One of the most popular songs to feature the mandolin, the Goo Goo Dolls’ 1998 hit “Iris” was written from the dramatic perspective of a visiting angel (played by Nicholas Cage) who falls in love with a human (Meg Ryan). The film — City of Angels — was a critical and commercial success, while “Iris” dominated the airwaves and has become a classic heard frequently on the radio and elsewhere.
The song’s actual popularity had to be measured indirectly due to a rule for Billboard’s Hot 100 list. In 1998, a song had to be released as a single to qualify for the list. However, “Iris” was never released as a single, but rather kept on the soundtrack album (and the Goo Goo Dolls’ album, Dizzy Up the Girl) to drive album sales.
These indirect measures confirmed that the song was a monster, with Billboard’s Airplay chart showing it in the top spot for 18 (non-consecutive) weeks.
When Billboard changed its rule about singles in December 2018, “Iris” was still at #6 — months after its initial release. It was surely a #1 song for weeks, with only a technicality blocking its certification as such. It reached #3 in the UK, and is one of the top selling songs of all time in Ireland.
Writing the song from the perspective of an angel willing to give up everything for love, lead singer Johnny Rzeznik wrote lyrics that may bring the song immediately to mind:
And I don’t want the world to see me
’Cause I don’t think that they’d understand
When everything’s made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am
Written in B with a deliberate, contemplative tempo, “Iris” has become the band’s staple live song. In the performance below, the drenching downpour only adds to the song’s impact. And Rzeznik’s voice? It’s one of the best ever for emotive rock.
For music geeks, the mandolin in the original recording was played by Tim Pierce, a session musician you may have seen chatting with Rick Beato.