May 9 – Seems Like U2 Day In Canada

On this day in 1987, U2 got to the top for the first time in Canada. On the singles charts that is, about a month after The Joshua Tree hit the #1 spot on the album chart there. “With or Without You”, the first single off that album zoomed up the Canuck charts as it did throughout much of the world…it did in the U.S. as well, but almost astonishingly, they only scored one more #1 song there.

But in the Great White North, fast forward five years to the day, and in 1992, they’d place their fifth song atop the charts there – the appropriately titled “One.” (In between they’d had chart-toppers with “Desire”, “Angel of Harlem” and “Mysterious Ways”) In their native Ireland, mind you it was their tenth #1. Although it didn’t quite get to #1 in the U.S. or UK,(it made #10 in the former and #7 in the latter) it’s widely seen as close to the band’s finest hour. As Jon Bon Jovi gushes, “Achtung Baby was bigger than life. It was unique. A song like ‘One’- beyond ridiculous!” Entertainment Weekly at the time called it “biting and unprecedentedly emotional” while Rolling Stone thought it a “radiant ballad… few bands can marshal such sublime power.” Q readers agreed, in 2006 voting it the fifth greatest song ever. Bono likes the song but says it’s not a love song. “It’s a bit twisted. I could never figure out why people want it at their weddings!” Michael Stipe and Mike Mills of R.E.M. performed the song with U2’s Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen in ’93 at a concert for president Bill Clinton.

They’d go on to top both the Canadian and Irish singles charts 11 more times…and counting. That included “Staring at the Sun”, which was #1 exactly five years after “One”, this day in 1997! U2 should really like May 9th by now. With a new album out recently, Songs of Experience, and another one rumored to be coming shortly, one might not bet against them making that a dozen!


May 6 – Forgotten Gems : Ash

It’s almost a cliché to look back at the 1990s and say musically they were all about grunge over here and Britpop in Europe. It overlooks the fact that grunge was really only a hot commodity for about three years and ignores things like the huge sales of country dude Garth Brooks, the impact of Lilith Fair, or at least the ladies who were on the bill there, the American love of boy bands … but it’s not without at least a little merit. Grunge shook things up in North America, and the Brits did love their homegrown young bands like Oasis and Blur. This month’s Forgotten Gem might indeed be as close to a bridge between the two sounds as we had – “Goldfinger” by Ash. Not to be confused with the James Bond theme, but we’ll get to that later. It was the standout single from their debut album, 1977, which came out this day in 1996.

Ash were from a small town in County Down in Northern Ireland. The band’s singer, guitarist and main writer, Tim Wheeler described it as “just a small town with not much going on and not much in the way of escape. Probably the main way people would escape would be smoking hash and stuff like that, drinking…” And it might seem, by playing loud rock music. Wheeler and his buddy Mark Hamilton had been in a rock band since 1989, when they tried to be an Iron Maiden cover band! What’s surprising about that is they would have been just 12 years old at the time! (As journalist Daniel Zunga notes, the album title 1977 was a nod to the fact that it was the year “punk exploded… Star Wars streaked acrossmovie theatre screens for the first time” and the two lads were born.) By 1992, they’d started doing some of their own songs and had changed the name to Ash. Soon after they got a record deal, with Infectious Records, a small label owned by BMG.

The album itself was a mish-mash of sounds and songs, Zunga aptly descibed as being able to mix “the recklessness and raucousness of youthful abandon with a power pop sensibility that belied the group’s age.” Or, as Drowned in Sound would say, “an album by the young, for the young.” Despite the uneveness of it, the single “Goldfinger” stood out as a pretty excellent grunge-tinged tune that made you think they’d listened to the Pixies and Nirvana but maybe some ’80s R.E.M. or ’70s Raspberries as well.

Wheeler has called it “the best song we’ve ever written”, and described it as “this little romance story in this small, s*** town”. And romance makes life – and music -exciting. “The world seems so alive” in the song’s emphatic estimation.

The song took off in the British Isles, hitting #5 in the UK (still the highest-chart position of their 60 total singles) and #8 in Ireland. Collectors might want to look for a limited edition vinyl single of it that was on clear vinyl with gold flecks in it. Not only did the song do well, what’s more it pushed the album to #1 in Britain. Over here, it didn’t get a lot of attention but a few alt rock stations like Toronto’s CFNY played it heavily.

Ash are still rolling along, as Wheeler is proud to point out, long after most of their contemporaries have fallen by the wayside. And that song title? He says he regrets it, as it confuses people who assume it was the Shirley Bassey movie opus, which astoundingly charted lower in Britain than theirs. Apparently the group thought a couple of bars in the song sounded a bit like the Bond theme and used it as a working title when practicing and it stuck.

April 30 – Cranberries Offered Salvation, But Did The Fans Want It?

Following up a hit record or two can be a tricky proposition. Expectations are high, and if the artist had a definable sound, there’s the challenge of repeating it and risking coming across stale or changing it up and potentially alienating the fans. Yesterday we looked at one band that had middling results straddling the line between the two options (Men At Work), today another example from another decade. The Cranberries figured two albums with them sitting on the same couch on the cover were enough and changed up the look and the sound for their third album, To The Faithful Departed, which came out this day in 1996.

The Irish quartet dominated by the voice and presence of the diminutive Dolores O’Riordan had become a major worldwide act thanks to their first couple of albums, full of lovely, inward-looking alternative-by-way-of-pop songs like “Linger”, “Dreams” and “Ode To My Family.” But their second album, No Need To Argue, had contained the different-flavored “Zombie”, a hardcore guitar-based rocker about the “Troubles” in their native Ireland involving IRA bombings and that had become a surprise smash hit…the video for it is in the elite group of 20th Century songs to have cleared a billion views on Youtube, for example.  Clearly Dolores figured that was the route to follow… louder, outward-looking political statements. There was a certain other Irish foursome who’d done pretty well with that tack for a few years in the ’80s, but after this, many figured … well, O’Riordan was no Bono. So even though the album was entitled To The Faithful Departed, a nod to both Dolores’ granddad Joe and record producer Denny Cordell who’d gotten them signed to Island, both of whom had passed away recently, there was less personal sentiment on this one than its predecessors and more “what’s wrong with the world and how do we fix it?” sentiment.

They were ambitious. The normal edition of the album had 15 songs and ran past 50 minutes despite the brisk pace of many tracks. A later deluxe reissue had four more including the religious standard “Ave Maria” with Luciano Pavarotti! And with titles like “War Child”, “Bosnia”, “I Just Shot John Lennon” and “Salvation”, one could guess without even listening, little Dolores’ (who wrote almost the entire album) was feeling less pixie-like than she looked. To add to the new approach, they ditched their previous producer, Stephen Street in favor of Bruce Fairburn, a Canadian rock hero who’d helped steer Bon Jovi to superstardom and Aerosmith back there after years of decline. They went to O’Riordan’s new adopted homeland, Canada, to record most of it.

Just looking at it, one figured it was going to be a bit different. After their close to monochromatic covers with them sitting on an old sofa for the first two, them with their instruments, in bright purple suits in a bright yellow room on this cover. The set was built in a forest and shot during a snowstorm, which perhaps suggests again that not every last decision about it was well thought-out.

Reviews were mixed, but generally not entirely glowing. Most agreed a bit of edge here and there was fine for them, that some of the tunes themselves were good and some of the subjects tackled deserved to be discussed. Most also felt O’Riordan wasn’t the greatest person to lead that discussion and that sound-wise, they probably shouldn’t have tried to be Aerosmith. Songs like “Salvation” were seen as juvenile and “I Just Shot John Lennon” (with lines like “with a Smith & Wesson 38, John Lennon’s life was no longer a debate”, complete with gunshot sounds) and the pro-pro-choice “Free to Decide” just flat out irritated some. Rolling Stone gave it just 2-stars. They snarked the Cranberries “boldly take on more of the world’s problems, from drug addiction to the war in Bosnia and the band is overwhelmed.” O’Riordan was seen as reducing important issues to “bumper sticker lines.” The L.A. Times was more generous, giving it 3 out of 4, despite the opening track “Hollywood” which didn’t paint the more glamorous picture of the town. They called them “Ireland’s other politically-informed band” and liked its “eclectic selection of material” and furthermore, figured “the angry ‘I Just Shot John Lennon’ exudes the sort of raging energy that fueled the new wave that was popular at the time of Lennon’s death.” USA Today was in the middle, thinking it a “throwback to the guitar assault of the 1994 hit ‘Zombie’” It graded it 2.5 out of 4, lamenting “if only Dolores could pen a lyric…that doesn’t deteriorate into sentimental cliches.” Later on, allmusic declared it “where the Cranberries best intentions finally and thoroughly tripped them up”, questioning for one thing why they’d fire Street whose “ear for the band’s dynamic was note-perfect.” Still, they gave it a decent 3.5-stars, which probably fit most fans reactions – not terrible but an album that could have been much more.

Commercially it did well, but not as well as the first pair. Depending on your country, some of “Free To Decide”, “Salvation”, “When You’re Gone” – one of the few love songs suited to one of their previous records – and “Hollywood” were out out as singles, and by and large the first three all got good radio play. “”Salvation” topped U.S. Alternative charts and was a top 10 in Ireland and New Zealand and a #1 in Italy; “Free to Decide” made it up to #2 in Canada and “When You’re Gone” was a top 30 in the U.S., Canada and Ireland, where it became their ninth such chart hit. Overall, the album rose to #1 in Australia, #2 in their homeland and the UK, Germany and Canada and #4 in the States, going multi-platinum in North America and gold in the UK.

However, it didn’t help the band’s momentum, and coupled with O’Riordan canceling a large chunk of their world tour that summer due to knee surgery and stress-related issues, it’s safe to say Island Records was beginning to lose faith and after their next, less-successful release (Bury the Hatchet) the band had departed the label.

March 17 – St. Patty’s Favorite Band Sing About Noah’s Fave Animal

Seeing as how it’s St. Patrick’s Day, why not have a listen to a “spot of the Irish”? And although we’ve looked plenty of times at acts like U2, the Cranberries and Sinead O’Connor here, none of them go so far as to reference their homeland in their name. Enter the Irish Rovers. Who, oddly enough were from Canada. Anyway, on this day in 1968 they were sitting at #3 on that country’s most influential singles chart of the day, the CHUM chart, with a song that would become their trademark and an American hit as well – “The Unicorn.”

The Irish Rovers formed in Toronto but had its roots firmly in Eire. It was initially almost entirely comprised of guys who’d been born there but moved to Canada while young (although the original lineup did include one Scottish ex-pat for variety.) Chief among them ere the Millars, brothers George and Will and a cousin, Joe. Their mom suggested the name, taken from an Irish legend about a ship called the Irish Rover. It fit them well since the lads played essentially traditional sounding but lively Irish folk music, using mostly acoustic instruments like guitars, mandolins, fiddles and of course, accordions.

Their reputation as a fun live act grew in Canada through the ’60s and they landed a deal with Decca Records. Their lucky charm, as it were, which led them to a pot o’ gold was finding this song written by Shel Silverstein. Silverstein was a multi-talented Chicago man who was a frustrated baseball hopeful. He said, as a teen in the ’40s “I’d much rather have been a good baseball player…but, I couldn’t play ball. Luckily the girls didn’t want me. Not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and write.” And that he could do well. He soon became a popular creator of comics (notably for Playboy) and writer of poems and children’s stories. One of which was “The Unicorn”. He also dabbled in music, and wrote other songs that became hits including “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash and today’s other feature bit , by Dr. Hook.

The Unicorn” was a semi-humorous, semi-sad poem about the Bible story of Noah’s ark. As Shel figured, God told Noah “go build me a floatin’ zoo” and to be sure to get two of every animal before the rains set in. But alas, the unicorns, “loveliest of all” the animals were too foolish to get on the ship, preferring to play and splash in the growing puddles. Eventually Noah had to sail off without them – hence today “you won’t see no unicorn.”

Although ostensibly less-Irish than most of their material (typical of their other songs on the album was one called “Pat of Mullingar”) it was their ticket to stardom. The fun-sounding ditty with the sing-along chorus appealed to kids and adults and sounded folkie enough to make inroads with the Greenwhich Village crowds. Soon they were appearing on American TV shows like the Smothers Brothers and the song took off and was certified gold there. By 1971, they had their own Canadian variety TV show (which was shown in quite a few foreign markets including Ireland) which attracted guests of the caliber of Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell.

The Unicorn” went to #7 in the U.S., #4 nationwide in Canada and #5 in Ireland, their only hit there. Eventually it would sell an incredible eight million copies. Since then they’ve only had one more notable hit, “Wasn’t that a Party” in 1980, but they’ve kept on roving and singing, putting out an album as recently as last year and remain a fairly popular live act. More remarkably, George Millar is still one of them and a son of a different Millar, Ian is in them. All of which has the Irish Emigration Museum have an exhibit featuring them as one of “Ireland’s greatest exports.”

January 30 – U2 Won New Fans & Taught A Little History

Today’s music history lesson is a real history lesson, and not a very happy one at that. This was the day of the “Bogside Massacre” in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, aka “Bloody Sunday” which inspired the U2 song “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.”

Most of the island of Ireland, including Dublin (from whence U2 and Guinness beer arose) is a separate country, largely Catholic in nature. However, the island was partitioned in 1921, and Northern Ireland is considered part of Great Britain and is largely Protestant. These differences have caused decades of discontent with tension between the religions and between those who are allied to “Eire” vs. those loyal to the Crown in London. By the late ’60s, a movement had arisen in the north to cut the cord to the UK and join the rest of the island in a united Ireland and violent conflicts had become common. In August, 1971 Britain began a law called “internment without trial” for Northern Ireland, which allowed their police or troops to arrest people simply suspected of being violent or subversive, without charging them. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with the locals and between the time the law was passed and the end of the year, over 30 British troops were killed in street violence there, seven of them in Londonderry (or just “Derry” as the locals know it), the district’s second-largest city. Catholics tended to despise Protestants and vice versa; the British Army were present and essentially at war with the upstart IRA.

All this led to the Civil Rights March planned for this day. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association wanted to protest “internment without trial” and parade from the Catholic “Bogside” area of town to the city’s main public area, Guild Hall Square. The British government was willing to allow the march through the Catholic area of the city but ordered the Army in to prevent the protestors from getting close to the civic square. The day began reasonably well enough, thousands of protestors (estimates vary from 3000 to 30 000) started out calmly enough until they encountered a barricade of Army paratroopers and vehicles blocking their path. the majority of them turned and headed in the direction the government wanted them to, but some confronted the troops… and the bedlam and bloodshed began.

The marchers hurled insults and possibly a few rocks at the armed forces who in turn turned water cannons on and fired tear gas at the “rebels.” Knowing when they were beaten, the protestors turned around and ran away, presumably to rejoin the rest of the marchers. That should have been the end of it, but alas it wasn’t. The Army gave chase, shooting at the retreating mob, in the end hitting 26 of them, 14 fatally. Another pair were run down by the armored vehicles. Later studies showed at least 100 shots were fired by them after Army HQ issued a “ceasefire” order.

The result was inevitable. Violence escalated across Northern Ireland and the violent, terrorist to some, IRA grew immensely in popularity. The British government ordered an inquiry, The Widgery Tribunal, which did find soldiers acted in a way “bordering on the reckless” but essentially exonerated them. However, another investigation they launched in 1998, The Seville Inquiry, took a dozen years to complete but in the end slammed the Army.

It said they “lost control” and “concocted lies in their attempts to hide their acts”, discrediting soldiers’ stories about being fired at first (something no witnesses, including journalists present ever corroborated and was not backed by any physical evidence.) It concluded that those shot weren’t posing “a threat of causing death or serious injury” to the soldiers and said the incident was unjustified. The Londonderry coroner of the day also concurred, saying “it was quite unnecessary… it strikes me the Army ran amok that day and shot people without thinking.”

As a result of the inquiry, Prime Minister David Cameron apologized for the British actions.

Not surprisingly, the slaughter enraged many artists too. A number of plays and books have been written about it and only two days after it happened, Paul McCartney had written and recorded a song about it , “Give Ireland back to the Irish.” The BBC promptly banned it.

Also not surprisingly, it had a major impact on the members of U2, who were school kids at the time. The politically-outspoken band wrote “Sunday Bloody Sunday” in summer 1982 for their third album, War. The album came out in early 1983 to critical accolades. Rolling Stone suggested “the songs here stand up against anything on The Clash’s London Calling” and gave it a 4 star out of 5 rating and it enhanced their reputation and profile in North America. War went on to be their biggest album to that point, being certified multi-platinum in the US and Canada as well as in the UK. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was released as a single in March of that year and while not as big a hit as “New Year’s Day”, it became one of their signature songs. The Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame picked it as one of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock’n’Roll” and Time listed it as one of the top ten protest songs of all-time. U2 play it at almost every concert, typically with Bono opening the song by shouting “this is not a rebel song.” Bono apparently re-wrote the original lyrics The Edge had written to make it less specific to the events of the one day. Drummer Larry Mullen explained why in a 1983 interview: “We’re into politics of people, we’re not into politics. People are dying every single day through bitterness and hate, and we’re saying ‘why? what’s the point?’… let’s forget the politics, let’s stop shouting at each other and sit around the table and talk about it.”

That day hasn’t come to fruition yet, but at least Northern Ireland is a calmer place of late. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 acknowledged the differing concepts of what Northern Ireland could be and gave it some level of autonomy as well as the right to secede entirely from Britain if it chose to. The violence of the IRA has largely subsided and been evolved into political discussions so there’s hope there’ll never be a repeat of the events of Bloody Sunday. And perhaps, in a small way, we have U2 to thank for that.

Sometimes rock is more than just music.

January 1 – An Appropriate Dose Of Irish Optimism To Kick Off ’23

It’s become a New Year’s tradition here in my household, and on A Sound Day. A new year, and let’s ring it off with a great song from 40 (!) years ago – “New Year’s Day”. In 1983, appropriately enough U2 released the song named for the day on New Year’s Day!

The first single off their War album came out on Jan.1 and ushered in the era of major worldwide success for Bono and Co. As Rolling Stone put it, when listing it among their 500 greatest songs of all-time, it “lifted them out of the rock underground for good.” It also became their first top 10 hit in the UK and the first to chart at all in the U.S. (although it only got to #53 there, which seems rather remarkable now). It, along with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” helped War sell triple what either of its predecessors did. The anthemic song is a live favorite of the band and fans to this day, and has The Edge taking an unusual place at the piano.

Strangely enough, although the song began as a love song by Bono for his wife, it diverged into a strong political statement about the Polish Solidarity movement and jailed union-organizer Lech Walesa. Bono at one time started lyrics involving his love for his wife Ali, but the song took a different, political tone in the studio. “I must have been thinking about Lech Walesa being interred…we improvise, and the things that came out, I let.” A good thing, as it turns out. Incredibly, as Bono told Rolling Stone later, “when we’d recorded the song, they (Polish government) announced that martial law would be lifted on New Year’s Day! Incredible!” It is, as is the single. I wish you all a happy and healthy, as well as tuneful 2023! . 

December 14 – No Arachnophobia In Pogues Apparently

Happy 64th birthday to Peter “Spider” Stacy, one of three permanent members of The Pogues during their 35 year, on-again, off-again tenure.

While Stacy is English, the Pogues are ferociously Irish. He even suggested the name, The Pogues, taking it from an anglicized version of the Gaelic phrase Pog Mo Thein, (often spelled pogue mahone here) which means basically “kiss my arse!”. He met Shane MacGowan (the usual lead singer) and formed the band around 1981, and they originally planned to share singing duties, but after a few shows MacGowan took the bit and ran with it, so Stacy was assigned backing vocal duties (except for times when MacGowan was a bit too “under the weather” to show up or the couple of years he was fired from his own band, at which times Stacy was again the lead vocalist.) With less singing to do, Stacy learned to play the tin whistle, and once in awhile add to the sound by “banging a pub tray against his head for percussive effect.” While they are decidedly punk in being rough-around-the-edges and having controversial lyrics, their instrumentation is more out of a 19th-century Dublin pub- accordions, whistles, banjos, mandolins, and apparently a few trays! they’ve put out seven studio albums, three of which are gold in the UK plus a greatest hits compilation which went platinum. The biggest of their studio albums was 1988‘s If I Should Fall From Grace With God which went to #3 in Britain…largely due to this, umm, Christmas carol.

The opening line is ‘Christmas Eve in the drunk tank,’” their then-manager points out. “You know you’re not getting an ordinary Christmas song when it starts like that!” The song is “Fairytale of New York”, most definitely not your ordinary Christmas song. But if you’re tired of shopping, pushing and shoving through crowds, forced revelry and ugly sweaters at the office and crass advertising, it might be the perfect antidote to songs about being home for Christmas or cheery reindeer and snowmen.

A call-and-answer kind of duet, it involves a couple, the man in the drunk tank, fighting with/flirting with his wife, whom he at one point calls an “old slut on junk.” She responds by calling him… well something the GLAAD lobby deems pretty incorrect these days!

If it seems unlikely, the fates conspired to make it even more improbable. They were with Stiff Records in 1985, and had the esteemed Elvis Costello producing their record. (Some stories say the song came about when Costello bet MacGowan he couldn’t write a hit Christmas song, but like a lot of things in their history, their memories see a tad foggy!) However, the label ran into a financial iceberg and jettisoned a lot of the cargo, and The Pogues had to find and negotiate another deal. Along the way, Elvis began to like their bassist, Cait O’Riordan a lot, and dislike the rest of the band more. He quit producing the record and Cait quit the band to be with Costello. She was not only the bassist but the intended female half of the intended song. Enter super-producer Steve Lillywhite (who worked wonders years before with another Irish group – U2)… who had a wife who was a great singer/songwriter, Kirsty MacColl. Voila – new voice to play off against MacGowan in the drunk tank! He says of her “Kirsty really made that record. She had the character down perfectly… (and) was a great laugh.”

So the song finally got made and the album released nearly three years after it began. The surprise Christmas song won the bet for MacGowan, if indeed there was one. It rocketed to #2 in Britain (their best showing there) and became their second #1 hit on their home island. However, unlike their first chart-topper, “Fairytale of New York” made the top ten again in 1991… and more recently, has charted as high as #2 again in Ireland come holiday time. Across the Irish Channel, the Brits love it as well and ITV viewers in 2012 voted it the “Nation’s Favorite Christmas Song.”

The Daily Telegraph tried to decipher its appeal. “In careening wildly through a gamut of moods from maudlin to euphoric, sentimental to profane, mud-slinging to sincerely devoted in the space of four glorious minutes, it seemed perfectly suited to Christmas.”

The Pogues are currently broken up or on hiatus, but Stacy and O’Riordan did get them back together briefly for a show in 2018. Currently he lives far away from Eire, in New Orleans, and does some acting on the side when tin whistle talents aren’t in demand.

October 30 – U2 Left Behind ’90s Experimentalism

It was time to put the 20th Century to rest, the U.S. was seeing the Clinton presidency come to its end…and U2 decided to ditch the ’90s as well. Twenty years ago they put out their tenth studio album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, arriving this day in 2000. And while not exactly War redux, it was certainly a return to the basics that made them so popular in the ’80s as opposed to a continuation of the sometimes odd musical experimentation they’d had on the previous trio of albums, Achtung Baby (and mainly) Zooropa and Pop.

Pop took the deconstruction of the rock & roll band format to the nth degree,” guitarist The Edge says, adding they wanted a return to more basic guitar/bass/drums-oriented songs. As well, for the first time in nine years, they went back to the producers they knew well that had delivered the goods for them in the past, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. That pair had guided the band in the studio through their most successful period, from The Unforgettable Fire through Achtung Baby.

The result was an 11 song set that returned to more conventional territory…and to strong praise for the band. While The Edge’s edgy guitars weren’t as blazing as they had been two decades prior, there was no shortage of catchy rock songs exploring a vast array of feelings, from the bold, upbeat lead single, “Beautiful Day” through the frustration of “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” to the gentler optimism of “Peace on Earth.” The latter, along with a song entitled “New York” and the cover, apparently showing the band in an airport later had some convinced it was written about the 9/11 attacks…but, seeing as how the record came out almost a year before that, well, that seems improbable!

Critics who’d not necessarily cared for the band’s electronica experiments of the second half of the ’90s generally were impressed. Entertainment Weekly graded it an “A” saying it was “startling” and a “welcome reversal of fortune” for the quartet. Rolling Stone graded it 4-stars and declared it the band’s “third masterpiece” after The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. Three years on, they’d rank it among the 200 greatest records of all-time, suggesting it was “full of ecstacy, mourning and release”. Across the sea in the UK, the NME rated it 7 out of 10 and Q posted it as a 4-star release.

Fans agreed. It hit #1 in the UK, the band’s own Ireland, Australia and Canada, where it was their seventh. In the States, it stalled at #3, but still went 4X platinum, contributing to worldwide sales topping 12 million. Strangely, the album’s missing the top spot in the U.S. was probably based on lukewarm response to the singles. “Beautiful Day” only got to #21, and other released missed the top 40 altogether, whereas in Canada, four singles made it to #1: “Beautiful Day”, “Walk On”, “Elevation” (a #1 in Ireland too) and “Stuck in a Moment…” Two of those songs got U2 into the record books, and books about records. “Beautiful Day” won the Grammy for Record of the Year in 2001, and “Walk On” took the same award in ’02, making it the first album to ever launch two “records of the year”. Seems it was a good thing that conventional rock sound was one of the things U2 couldn’t leave behind!

In honor of the 20th Anniversary of the album, U2 are released several new editions of All That You Can’t Leave Behind in 2020, including heavy vinyl LP versions and CD box sets with photos from Anton Corbijn and a concert DVD from the subsequent tour.

October 2 – It Was Cranberry Picking Season

People were picking cranberries 28 years ago…at the record store at least! Irish band The Cranberries put out their second album, No Need To Argue on this day in 1994.

The quartet of singer Dolores O’Riordan, bassist Mike Hogan and his brother Noel on guitars with drummer Fergal Lawler had risen to international stardom in the previous year and a half with their debut, Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? and its hits “Linger” and “Dreams.” Their sound – melodic pop-by-way-of-alt rock with Dolores’ multi-octave warble – was distinctive and popular, so neither they nor Island Records saw much need to change it up by very much. They brought back producer Stephen Street and had Dolores write most of the lyrics, as before. They did go to New York to put down some demos, but returned to London to record the finished product. Even though it came across rather like a sequel (as allmusic put it)- they even sat on the same sofa for the cover photo – it succeeded because the songs themselves were varied and as a whole, stronger than the predecessor’s.

The one song which stood out, and was a departure from their earlier sound was the hard-rocking “Zombie”, an angry screed aimed at the IRA who’d been responsible for a bombing the previous year which had killed children. Other than that, there were more melodic tunes about romance, family, life in general and Irish poet W.B. Yeats.

Although one standout song on it is called “The Icicle Melts”, No Need to Argue didn’t exactly melt all the critics hearts upon its arrival. Rolling Stone gave it a mediocre 2.5-stars and closer to their home, the NME rated it only 4 out of 10. Entertainment Weekly were a little kinder, giving it a “B”. They noted it “thrives on the same Celtic flourishes and pretty, rambling arrangements” as the first album but “Noel’s guitar barks a little louder.” Later reviews would look at it more fondly. Q and allmusic both graded it 4-stars down the road, with the latter thinking “Zombie” was a miss (“the heavy rock trudge isn’t immediately suited for the band’s strengths”) but songs like “Ode to My Family” were among the band’s best. Immortal Reviews noted Dolores “helped voice the struggle of a whole country” and “helped bring to light what the culture of Ireland was.”

Cultural travelogue or not, people loved it far and wide. Four hit singles came from it, “Zombie”, “Ode to My Family”, “Ridiculous Thoughts” and “I Can’t Be With You.” The “trudging” “Zombie” actually was their only #1 song ever in Australia and at #3 in their homeland, tied for their biggest hit there. It also put them on top of American alternative rock charts for the first time. The album itself hit #1 in Australia and Canada, #3 in the UK and Ireland and #6 in the U.S. It was multi-platinum almost everywhere, including 7X that in the States. In Canada, it won the Juno Award for the overall best-selling album of the year 1995. Billboard reports it is still among the 100 top-sellers ever, with over 17 million copies.

May 17 – The Face Of Faceless Music?

New Age music is easy listening at its drowsiest. Defined vaguely as ambient, often acoustic music designed to promote relaxation and stress relief, it’s usually rather forgettable…and faceless. Today we look at one of the few exceptions to that, perhaps the single most successful artist in the field – and one we know from a couple of mainstream hits – Enya. Happy birthday to the lady who’s second to only U2 in terms of international success among Irish artists. She turns 61 today.

Enya was born Eithne Bhraonein, a hint at her Gaelic background, but Anglicized it to Enya Brennan. She’s grew up in Ulster, at the northern tip of the Republic of Ireland, right next door to the British-controlled Northern Ireland. Her dad was a band leader and her mom a music teacher, so there’s little surprise in Enya being musical. She sang in local competitions and church from a young age and learned piano readily. English also in school, she quickly became bilingual. She was most a fan of classical and church music, but didn’t mind some of the jigs her dad apparently would play. However, even as she was completing high school, she dreamed of following her mother’s footsteps… a career in music but teaching, rather than performing.

Her family had some other ideas and when two of her brothers and a sister joined the Celtic band Clannad, they talked her into joining as a keyboardist and backing vocalist. Her fine Mezzo-soprano voice and skill on the keyboards (primarily though she seems to be able to play a number of other instruments including bagpipes!) got noticed and the BBC commissioned her to do some music for a miniseries they were doing in 1985; so impressed were they that they ended up turning over the entire project’s music to her then signing her to a record deal. That helped her get signed to Atlantic Records in North America simultaneously.

Her self-titled debut album came out in 1987, consisting largely of the music she’d done for the TV show The Celts. No one knew exactly what to make of it – allmusic summed it up as “a combination of Celtic traditionalism and distinctly modern approach (which) finds lush flower here”; others called it “new folk.” Either way, it was different but popular. Eventually it would top her homeland’s charts and make the top 10 in the UK and Canada but that was only a hint of the popularity she’d soon achieve.

In 1988, the lead single off her second album, “Orinoco Flow” became one of the decade’s most surprising, and unique-sounding hits, finding a spot on pop and college radio as well as just about every office and grocery store in the Western World, it would seem. It was a #1 hit in both Ireland and Britain and got to #4 in Canada, #2 in Germany and even broke into the American top 30.

Her reputation among New Age fans kept growing but it was the last most pop or rock listeners heard of her until the tragic aftermath of the Sep. 11 attacks in 2001. For reasons unknown several TV stations began playing her ethereal and somber “Only Time” as a theme to coverage of the terrorism. It soon became a sort of pseudo-anthem of mourning and Enya decided to donate the earnings of it (the single had been released nearly a year earlier ) to the families of New York firefighters who had died in the attack. The song catapulted up the charts to #1 in Canada and much of Europe and #10 in the States, and perhaps feeling in need of relaxation, helped the album it was from, A Day Without Rain, begin to sell wildly. It ended up at 7X platinum in the U.S. and with at least 16 million sold worldwide, it’s considered the genre’s biggest-ever record.

Since then, Enya’s worked sporadically, putting out new albums in 2005, ’08 and ’15 but she says she spent a lot of the pandemic renovating a home studio and is going to have new new age music soon.

For all the millions of records sold, Grammys won (including Best New Age Record four times) and fame – scientists even named a species of fish found in the Orinoco River after her – not a great deal is known about her personal life. She admits to being a “private” person and says “I derive from religion what I enjoy.” She’s said she’s hesitant to get into serious relationships because she’s both worried men would want her more for her money and fame than herself. Not to mention she’s had bad luck, attracting a couple of stalkers along the way and having her home in Ireland broken into twice in short order, with one of the burglars attacking her housekeeper. Sounds like she might need to listen to her own music more than most people.