Release date: June 2002
Let Go is the debut album by Canadian singer-songwriter Avril Lavigne, released on June 4, 2002. For a year after signing a record deal with Arista, Lavigne struggled due to conflicts in musical direction. Lavigne relocated to Los Angeles, California, and recorded there her earlier materials for the album, the kind of sound of which the label was not amenable. She was paired to the production team The Matrix, who understood her vision for the album.
The album was credited as the biggest pop debut of 2002. It was released to generally positive critical reviews, although Lavigne's songwriting received some negative comments. Let Go was 6x platinum in the United States. It also did extremely well in Canada, receiving a diamond certification from the Canadian Recording Industry Association, as well as reaching multi-platinum in many countries around the world, including the UK in which she became the youngest female solo artist to have a number-one album in the region.
As of May 2008, Let Go had sold over 16 million copies worldwide, becoming Lavigne's highest-selling album to date. According to Billboard Magazine the album was the #7 top-selling album of the decade. A Rolling Stone readers' poll named Let Go as the fourth best album of the 2000s.
After being signed to Arista Records in November 2000 upon the authorization of the label's CEO, Antonio "L.A." Reid, Lavigne moved to New York with the assistance of Reid. There, she began working on her debut album, Let Go, collaborating with a host of prime songwriters and producers. For six months, the label set up Lavigne with two co-writers, who worked with her upon Arista's instructions. Reid expected Lavigne to record folk songs because she auditioned to them in a "balladic, 'new country'" type. However, the collective failed to click "with a girl who'd just discovered guitar-based rock". For a year, nothing was working for Lavigne and was on the verge of getting dropped off Arista. The management pitched her songs written by other songwriters, but she declined, insisting she wanted to write songs herself.
Lavigne relocated to Los Angeles, California, where she collaborated with songwriter-producer Clif Magness, who gave her ample creative control in the writing process. Lavigne and Magness wrote "Losing Grip" and "Unwanted", songs that she deemed reflective of her vision for the entire album. However, Arista was not thrilled with the heavy-guitar laden songs that Lavigne was writing, prompting the label to look for other producers to match their demands.
Now two years since she signed the deal, Lavigne, who was then unknown, came to the attention of the three-piece production team The Matrix. Arista could not find the right direction for Lavigne, so the team's manager, Sandy Roberton, suggested that they work together: "Why don't you put her together with The Matrix for a couple of days?" According to member Lauren Christy, they had been listening to Lavigne's early songs and felt they contained "a Faith Hill kind of vibe". As soon as they saw Lavigne coming into their studio, The Matrix felt that her musical direction was incongruous to her image and attitude. After talking to Lavigne for an hour, "we cottoned on that she wasn't happy but couldn't quite figure out where to go". The Matrix played her songs with Faith Hill influences, because it was those kind of songs the label wanted Lavigne to sing. But Lavigne dismissed it, saying she wanted songs with punk rock inclinations. Lavigne played The Matrix a song that she had recorded and really loved, a track with sounds in the likes of the rock band System of a Down. Fortunately, prior to forming The Matrix, its members' early projects were in the pop-rock type, so they readily figured out what Lavigne wanted to record and knew exactly what to do with her. They told her to come back the following day, and in the afternoon during that day, they wrote a song that evolved into "Complicated" and another song called "Falling Down" (Falling Down appears on the Sweet Home Alabama Soundtrack). They played it to Lavigne when she came back the following day, inspiring her what path she should take.
When Josh Sarubin, the A&R executive who signed Lavigne to the imprint, heard the song, he knew it was right for her. Lavigne presented the song to Reid, who agreed the musical direction Lavigne and The Matrix were taking, and set "Complicated" as the album's lead single. Reid sent Lavigne back to The Matrix to work with them, initially for a month. Arista gave the team carte blanche to write and produce 10 songs, which took them two months. Reid suggested Lavigne to name the album Anything But Ordinary, after the track of the same name that The Matrix produced, but she refused.
With The Matrix, Lavigne recorded tracks in Decoy Studios, situated in a Los Angeles suburb known as Valley Village. She also worked with producer-songwriter Curt Frasca and Peter Zizzo, whose Manhattan studio Lavigne was checked in prior to securing a record deal with Arista, and where Lavigne also recorded some of the tracks. The Matrix member Scott Spock was their principal engineer for the project, while Tom Lord-Alge was assigned to mix the tracks. Lavigne recorded complete takes "against the largely finished instrumental tracks". Spocks revealed Lavigne normally recorded each song in five or six takes, "and probably 90 percent of what was finally used came from the first or second takes". The Matrix also contributed backing vocals.
Introduced as a singer-songwriter, Lavigne's involvement produced significant issues. Lavigne has implied that she is the primary author of the album. In an article published in Rolling Stone magazine, Lavigne stated that while working with The Matrix, one member would be in the recording studio while they were writing, but did not write the guitar parts, lyrics, or the melody. According to Lavigne, she and Christy wrote all the lyrics together. Graham would come up with some guitar parts, "and I'd be like, 'Yeah, I like that,' or 'No, I don't like that.' None of those songs aren't from me."
The Matrix, who produced six songs for Lavigne, five of which appear in the album, had another explanation of how the collaboration went. According to them, they wrote much of the portions in the three singles: "Complicated", "Sk8er Boi", and "I'm With You", which were conceived using a guitar and piano. Christy said, "Avril would come in and sing a few melodies, change a word here or there." Reid complemented the issue over the credits: "If I'm looking for a single for an artist, I don't care who writes it. Avril had the freedom to do as she really pleased, and the songs show her point of view. ... Avril has always been confident about her ideas."
Although she needed pop songs "to break" into the industry, Lavigne felt "Complicated" does not reflect her and her songwriting skills. Nonetheless, she was grateful for the song as it successfully launched her career. She favors more "Losing Grip", because "it means so much more when it comes straight from the artist". Due to Lavigne's mix of pop and rock influences when writing the album, Let Go has been identified with a variety of genres such as teen pop, pop punk, pop rock, post-grunge and rock.
The album was released on June 4, 2002, in Canada and the United States. Later, on July 22, Let Go hit record stores worldwide, and on August 26 in some parts of Europe, including the United Kingdom and Ireland. A DataPlay version of the album was released in September 2002. Arista had established a deal with DataPlay earlier in 2002, and included Let Go alongside albums by rock singer Santana and singer Whitney Houston in the release.
Although Lavigne was targeted to the teen audience, a marketing strategy attributed to the successful launch of her career; Lavigne performed on a host of radio-sponsored multi-artist holiday shows throughout the United States, a marketing strategy that induced higher sales of the album during the season. She embarked on her first headlining tour, Try To Shut Me Up Tour, which took place on January 23, 2003, and ended on June 4, 2003. Lavigne toured with her band—drummer Matthew Brann, bassist Mark Spicoluk, and guitarists Jesse Colburn and Evan Taubenfeld—which she had grouped after signing the deal. In the tour, she included all songs off Let Go, B-sides, and cover versions of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" by Bob Dylan and "Basket Case" by Green Day.
Lavigne filmed her performance in Buffalo, New York, on May 18, 2003, the final date of her five-week headlining North American tour. The tour DVD My World was released on November 4, 2003, on joint venture by Arista Records and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The DVD features the concert, a behind-the-scenes featurette, five music videos and a six-song bonus audio CD that includes four unreleased tracks.
"Complicated" was released by Arista as the album's lead single, which was seen as an across-all-age-groups introduction to Lavigne. Thought to produce wide cross-demographic appeal, however, the music video to the single features Lavigne and her band wreaking havoc in a mall, "the sort of imagery that might have grown-ups thinking 'Clean that mess up!' more than clamoring for the record". The song was a worldwide #1 hit and was nominated for two Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
"Sk8er Boi", The follow-up single was aimed at pop-punk oriented kids. The release of "Sk8er Boi" created disagreement among many radio programming directors. However, their impressions were diverted as listeners help changed their minds. Early rotation of the single proved successful, showing it was as popular with post-collegiate listeners as with teens. The song even went to #1 in the U.S. mainstream.
The adult ballad "I'm With You" hit record stores in late November 2002, directed at holidays to remind parents about the album to, if not buy it themselves, purchase it for any children in their family. The song ended up being another hit for Lavigne reaching #4 in the Billboard Hot 100, #1 in mainstream, top 10 in UK and Canada. It was not officially released in Australia but received radio and television airplay, this song was also nominated for two Grammy Awards the same categories as "Complicated". The arrangement of singles, with "I'm With You" as the third, was regarded "controversial choices", given that "I'm With You" was "thought by some to be the biggest potential smash on the album", and could have established Lavigne as a more mature artist if it was released first. According to Reid, "Some people just really didn't get that. And with the first video, there was some concern that maybe because it's so young and so playful, it might alienate more serious music lovers."
"Losing Grip" was released as the fourth single off the album, "to act as a bridge into her next album", which Lavigne stated would be "harder-rocking" than her debut. However, it was the least successful single on the album.
Other songs were released as regional radio-only singles. "Mobile" was only released in Australia and New Zealand as a radio-only track. It was later used in 2003's The Medallion, the 2004 film Wimbledon, and a brief appearance in the film Just Married. In 2011, an incomplete music video for the song leaked onto the internet, featuring footage from Lavigne's Try To Shut Me Up Tour.
"Things I'll Never Say" was released as radio-only single in Italy. "Unwanted" was released as radio-only single in UK. The song "Tomorrow" was played in one episode of the second season from the Warner Bros. series Smallville and has become popular between its fans.
Let Go was commercially successful in the United States, gaining praise from Entertainment Weekly magazine as one of the biggest pop debut albums of 2002. The album debuted on the Billboard 200 on the strength of 62,000 unit sales. Its high debut was fueled by the success of "Complicated", which was in heavy rotation on MTV. Increasing weekly sales allowed the album to stay inside the chart's top 10 for 37 weeks. The album sold at least 100,000 copies straight until late 2002, easily accumulating over two million unit sales. In a December 2002 report by Entertainment Weekly magazine, the album had sold 3.9 million copies, becoming the third top-selling album of 2002 in the United States. Year-end figures released by Nielsen SoundScan revealed that Let Go had sold over 3.1 million copies in the United States, sales accumulated in 30 weeks after the album's release. Let Go was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. This earned Let Go the distinction as the highest-shipped debut of 2002 and best-selling album by a female artist. On April 30, 2003, RIAA certified the album six-time platinum, denoting shipments of over six million units. It remains Lavigne's best-selling album to date, with sales of over 6,724,000 copies sold in the United States, as of July, 2009.
Chartwise, the album reached higher peak positions notably during and after the holidays. Following her show-opening performance at the 2002 Billboard Music Awards, Let Go continued to be one of the holiday's top sellers. Although it had peaked at number two in September 2002, Let Go rose from 3 to 2 on the Billboard 200 on the issue dated February 1, 2003. The increase of sales was the offshoot to Lavigne's appearance on January 11 at Saturday Night Live as the show's musical guest. During this time also, Lavigne received much media coverage due to her nominations at the 2003 Grammy Awards and for embarking on first North American tour. In the United Kingdom, the album took longer to reach the summit of the UK Albums Chart. In its 18th week on the chart year 2003, the album reached number one, rising to the top spot over the holiday. The album's international sales upsurge was attributed to the continuing success of "Sk8er Boi". Let Go is the 12th best-selling album of 2003 in the United Kingdom. The album has been certified five-time platinum by the British Phonographic Industry.
Let Go was also selling well in Canada, surpassing sales of over one million unit sales in less than a year. The Canadian Recording Industry Association certified the album diamond in May 2003. In Australia, Let Go had been certified seven-time platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association in 2003, based on the sales of over 490,000 units from wholesalers to retailers. The album is the tenth best-selling album of 2002, and the third in the following year.