The Fray is one of those bands that are hard to define. Their music is perhaps best called piano-driven power Pop-Rock. But that doesn’t exactly describe a sound. Their songs are all about life and its trials and tribulations. Yet, that doesn’t exactly define their content. But, what does help to pin this band down is strong songwriting and melodies that are pure, bittersweet works of art.
This band has been through a lot in the past two decades. They’ve toured extensively, released four strong albums, received Grammy nominations, and won Billboard Music Awards. And they’ve written a pile of great songs. But what are the top 10 The Fray songs in this band’s history? I know what I’d choose.
The History of The Fray
The Denver group, The Fray, started in 2002 as a singer-songwriter duo. Singer-guitarists Isaac Slade and Joe King (I’m not being funny – this is his real name) grew up together and started playing music together when they reunited after their school years.
Their musical and thematic interests centered around Pop, Rock, and Gospel, and their experience in worship bands. There’s a definite Christian leaning in many of their songs. Although, they state that they felt that God directed them into secular music.
They started with Caleb Slade, Isaac’s brother, on bass, with Zach Johnson on drums and Mike Ayars on lead guitar. Isaac Slade did most of the lead vocals and also played piano. The band soon changed, and Caleb was replaced on bass by Dan Battenhouse, while Dave Welsh took over on lead guitar. And Ben Wysocki became the band’s permanent drummer.
In 2002 and 2003, they put out two EPs…
They dropped How to Save a Life in 2005, and it got them a lot of attention. Their songs were moving in the charts and even being used in other media. They embarked on a world tour and grew their audience at home and abroad.
In 2008, they released The Fray, strangely their self-titled but 2nd album. This was the album the band had hoped to make the first time around. Thankfully, this time they were able to succeed with more time, money, and support from their label. They followed this with their Christmas EP in 2009, with covers of carols.
Since then, the band hasn’t produced any new music and also stopped touring in 2019. And then, in 2022, Isaac Slade left the band to focus on other projects. So, for now, this is a band with the brakes on. But, who knows? We might not have heard the last of The Fray yet.
Top 10 The Fray Songs
“Over My Head (Cable Car)” (2005)
While it was included in 2005’s How to Save a Life, the song “Over My Head” was originally released as a single called “Cable Car.” This is The Fray’s breakout song, one which got the attention of fans and won them a record contract. It’s written by Isaac Slade and is actually about his relationship with his brother, Caleb, who was asked to leave the band early on.
This song is a mid-tempo Pop-Rock song that’s led by Slade’s piano. The bass work here dances around brilliantly, free to fly around as the piano holds things down. At the same time, the guitars fill out the song and give it body. And Slade wrings happiness and sadness from his vocals in equal measure.
“All At Once” (2005)
The next track from How to Save a Life that deserves a place in The Fray’s Top 10 songs is the lovely “All At Once.” This song is a perfect Pop-Rock composition. The guitars take a bigger role here, but the piano is still prominent in the mix. And, as before, the bass gets to play and give this song a great texture.
This is a mid-tempo rocker that really tugs at the heartstrings. It has a pretty bouncy and happy feel, but it’s underpinned by a minor chord or two that infuses the song with some melancholy. After all, this is a song about struggling with an on-again-off-again relationship and trying to come to terms with it not being perfect.
“Look After You” (2005)
Another great song from The Fray’s 2005 debut album is “Look After You.” This song is slower, softer, and a fair bit sadder. It’s more of a ballad and is focused on Slade singing and playing the piano. The band supports him softly, and so does a small orchestra of strings.
In this song, Slade implores someone to be his romantic partner, promising to “Look After You.” There’s a strong case for a Coldplay comparison here, but only in the composition. This song still definitely sounds like a Fray song and one of their best to boot.
“How to Save a Life” (2005)
The title track from How to Save a Life was another track that got the band some big attention in the mid-2000s. “How to Save a Life” has just such a perfect melody that it’s impossible not to love. It starts with a soft piano and Sloane singing. The band comes in with a great beat, full bass, and guitar that creates an excellent ambient sound to fill this song out.
“How to Save a Life” is The Fray’s top single so far. It was used as the main intro for the TV medical comedic drama “Gray’s Anatomy“. Additionally, it was even nominated for a Grammy though it didn’t end up winning. This song is also quite mournful because it was written about a young man who was quite self-destructive and out of control.
“You Found Me” (2009)
The next four songs on my list of the top 10 The Fray songs all come from their 2nd full-length studio album, 2009’s self-titled The Fray. This album, although similar in sound and composition to their debut, gave the band more room to experiment and perfect their sound. And one song they did both is “You Found Me.”
This song is perfectly mixed and blended, creating a smooth Adult Contemporary sound underpinned by a Rock beat. The song has fast and slow, quiet and loud parts, and this contrast fills it up with feeling. Also, the guitars and piano work together so well to create a big, beautiful, and super-full sound.
The Fray also hosted “Absolute,” one of the band’s most underrated tracks. This song is led by a cool guitar arpeggio and a strong drum beat. The vocal work stands out here, with Slade singing the lead as usual while Joe King provides perfect backing vocals.
This song comes off with a huge amount of passion and energy. But, at the same time, it’s super smooth. Furthermore, this is one of the band’s few songs that you can jump up and rock out to.
“Say When” (2009)
On their sophomore album, The Fray have two tracks telling you what to say, but they’re very different. “Say When” is a faster, impassioned Pop-Rock song driven by the piano and a strong beat.
This is a song about being ready to love someone and just waiting for them to take you up on the offer. It’s also about the idea of saving them from a destructive past and a looming future. This theme gives it an urgency which is reflected in Slade’s intense singing and King’s and Welsh’s expressive guitar work.
“Never Say Never” (2009)
On the other hand, “Never Say Never” is a slow burner of a tune. It starts with Slade singing sweetly over the piano before the band comes in with a slow, rocking beat. Also, sweeping strings help the emotions carry you away and transport you into a dream.
This song is about taking a relationship that is starting to crumble and making it right. It’s an impassioned plea to stay together and make things work. If you’ve ever found yourself at that point, you’re going to get drawn in by this tune.
The band’s next album was released in 2012 and was a more aggressive (but just a little) record with a bit more edge. Scars & Stories is home to “Heartbeat,” a powerful Pop-Rock track with great energy. The verses are sung fast and full of urgency. And then, the chorus is slower but bigger and fuller.
This song is a celebration of passionate love, and it has that big love energy. The drums blast here, and the bass is heavy and holds down the fort. The piano and guitars blend with backing vocals to create a huge ambiance that’s sweet, luxurious, and totally delicious.
“Love Don’t Die” (2014)
The last song on my list of the Top 10 songs by The Fray comes from their latest album, 2014’s Helios. This song is something very different from this normally more-ambient band. It’s a heavy stomping, Country-inspired rocker.
The song is high-energy and can get you up on your feet singing along. Slade’s vocals are straight-ahead and fun, while the rest of the band plays fast and loose, creating what I think is The Fray’s most fun song ever!
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The Top 10 The Fray Songs of All Time
The Fray got their start back in 2002, and now, 20 years later, they’re on a hiatus. We don’t know what to expect from them next, if anything at all. And sadly, lead singer Isaac Slade has recently left the group. At the same time, they’ve already grown and changed their sound and songwriting so much in the past two decades that they could go anywhere they want.
This band was once focused on Coldplay-like Power-Pop ballads. But, they learned to expand their sound to include other influences and new experimentations. One thing we always get from The Fray is a thick, layered, lush sound creating a beautiful atmosphere in their music. I hope they’ll give us more.
Until next time, enjoy the music.