The song first hit the UK chart in November 2003, peaking at #32. Constant radio airplay and a well-received performance at the Glastonbury festival led to its re-release the following summer, whereupon the single charged up to #19. The song finally became a Top 10 hit in 2011 after 23-year-old maths teacher John Adams performed it in his X Factor audition.
This only became a mainstream hit after Rice's record label insisted on remixing the track to beef up the production, much to the Irish singer-songwriter's chagrin. He recalled in an interview with Irish magazine Hotpress: "They came to me and said, 'Are you open to people doing remixes of your songs?' And I thought, 'Cool'. To me, a remix was a really artistic interesting take on the song, you know. And I was like, 'Yeah, absolutely'. So they sent me back some remix from somebody in the States, and I was like, 'This is terrible. It just sounds cheesy'. So then, they said, 'Oh we'll try somebody else'. After about 10 different remixes of different songs, I was like, 'This is awful. Can you just stop this? Who is paying for this?' You know, probably me. So I was like, 'Stop!'
And I remember my management at the time going, 'Will you just give us something that we can get on radio, because we just can't sell this unless we can get it on radio'. And I remember at the time I wrote a contract with them, and I said, 'Okay, if you never mention the word 'remix' to me again, then I will let you use this one remix'. And so myself and my manager wrote a little contract. And so they used the 'Cannonball' remix. But I remember there was a bit of fighting, you know, it took a bit of clashing before getting to a comfortable place with that, because it drove me nuts. I felt like, 'Why are people trying to change this? What's wrong? Trying to sell it? Sell what? Why?' To me it had already sold more than I had ever dreamt it would sell. And so I didn't have a concept of beyond 5,000."
The song has been featured in a number of television series including Bones, The O.C. and The L Word.
This was covered by 2011 X Factor winners Little Mix and released the day after they won the competition. It debuted at #1 selling 210,000 copies in its first week.
Ed Sheeran listed this as his #1 "Songs That Made Me" in a 2015 Rolling Stone feature. Said Sheeran: "Seeing Damien Rice perform when I was 11 changed my life forever... I went straight home and started writing songs."
Natalie Imbruglia covered the tune on her 2014 tribute to male artists, Male. The Australian singer told Entertainment Weekly: "Damien just takes you into his little universe, and he's got quite a unique-sounding voice. It's intimidating taking on a lot of these songs, especially when they do stripped-back versions of things anyway. But this is one where I think that instantly when it's a female voice, it's not a direct comparison. I'm very much about lyrics and using music as a way to get things off my chest."