David Gray wrote this for the British film This Year's Love, a romantic comedy set in the Camden Town area of London. The director, David Kane, was a big David Gray fan and asked him to compose the song. Gray had never written on commission before, but he welcomed the challenge. (Also, he needed the money: he had been dropped by his label and was paying out of pocket to make his White Ladder album.)
Gray had to use the title, but other than that, the song doesn't reflect the film. The lyric finds him with his back to the wall in a romantic sense, knowing that this year's love might be his last chance. He was writing in character - Gray had been married since 1993.
Gray wrote this song quickly in a fit of inspiration. He told Songfacts
: "I took the words 'this year's love' and started to play with them as a sort of melody, and then within an hour or so I'd written this song right then quickly, and made a quick recording of it - quite a primitive recording - and I sent off to the director, my manager and various interested people just to see what they thought. And to my enormous surprise, they came back saying they really liked it. I had no idea that it had any kind of power really - I was just following my instincts."
Gray appears in the This Year's Love movie as a bar singer. His songs "Sail Away," "Monday Morning," "Crazy" and "Shine" also appear in the film.
This song showed Gray that a commissioned work could be just as energized as a personal one, which taught him a lesson on inspiration. In his Songfacts interview, he explained: "It revealed that the idea of artistic purity and integrity is a purely notional decision. It's something that you prescribe to music for your own reasons because you want to believe these things are important, but in fact, something of high value can arrive through commission. Half of the Renaissance art was commissioned by rather unscrupulous people or the church, take your pick. So, it's what happens during the creative moment and the honesty and the skill involved in negotiating the truth that you're trying to deliver. That's what is important.
So, 'This Year's Love' was very revealing because it blew away a whole load of preconceived ideas that I accepted as having some truth to them. It blew those out of the water."
The White Ladder album was recorded in David Gray's home studio in England, but "This Year's Love" needed a real piano, so he did some bootstrapping, getting some cheap time on a Tuesday morning at a studio in Hampstead, where he played the piano part. He couldn't afford an orchestra: the strings came from a Roland Groovebox.
The video was directed by David Slade, whose credits include "Strange Little Girl" by Tori Amos and "Girl's Not Grey
" by AFI. It shows Grey and some other characters with personal rainclouds. They find solace at the end of the video when they come together in a desert setting.
This song soundtracks a key scene in the 2004 film The Girl Next Door
. After a geeky kid named Max brings a hot new girl to a party, bullies intervene. Max decides to make his move and pushes the bully away from the girl to snatch a kiss. This song plays as they make out.
John - Toronto, Canada
A number of movies and TV series have used this song in powerful scenes, notably the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy, where it appeared in the 2019 episode "Man On The Moon." It also played on a few episodes of the reality series The Bachelor in 2012, and in the films Wimbledon (2004) and Crazy/Beautiful (2001).
" is David Gray's most popular song, but "This Year's Love" has the highest streaming numbers thanks to Spotify, where it has shown up on a number of playlists.
was first released in Ireland, where Gray distributed copies independently in 1998. In 1999, "This Year's Love" was issued as a single there, but it didn't get released in the UK until 2001, after he secured a record deal. In Britain, it was the third of five charting singles from the album, following "Please Forgive Me
" and "Babylon," and preceding "Sail Away" and "Say Hello Wave Goodbye." In America, it wasn't released as a single.
Ed Sheeran is one of many artists to employ the stripped-down home recording method Gray innovated on White Ladder. Speaking on Gray's YouTube channel, Sheeran said: "'This Year's Love' is one of the best songs I've ever heard. It revolves around just a few chords, but it's so heart-wrenchingly brilliant."