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The song reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and is Train's highest-charting song to date. As of September 21, 2012, it had sold over 6 million digital copies in the US. It was the top-selling song on the iTunes Store in 2010, and the second overall best-selling song in the US in 2010. It is also the band's most commercially successful single to date, reaching number one in 16 countries. The single received a 6x platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on September 21, 2012, signifying sales of over 6 million copies. The live iTunes version of "Hey, Soul Sister" garnered a Grammy Award for Train at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards. The song was not eligible for any Grammy Award in the General Field.
At first, I tried to do it by using a guitar pick, and it didn't sound right. I had to go online and Google a ukulele lesson and noticed they're not using picks at all; it's more of a flamenco style. Once I got that down, then it sounded like the real deal.
--Lead guitarist Jimmy Stafford, on having to learn to play ukulele as requested by lead singer Patrick Monahan in the recording of "Hey, Soul Sister"
After collaborating with the Norwegian production duo Espionage (Espen Lind and Amund Bjørklund) in the writing and recording of the track "Brick by Brick", Train's lead singer Pat Monahan decided to record another track with the duo.
I said, 'I want to write an INXS-y song. So, they started playing kind of an INXS-y song, and I wrote the song 'Hey, Soul Sister' to it and the melodies and started to sing it. And I said, 'Man, this just doesn't sound great to me.'
-- Pat Monahan, on wanting to write a song in INXS' style.
One of the guys, Espen, who's like a huge star in Norway, picked up a ukulele, and said, 'Hey, how about this?' I said, 'Are you (kidding) me?' And it made the difference. It made my words dance. It made sense. These words were meant to dance with ukulele and not guitar.
-- Pat Monahan
There's super catchy riffs and melodies in it, which I think are way more important that any production trick or great-sounding vocal production. It's kind of us going backward so we can go forward.
--Pat Monahan, on the band's return to its folk rock roots
"Hey, Soul Sister" is a mid-tempo pop song. Written in the key of E major, the beat is set in common time and moves at 97 bpm.
The song is characterized by a signature pattern played on a ukulele, that follows a basic E5 - B - C#m - A progression in the verse, tag and bridge, switching to an A - B - E5 - B progression in the chorus. The song's chord structure is arranged in an A B A B A B A form. It rhymes "sister" with "Mr. Mister."
Lyrically, Stafford admitted the inspiration for the song came about while Monahan was imagining what Burning Man must be like, and started penning lyrics inspired by the imagery he saw:
The story lyrically, I've heard Pat talk about this in interviews. He's always heard of Burning Man. Somewhere in Reno Nevada's desert, they do it every year. It's this whole city in the desert that gets built for a festival that happens every year. They build a huge man out of wood and at the end of the festival they burn it. Pat had never been to Burning Man, but he had an image in his head of what it must be like. All these beautiful women dancing around the fire. That was the imagery he conjured up when he was writing the lyrics to, "Hey, Soul Sister." It's a pretty big deal. Thousands and thousands of people go to it every year. People run around naked and I guess it's a total crazy deal.
Monahan has since confirmed this in several radio interviews.
The video was filmed in front of Chango Coffee at the corner of Morton Ave and Echo Park Ave in Echo Park, Los Angeles, California. The video intercuts images of Train singing with a woman walking around her apartment and a man (actor Andrew Craghan) painting the words to the song on the landscape. Eventually the two meet each other in the street in front of the band.
It has also been played in several TV shows as CSI: NY in the episode "Second Chances", Hellcats in its first episode and Medium, in chapter 6x03 "Pain killer". It has also been played in the Canadian TV show Being Erica, in chapter 3x11. "Hey, Soul Sister" can also be heard on "Ko'olauloa", the sixth episode of Hawaii Five-0, where it was sung and played live by Aidan James.
The song was performed on ABC's Dancing with the Stars on May 4, 2010 and on America's Got Talent on July 21, 2010. A cover of the song was also performed by "Munch's Make Believe Band," the animatronic show located at Chuck E. Cheese's restaurants. The Dixie Chicks covered this song while on their 2010 tour with The Eagles.
"Hey, Soul Sister" debuted at #98 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ended October 17, 2009, becoming their first charting single in five years. On the week of January 30, 2010, in its 16th week on the Hot 100 chart, "Hey, Soul Sister" leaped to #7 from #23 on an 81% digital single sales increase from the previous week, thus becoming Train's second career Top Ten hit on the chart. It reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the week of April 10, 2010, and it is their highest on the chart to date, even surpassing their 2001 hit, Drops of Jupiter, which peaked at #5. The song climbed to #1 on the Hot Digital Songs chart for the week of April 10, 2010, and stayed in the top spot for three weeks. As of the January 20, 2011 issue of Billboard, "Hey, Soul Sister" had spent 22 weeks at number one on the Adult Contemporary chart.
The single sold 687,000 copies in 2009 which made it that year's #131 song. It went on to sell 3,319,000 more units in the first half of 2010 and 42 weeks after its release still stood at number 16 on the Hot 100 chart. By the end of December 2010, it had sold 4,310,000 digital copies, becoming the second biggest selling digital song of that year. By the end of January 2011, it had sold over 5 million digital copies.
As of January 2014, the song had sold 6,417,000 digital units in the United States, one of the biggest-selling digital singles by a rock band since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking download sales in 2003.
In addition to revitalizing Train's career in their native country, "Hey, Soul Sister" has also become a big international hit; it was #1 on the official Dutch and Australian singles charts for 7 weeks and 4 weeks, respectively, and also became their first Irish number one single. The single charted at #2 in New Zealand (their highest in the country to date), and reached #3 on both the Canadian and Belgian singles charts.
On April 24, 2010, "Hey, Soul Sister" debuted on the UK Singles Chart at #64, marking the band's first appearance on the chart since "She's On Fire" reached a peak of #49 in 2001. On May 2, 2010, the single climbed into the UK Top 40 at #36 and has since reached a peak of #18. It has been in the official charts for 79 weeks.
In Canada the song became the sixth-best-selling of 2010 with 244,000 copies.