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‘Parachutes’: How Coldplay Went Skywards With Their Sweeping Debut Album
In Depth

‘Parachutes’: How Coldplay Went Skywards With Their Sweeping Debut Album

A breath of fresh air when it took off, Coldplay’s debut album, ‘Parachutes’, was a wispy blend of acoustic folk and bittersweet balladry.

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As anxiety loomed at the dawn of a new millennium, the London-based alternative-rock group Coldplay emerged on the music scene with a mellow and introspective sound that would quickly come to define the era. Though nobody expected them to become global superstars in such a short space of time, the band’s debut album, Parachutes, instantly lit up the post-Britpop landscape upon its release in July 2000, aided by Chris Martin’s tender yet powerful vocals and delicate acoustic songwriting.

With folk-inflected melodies and poignant lyrics, Parachutes simply soared, its warm guitar tones and down-at-home charm captivating with a generation seeking relatability and emotional depth. With era-defining songs such as Trouble and Yellow bringing a deeply affecting touch of colour to BBC Radio 1’s A List programming, the album remains a timeless classic: a resonant and heartfelt musical experience that became one of the best-selling debut albums of the 21st century.

Here is the story of how Parachutes served as the launch pad for Coldplay’s meteoric rise to international fame, and why it remains such a powerful reminder of music’s ability to heal, console and uplift…

Listen to ‘Parachutes’ here.

The backstory: “We all had real Dick Whittington-type ambitions. Go to London, make your fortune”

Coldplay’s origins can be traced back to September 1996, when songwriter Chris Martin first met guitarist Jonny Buckland during freshers’ week at University College London. While playing pool at their student-union bar, the pair would bond over their shared passion for music, discussing artists such as Sting, U2, Jeff Buckley and Leonard Cohen. Further influenced by the bands they discovered at UCL, most notably Radiohead and Echo & The Bunnymen, Martin and Buckland began writing original material together, though at this point they lacked the crucial element of gigging experience.

In time, bassist and fellow-student Guy Berryman joined Martin and Buckland’s early musical endeavours, and the trio began to jam together in student digs at UCL’s Ramsay Hall. “[We all had] real Dick Whittington-type ambitions,” Martin later told NME magazine. “Go to London, make your fortune. Well, sort of.” The final addition to the band was drummer Will Champion, who initially rejected their offer but later joined after an impromptu rehearsal. As these four young and ambitious musicians started to play gigs at venues such as Camden’s Laurel Tree, securing bookings under the name Starfish before switching to Coldplay after seeing it on a list of potential band names drawn up by a friend, they began to hone their sound.

Coldplay’s early days were marked by steely ambition and dogged determination. Their eventual manager, Phil Harvey, funded their first demo sessions, at Sync City Studios (now Bally Studios), in Tottenham, and the resulting recording, the Safety EP, led to a pivotal gig at the Camden Falcon pub, where they caught the eye of Fierce Panda Records’ A&R Simon Williams, who offered to sign the group. Boosted by the support of an indie label for the release of their debut single, Brothers & Sisters, Coldplay began to attract a buzz, and soon received industry acclaim from the likes of NME and the BBC Radio 1 DJs Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley.

Before long, A&R scouts from major labels became interested in the group, and Coldplay eventually signed with Parlophone – the home of one of their biggest inspirations, Radiohead. Showcasing a fondness for atmospheric and ethereal folk-inspired ballads, the band’s second EP, The Blue Room, was supported with a set of nationwide tour dates, most notably NME’s Premier Tour in early 2000, for which they received glowing press coverage. From their humble beginnings at UCL to growing recognition, it was clear Coldplay were on the cusp of a mainstream breakthrough.

The recording: “In terms of music, it was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do”

After recording some songs at Orinoco Studios, in London, with The Beta Band producer Chris Allinson, Coldplay were dissatisfied with how their sound was shaping up. At one point, a frustrated Chris Martin even fired drummer Will Champion. “Things were going wrong in the studio and I told Will it was his fault,” Martin said in an interview with Q magazine. Soon regretting the decision, the singer invited Champion back into the fold, but the pressure of delivering the goods was clearly weighing heavily on his mind.

In late 1999, the band decamped to Rockfield Studios, in South Wales, with a new producer, Ken Nelson (Gomez, Badly Drawn Boy), and they started to make considerable progress. Written two years prior to the sessions, the song Shiver was instantly earmarked as Parachute’s lead single; released in March 2000, it was a spine-tingling blast of guitar-led catharsis that peaked at No.35 in the UK, thanks to Jonny Buckland’s shimmering guitar arpeggios and Chris Martin’s divine falsetto. “It’s a blatant Jeff Buckley attempt,” Martin later confessed in an interview with BBC Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles. “We were 21 and he was very much a hero, and as with those things it tends to filter through.”

A moment of nocturnal stargazing inspired Yellow, which would instantly claim its place among the best Coldplay songs. One evening, as darkness cloaked the idyllic Welsh countryside, the band stepped outside to stare up at the starlit sky. A lyric instantly popped into Chris Martin’s head, planting the seed of a song that wistfully expressed the awe and wonderment of that very moment. Though Martin has jokingly attributed the title’s colour choice to a copy of the Yellow Pages, a telephone directory of businesses, the song’s lyrics do, in fact, delve into themes of devotion and the willingness to go to great lengths for someone you deeply care about (“For you, I’d bleed myself dry”).

Inspired by Neil Young’s vocal style, Martin stepped into the recording booth and aimed to mimic the Canadian singer-songwriter’s distinctive inflections when singing the word “stars”. “The song had the word ‘stars’ and that seemed like a word you should sing in a Neil Young voice,” the singer is quoted as saying in the book Viva Coldplay!, by Martin Roach. Released as a single in June 2000, Yellow was promoted with an iconic music video, directed by James Frost, which featured a rain-soaked Chris Martin walking along Studland Bay, in Swanage. One of the best 2000s songs, it went on to peak at No.4 in the UK and, later, No.48 in the US. A major commercial breakthrough for Coldplay, Yellow is also today regarded as one of the best love songs of the past 30 years.

Though completing it had taken much perseverance and hard work, Coldplay’s debut album, Parachutes, proved how gracefully the group had overcome the creative disagreements that arose during the initial recording sessions. “In terms of music, it was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do,” Chris Martin later said. Despite the challenges they faced, the band’s unwavering dedication and relentless pursuit of perfection ultimately brought Parachutes to a point of readiness for its highly anticipated release.

The release: “The most important thing is that every song really got a feeling into it”

Released on 10 July 2000, a month after the breakout success of Yellow, Coldplay’s debut album, Parachutes, sold over 70,000 copies in its first week and peaked at No.1 in the UK, achieving the remarkable feat of outselling Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP. Boasting a unique blend of alternative rock, indie sensibilities and heartfelt ballads, Parachutes made an immediate impact, catapulting Coldplay to national stardom almost overnight. The album’s third single, the piano ballad Trouble, was released in October 2000. Peaking at No.1 in the UK, it further established Coldplay as the breakout group of the year.

From the sense of mystery surrounding Spies to the jazzy piano flourishes of its closing song, Everything’s Not Lost, Parachutes masterfully combined Jonny Buckland’s soaring electric guitar lines, Will Champion’s versatile percussion, Guy Berryman’s evocative bass work and Chris Martin’s delicate piano melodies to evoke feelings of both hope and melancholy. Illuminated by a sinuous bassline and finger squeaks on acoustic guitar, the gentle ballad Sparks is a highlight, as is High Speed, which is full of bubbling guitar lines and a swampy bass riff resembling The Beatles’ Come Together. Frequently dabbling in alternate tunings, Coldplay also proved that the raucous energy of Britrock forebears such as Oasis wasn’t the only way to win over hearts and minds.

Perhaps most importantly, among fans of alternative rock, Parachutes proved that there was a growing appetite for emotional vulnerability in music, with Chris Martin’s sensitivity shining through on lyrics that spelt out his longing for romance and connection. “The most important thing is that every song,” the singer later explained, “really got a feeling into it.” Whether apologising to Will Champion for his past indiscretions (“I never meant to cause you trouble/And I, I never meant to do you wrong”) or expressing his yearning for escapism (“I want to live in a wooden house/Where making more friends would be easy”), Martin ensured the songs on Parachutes were born of deep sincerity.

The fourth and final single released from the album, Don’t Panic, was one of the earliest songs Coldplay had written. Finally released as a single in March 2001, its lyrics showcased world-weary and small-“p” political sentiments that chimed with the times (“Bones, sinking like stones/All that we fought for”). By reflecting the disillusionment and frustration that many felt at the turn of the millennium, Coldplay captured the mood of a generation for whom political causes were losing their lustre, and ushered in a new style of songwriting that captured people’s post-Y2K blues.

The legacy: “We believed that it was the greatest album that we could ever make”

With Parachutes setting them on the path to becoming one of the best bands of the 2000s, Coldplay went on to win BRIT Awards in February 2001, for Best British Album and Best British Group. As Yellow began to receive significant radio play in the US, the group were propelled into the international spotlight and even won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 2002. While they would achieve even greater commercial success on subsequent albums such as A Rush Of Blood To The Head and X&Y, without Parachutes Coldplay’s trajectory might have been markedly different.

In the years since, Parachutes has gone on to sell over 13 million copies worldwide and, as a result, been lauded as one of the best (and best-selling) debut albums of all time. By not only garnering critical acclaim but also appealing to a wide audience, Coldplay’s debut album proved that Chris Martin’s deeply emotive and introspective music was uniquely capable of bringing comfort and meaning to millions of fans across the world. In many ways, Parachutes laid the foundation for the band’s remarkable journey, with many still regarding it as one of the best Coldplay albums.

“We worked incredibly hard,” Will Champion told Drum! magazine, “and we believed that it was the greatest record that we could ever make.” A testament to Coldplay’s unwavering dedication and belief in their craft, Parachutes still stands the test of time. It is an enduring work of melancholic beauty that remains an utterly spellbinding listen.

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