On August 30, 2005, Death Cab For Cutie released its major label debut, Plans. It seems quaint now, but at the time it was somewhat a big deal that Seth Cohen’s favorite band had jumped from their long-time indie home, Barsuk Records, to Atlantic.
“We realized that we had all this bargaining power to go to a major label and have every detail fall in line the way we wanted it to—you know, the dream record contract that every band’s trying to get at some point,” frontman Ben Gibbard told The A.V. Club in 2005. “And Barsuk is a wonderful label, they’ve been amazing to us and continue to be amazing for us, but we made that very un-indie-rock move of actually succumbing to our ambition as a band, and saying, ‘You know what? I want as many people to hear this band as possible.’”
In that respect, Plans represented mission accomplished for Death Cab. The album, which was a slightly more polished, slightly more optimistic sequel to 2003’s Transatlanticism, went platinum and spawned two alternative radio hits, “Crooked Teeth” and “Soul Meets Body.” The record’s least-successful chart single, however, became one of the band’s signature songs. “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” a stark composition featuring Gibbard solo on acoustic guitar, went gold and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. (It lost to Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps.”)
On the surface, the song is about the romantic, Romeo & Juliet-caliber idea that not even death can stop a couple’s love affair. However, a close listen to the lyrics revealed plenty of subtle Gibbardian twists and turns on that theme: Although there’s an overt reference to fear spurred on by religion, the idea that someone is shuffling off this mortal coil is treated with comforting dignity and respect. The song is as much about easing someone’s passage into the afterlife as it is about eternal love.
Still, even the slightly morose subject matter didn’t stop the song from becoming a pop culture touchstone. An episode of Grey’s Anatomy was named after the song, while it was also included in an eighth season episode of Scrubs. (Fittingly, a Mischa Barton-starring 2012 movie was also named after the song.) “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” has also been covered by a slew of bands and artists, including Everclear, Bayside, Stars’ Amy Millan, Christina Perri, Amanda Palmer, Kina Grannis, and, most recently, Natalie Imbruglia. Listen to a few of these covers below, and be sure to have a tissue ready.
A Fine Frenzy: