How Enya's "Only Time" Became a Song of Healing

Enya in 2001
Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

How Enya's "Only Time" Became a Song of Healing

Enya was already known as a titan of New Age music by the dawn of the millennium. But "Only Time" proved to be the Irish singer's biggest hit ever.

Born and raised in County Donegal, Enya first gained notice as a member of Irish folk group Clannad before striking out on her own. Working with Clannad's manager Nicky Ryan as her producer and his wife Roma as lyricist, her solo career was met with considerable international success as the '80s became the '90s and the song "Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)" became a surprise Top 20 hit and a defining track in what would become known as New Age music. (Anyone who saw the ad for the mail-order album Pure Moods can assure you of that.)

Enya would take two years to record her fifth album, A Day Without Rain, and found herself changing things up a bit for the album. First, she and the Romas began incorporating strings into the overall sound of the record, and she found herself writing more lyrics about relationships - like "Only Time." "'Only Time' talks about telling people to take the time to find out - is the relationship you're in, is it the right one for you?" Enya told an interviewer. "Only time can tell that."

Nicky Roma and Enya developed one of the song's most memorable moments: an ethereal chorus of wordless vocals, one atop the other. "His musical influences are totally different to mine - his being The Beatles, Phil Spector, The Beach Boys," she said. "He merely asked me to be very spontaneous and to sing anything I felt that would enhance the melody I'd written. It was quite exciting, because you don't know what the ending is gonna be like."

"Only Time" received a big boost when it appeared on the soundtrack and in commercials for the romantic drama Sweet November, starring Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron. An unlikely remix by the Swiss American Federation soon popped up, setting the ethereal track to a dance beat. But it started picking up speed on the charts at a most unusual time: in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks later that year. In the face of unspeakable tragedy, Enya's uplifting tune became a song of healing. As a result, the girl from Donegal attained something she might not have expected: a Top 10 hit in America.

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