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"Angel" was McLachlan's second consecutive top five hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, debuting at number twelve, and then jumping to the top ten the following week, before peaking at number four. It remained at the top ten for nineteen weeks, and for twenty-nine weeks in the top 100. "Angel" was the eighteenth most successful song of 1999.
"Angel" was one of the first songs written for Surfacing. McLachlan said that writing it was easy, "a real joyous occasion", and that "the bulk of it came in about three hours." It was inspired by articles that she read in Rolling Stone about musicians turning to heroin to cope with the pressures of the music industry and subsequently overdosing. She said that she identified with the feelings that might lead someone to use heroin: "I've been in that place where you've messed up and you're so lost that you don't know who you are anymore, and you're miserable--and here's this escape route. I've never done heroin, but I've done plenty of other things to escape." She said that the song is about "trying not to take responsibility for other people's problems and trying to love yourself at the same time".
The song has a sparse arrangement — mostly McLachlan at the piano, with subtle upright bass played by Jim Creeggan of Barenaked Ladies. It was recorded in the key of D-flat major. For live performances, it is transposed up one half-step to D major, the key it was originally written in, and played without the bass.
A remix of the track by Dusted appears on McLachlan's 2001 album Remixed.
The song made its début on the New Zealand Singles Chart on 6 July 2009 at number 36 But Climbed down the charts to number 3 after the success of the City of Angels Movie.Mandy Pickering of Christchurch won the Stars in there eyes finale performing the song in the Grand Finale.
In the 2015 Korean TV Drama Yong-pal the full Westlife version was used in one of the final scenes of episode 7.
Since 2007, "Angel" has been included in an advertisement for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in which McLachlan serves as the spokesperson. The song is played over video of dogs and cats in an animal shelter and is credited with helping raise millions of dollars for the ASPCA. This ad was later parodied numerous times on the internet and inspired many memes.
The song was also donated by McLachlan for Tribe of Heart's movie The Witness which depicts the awakening of consciousness of a New York City construction worker with respect to the treatment of animals.
In 2014, Vine released a statement that the song was used in over 2,000 vines, with more than 174,000 likes in total.
In 2014, Scottish singer Susan Boyle recorded her version of the song and published it on her album Hope. She also stated: "I had a huge input in music suggestions and finally have been able to record one of my all time favourites, "Angel," originally by Sarah McLachlan."
In 2016, Jeneve Rose Mitchell plays the harp performance on American Idol.
In 2016, Brendan Fletcher performed the song on The Voice.
In 2016, a cover by Devon Welsh was used in the end credits for The OA episode Invisible Self.
In January 2017, a cover by Caitlin Canty was recorded for and used in the closing scenes of the Code Black season 2 episode "Fallen Angels".
Live cover performances
In 2004, Australian Idol contestant Hayley Jensen performed this song in the first week of the semi-finals of the second season and was voted through to the Final 12 the following night. Jensen eventually recorded a cover for that season's Finalist Cast Album.
In 2006, Angel was performed on the fourth season of Canadian Idol in the first week of the semi-finals by eventual winner Eva Avila. Avila recorded a cover of the song for that season's Top 10 Cast Album.
Singer Beyoncé Knowles covered the song in a medley with her own "Ave Maria" on her 2008-2009 I Am... Tour and in her live performance at the BET Awards 2009.
The song was performed by Katherine Jenkins at the opening ceremony of the 38th Ryder Cup in Wales, on the 30th of September 2010, in front of an estimated TV audience of over 600 million. She also performed the song as a part of a tribute to Sports Personalities who had died in 2010 at The 2010 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Ceremony on the 19th of December 2010, at The LG Arena in Birmingham.
Prince covered "Angel" during the European "20Ten" Tour in July 2010, and during the Welcome 2 America Tour Jan 2011.
On June 14, 2011, the American The Voice contestant and eventual winner Javier Colon performed it in the first season of the show. The studio version peaked at number 64 on the Billboard Hot 100.
On May 6, 2013, the American The Voice contestant Sarah Simmons performed it in the Live Playoffs.
On June 22, 2013, The Voice of the Philippines contestant Lee Grane performed the song during her blind auditions. The performance trended world-wide on the micro-blogging site Twitter and received a million views on YouTube.
On October 26, 2013, the UK X Factor tenth series contestant Nicholas McDonald performed it in week 3 of the show. On December 15, 2013, he performed it again in the final results show, where he finished as eventual runner-up.
On December 9, 2013, the American The Voice contestant Jacquie Lee performed it in the semi-finals of the show.
On January 11, 2016, Megan McKenna a contestant on series 16 of Celebrity Big Brother performed a flawless, pitch perfect version of it in the housemate talent contest. Megan received rave reviews from all areas of the media and from celebrities and the public alike on social media. Despite not being chosen as the winner of the contest by her fellow housemates, Megan won the 'most talented performance' poll on the Big Brother app which is voted for by the general public.