Before Derek saves some lives in Grey’s Anatomy season 11, episode 21, let’s take a look at the journey of the episode’s namesake, “How to Save a Life.”
The music on Grey’s Anatomy carries highs and lows of the series, giving them the emotional punch viewers have come to love. But the show is also responsible for carrying the music to its own high. The match made in musical heaven arrived in early 2006 as The Fray’s second single, “How to Save a Life,” had not only the perfect title, but an equally perfect arrangement to score the montage of surgeries in season 2, episode 21, “Superstition.”
The beginning of The Fray’s journey with “How to Save a Life” is strikingly similar to the doctors in the beginning of the episode. The second song off of the band’s debut album by the same name, “How to Save a Life,” began its journey to the charts following closely behind its predecessor “Over My Head (Cable Car).” That is until Grey’s Anatomy‘s musical director heard the band live and took the song from head-bopping radio hit to fandom sensation.
As the piano begins to fade in near the end of the episode, the hospital staff prepares to counter a series of deaths as the tally ticks toward a superstitious seven. Nothing stops the surgeries, and the doctors run through their own superstitious practices as we see Bailey praying, Addison fixing a gold pin to her scrubs, Burke hunting down his lucky scrub cap, and Derek announcing that it is a “beautiful day to save lives.”
As Grey’s Anatomy‘s second season drew to a close, the series and the song were already well on their way to household notoriety. The finale episode left viewers with Izzie and the group leaving Denny Duquette’s death bed, while Burke recovered from a gunshot wound, and Meredith faced the decision to either leave the hospital prom with Finn (Chris O’Donnell) or break up Derek’s marriage.
(This episode, “Losing My Religion,” also featured a song that would also see huge commercial success from the series, Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars.”)
As fans counted down the days until the Grey’s Anatomy season 3 premiere, they had the help of “How to Save a Life” scoring the teasers and most of the promotional material in the fall of 2006. This also led to a music video produced by ABC for the song:
The song’s success has a great deal to do with its connection to the ABC medical drama. In fact, on Billboard’s chart tracking, “How to Save a Life” is The Fray’s biggest hit to date, spending well over a year on the Hot 100, peaking at number 3, and has gone platinum three times. This is in part due to its success after its inclusion on Grey’s Anatomy Original Soundtrack: Vol. 2.
“How to Save a Life” has already resurfaced on the show in the episode that we dare not speak its name in season 7 as the doctors sang the song over the body of Callie as her baby was delivered. The song itself has not lost steam on television or outside of it since its inclusion, remaining a staple on most Top 40 and alternative stations as well as a on The Fray’s touring set list.
The week’s episode takes the song’s name as its title and we are honestly shocked it took this long for one to do so. But timing is everything and as Derek’s disappearance is explained, it becomes clear that to save a life, it may mean sacrificing the well-being of one’s own. Until then, press play and enjoy the waves of nostalgia from years past.
Watch Grey’s Anatomy season 11, episode 21, “How to Save a Life,” Thursday, April 23 at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.