about the origins of the song’s lyrics in the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song.
“I wrote the lyrics to this song when I was 18 and homeless. I had been living in a place I was renting and had a job at a computer warehouse where I answered phones. I had no money at all and was living paycheck to paycheck and still didn’t have money for food. My boss propositioned me and when I wouldn’t agree, he withheld my paycheck and wouldn’t even acknowledge me when I went to his office and asked for it. My landlord was nice, but said that if he didn’t get paid he would have to kick me out, which he did soon after.”
“I thought I would sleep in my car until I could get another job. I got really sick with kidney problems and got infections because I couldn’t afford medications or doctors. When I tried to go to the emergency room, I almost died in my car in the parking lot because they turned me away since I had no insurance. One nice doctor saw me and helped me and even got me the medicine I needed.”
“I’m not proud of this, but I was so broke that I shoplifted. The only thing I took was food, carrots and peanut butter. I couldn’t keep a job because I kept getting sick. Then the car I was living in got stolen. I was walking by a store window and saw a dress I really wanted. I remember it was $39. I’d never taken anything like that before and when I even considered it, I realized that I must have lost all faith in myself if I didn’t think I would be able to afford $39. I knew then that I had to regain self-confidence. That’s when I wrote the lyrics to this song.”
“Hands” was recieved well commercially when it was released in 1998. The song was a Top 10 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, and charted decently well on some international charts as well. The song received a second life in the days following the September 11 attacks. It was remixed and played on stations across the country. A week after the attacks, on September 18, Jewel performed “Hands” on the late night program Late Show with David Letterman.
So with Jewel releasing her second studio album Spirit on this day in 1998, this week we take a few minutes to recall the very personal and poignant single “Hands.” Enjoy.