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!


April 2 – Playing Live On Streets Which Had Names

U2 kicked off the Joshua Tree Tour on this day in 1987. The tour helped propel The Joshua Tree to become one of the decade’s biggest albums and them into superstar territory. Fittingly (for an album named after a place in the American desert) the tour began in Tempe, AZ at the Arizona State University Activity Center (now known as the Wells Fargo Arena) ,on a Thursday night. Bono was struggling to ward off laryngitis, and invited people to sing along which they apparently were happy to do.

The announced crowd was 25 000, even though the arena is only designed for 14 000 or so, and the band played through 21 songs (most of the Joshua Tree plus some old favorites like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day” as well as a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm”) . the first leg of the tour wrapped up in New Jersey in May, by which time they’d done 29 concerts for 465 000 fans. Eventually it wrapped up in december of that year after 110 shows, and not only did it help them make a major impression on America, it helped America make a major impression on them. Their follow-up album, Rattle and Hum was inspired by their time in the U.S. and even included a few live tracks recorded on the tour, including “Bullet the Blue Sky” from the Tempe.

They decided to revisit it six years back,  with a 30th Anniversary tour for the album. Although that tour lasted only 51 concerts, it still took in over $300 million and pleased better than 2.5 million fans. Which should have inspired some “Pride (in the name of love)” in the Irish foursome. Of course, it set them on the road to superstardom and the album did so well, they decided it was a tour so nice, they’d do it twice! In 2017, they went on tour again for the album’s 30th anniversary, playing every song on the album – remarkably they’d not done “Red Hill Mining Town” before in concert – headlining the Bonnaroo Festival during it, and playing some 66 shows for over 3-and-a-quarter million fans. That tour brought in close to $400M, all the better to pay for the expenses of things like the 200′ wide hi-res screen they used behind the stage! Typically they supplemented The Joshua Tree with eight or nine other tracks including “Sunday Bloody Sunday” to open, “Bad”, “Pride” and “Beautiful Day” and the once-panned “Miss Sarajevo” as an encore.

Although U2 just put out a new album, Songs of Surrender, so far they don’t seem to have any grand tour plans for it, although Bono is scheduled to appear at the Beacon Theater in New York City for 11 nights this spring doing his “Songs of Surrender” show which he labels “an evening of words, music and some mischief.”

March 23 – U2 Say You Can Go Home Again

Forty years ago this week, in March 1983, U2 put out the single “Sunday Bloody Sunday” in continental Europe. In the UK and North America, they picked “Two Hearts Beat As One” as the single instead; rather a “Sophie’s choice” since both were excellent tunes deserving hearing and hit status.

Sunday Bloody Sunday” got to #3 in the Netherlands and did pretty well across Europe and of course, has become one of the band’s enduringly popular songs in their live set. We’ve looked at the song here before, but in summary, the rebel rocker was thought up by guitarist The Edge, inspired by the horrendous Bogside Massacre that occurred in 1972, when the lads in U2 were still children. It was perhaps the tipping point in the years-long civil war in Ireland… and a good starting point for today’s feature.

It might seem like U2 have been quiet for some time now, but that’s actually not the case. In fact, the opposite is true. This week U2 have put out a new album and a TV documentary. Which seemingly are inter-connected.

A Sort of Homecoming is the TV special, the name of a song off their fine fourth album, An Unforgettable Fire, and the shorthand for the documentary’s content. 75 year old fan David Letterman goes to Dublin to visit Bono and The Edge (Adam and Larry from the band were busy elsewhere on other projects) and tour their hometown, meeting some interesting characters along the way and seeing the front side of U2 perform an acoustic concert (sort of U2 “unplugged”) for hometown fans.

The show’s well-worth a watch if you’re a fan, with not only some fine musical performances but interesting interviews with Bono and The Edge (as well as some of their friends in the music world). Bono reveals that the others in U2 get weary of all his activism at times; The Edge talks about his crisis in faith early on – feeling torn between doing something obvious to show his religious faith and being in a rock band – when the idea of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” came to him and he realized that his music could be a platform for change. They talk about – and show – how far Ireland has progressed from their childhood when it was a war-torn, uptight conservative land to now, a modern, rather open-minded society. And Letterman joins them for a spontaneous drop by a real Irish pub.

On the music side, The Edge gives the talk show host chills by demonstrating how he plays “Where the Streets Have no Name” on his usual electric guitar. Otherwise, the songs are stripped down versions of many well-known, and a couple of lesser-known U2 songs through the years, played with just acoustic guitar, an old upright piano and a woman on cello behind them. The pair said they wanted to see if there really was something to their old music, if the bombast of the group was taken away, and for the most part, songs like “Vertigo”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “One” pass the test. They might not be better than the originals we know, but they certainly sound good in the unplugged fashion, and in some cases the lyrics stand out and speak far more than they had before. And yes, they introduce a brand new song in it, ostensibly written in honor of their guest – “Forty Foot Man”. “Many nice things have happened to me in my life, this would be right at the top of my list,” Letterman said and while the song may not go down in their canon alongside “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or “Beautiful Day” as an all-time classic, it’s a pretty decent return to form for them… especially for one they supposedly banged off from the top of their heads at 3AM one night!

As for the new album, Songs of Surrender came out on St. Patrick’s Day, fittingly enough, and is their first new product in six years. It is a sort of extension of the Dublin concert, with old U2 songs done newly; reimagined. “We gave ourselves permission to disregard any sense of reverence for the originals,” The Edge says. In all, 40 songs are included, ten picked by each of the members. If you get a deluxe 4LP set. It’s also available in CD, vinyl and believe it or not, cassette tape with 16 songs including “One”, “Invisible” (a little known single from 2013 which was a highligt of the TV show), “Pride” and of course, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, which like a few others, Bono has tweaked the lyrics to. Sadly, no “Forty Foot Man”… but hold on! There are persistent rumors of another U2 album this year, which would be new material.

A Sort of Homecoming is now on Disney’s streaming service. I don’t know when Disney stopped being the one with the talking mouse and white princesses in distress needing saving and became THE music station, but following on the heels of last year’s Beatles doc, Get Back, it’s seeming like a service music fans might grudgingly need to have on their TVs.

March 15 – A Lillywhite Album Usually Turns Gold Or Platinum

Happy birthday to one of the best, and best-known producers of our lifetime. Steve Lillywhite turns 68 today. Lillywhite helped put U2 on the map…and that’s just for starters.

Born in Surrey, England, he like most kids of the British Invasion-era loved music, and began to play bass a little. But it never amounted to much for him. But in contrast, his first real job as a tape operator for Polygram Records did. He learned the ins and outs of recording studios, and soon produced a demo for then-unknown Ultravox. That got them signed and drew him to the attention of Island Records, who hired him on as an in-house producer. He quickly had some success there, working on the Siouxsie & the Banshees debut which produced a major UK hit, “Hong Kong Garden.” Quickly he became the “new wave go-to guy”, producing hits for XTC and Peter Gabriel’s acclaimed third album. That was where he met another guy who’d become pretty big in the biz, Hugh Padgham, who was Steve’s sound engineer on the Gabriel record. “I love Hugh,” Lillywhite’s said, “he’s great.” People like Phil Collins would surely agree!

In 1980 he helmed two impressive debuts – the Psychedelic Furs and, even more, U2’s Boy. He’d also produce their next two, October and War before the band decided they needed new input and looked to Eno.

He stayed very busy in the ’80s, doing works for a range of bands including Simple Minds, Big Country and even the Rolling Stones (Dirty Work), and he got married along the way to singer Kirsty MacColl. She’d at time join him and add backing vocals to projects he was working on, notably including the Pogues anti-Christmas carol, “A Fairytale of New York.” The couple had two kids before splitting up (and then, tragically MacColl dying in a strange boating accident.)

He rolled on into the ’90s working on a trio of big Dave Matthews Band records as well as doing some work with Eno & Daniel Lanois on U2’s Achtung Baby. Just before that, he’d worked on the final Talking Heads effort, Naked. It seemed to be one of his favorite works, and the band, despite its reputation for bickering found it “a really wonderful experience”, recording the album in Paris. Lillywhite said he realized he had grown by that time. “It wasn’t mixed so loud…I, in those days was known for this big bombast…sound, like on U2’s Boy.”

Although he briefly worked as an executive with Universal Music and a VP for Sony-Columbia, his favorite place seems to always be in the studio. He reunited with U2 for their How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, which won him a Producer of the Year Grammy… one of five trophies he’s won with them in all including Record of the Year for 2000’s “Beautiful Day.”

For all that, he isn’t universally adored. Rush call him “a man not of his word”, because he apparently baled on them when he’d agreed to record their Grace Under Pressure. (The band went on to essentially self-produce it. Since it continued their string of platinum, top 10-selling albums in both Canada and the U.S., they probably did alright themselves) and Dave Matthews Band unceremoniously fired him while they were working on a fourth record together. They didn’t say exactly why, but perhaps he acknowledges the reason while talking about himself. “I micro-manage like crazy. I tried to be that Rick Rubin sort of ‘sit back and see the big picture’ guy, but I have to be in there, getting my hands dirty.” Something I bet U2 can forgive him for. And the country. He was made a Member of the British Empire in 2012 for his contribution to music.

February 17 – Turntable Talk 11 : They Were The Champions, & They Rocked Us

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. If you’re keeping count, this is our 11th instalment! But for new readers, briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columns from other music fans and writers, sounding off on one particular topic. This month, our topic is A Really Big Show. We’ve asked our guests if they had a time machine, and could go back and see one concert what would it be? It could be a show from before they were born, one tey missed or one they actually attended and would like to relive. Big festival, small club show, you name it.

Today we wrap up this round, with a few thoughts from me here at A Sound Day.

A big thanks to my guest contributors again! I hope you’ve enjoyed their columns and thoughts as much as I have and I have to admit, I’ve been surprised at the range of shows they’d have liked to go back and see. From Count Basie in a swingin’ pre-war show in the Big Apple to the post-modern Talking Heads at their creative zenith in California to a huge hard rock festival I’d never heard of, we saw some great shows through their eyes (and ears).

If asked the same question myself, I’d be quite torn… so many good choices. First let me say, that honestly I would not have picked some obvious choices. Beatles? No thanks. Hey, I love their music and think they influenced modern music more than anyone else but, let’s face it – they quit playing live when they were coming into their real peak period and the shows they played leading up to that – Shea Stadium, etc –  had a poor sound system and the fans in the stands were screaming so much you could barely hear the Fab Four. Their rooftop show, documented in Get Back, a cool idea and some fine tunes, but I’d probably be with the few other amused fans and passersby on the street below, in the cold, not being able to see them and hearing it amidst the other street noise. Woodstock? Certainly a historic event, and some fantastic bands, but honestly, quite a few acts that were just a bit before my time and didn’t wow me all that much. Not enough to endure all that rain and mud… plus, I’d not like that some of the better artists were showing up onstage literally in the middle of the night!

I’d also consider going back to re-live a few concerts I did go to, to appreciate them more. U2 on The Unforgettable Fire tour at Maple Leaf Gardens. Powerful, brilliant rocking show finishing with all 18000 or so of us singing the chorus to ’40’ as we exited the building onto Carlton Street in Toronto. Today’s other column’s subject, The Stranglers, in a mid-sized bar in Toronto promoting the Norfolk Coast. Unlike their ’80s concert I saw in a big theater, this time the sound was perfect and they picked a great set of both their old ‘punk’ singles and newer, refined tunes. Frontman JJ Burnel even posed and grinned for a few photos for me while I was only feet from the stage – a marked contrast to the band’s ’70s behavior when he’d likely have cut the song and jumped off the stage to kick my camera out of my hands. This time around I wouldn’t end up losing the SD card! And R.E.M., my favorite band of my own generation. I’ve seen them several times but would probably go back to the Up tour show. Oddly, it was the first album of theirs I’d bought that under-whelmed me a little, and was the first without drummer Bill Berry but the concert was aces. Michael Stipe was chatty and humorous, they played some old nuggets I’d not heard them do before like “Cuyahoga” and they had an incredible, gaudy, fun backdrop of dozens of bizarre neon signs, flashing and looking like a Las Vegas cartoon. And as a bonus, Wilco opened the show! At the time (1999) I remember thinking they were quite good, but only knowing two songs they played. Twenty-odd years later, I’d appreciate their set more too I bet. But for all that, there’s really only one show that would win the “time travel trip” for me. The ultimate live music event of Gen X and in fact, of many of our lifetimes – Live Aid. Set the Time Travel dial to July 13, 1985, destination, London, England.

First off, it was a piece of History. I mean, you can’t think of ’80s music and not think about Live Aid and the fundraising records for the same African charities, notably “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “We Are The World.” People (like me) who weren’t there on that – happily – sunny day, were able to watch on TV for the most part. It was shown on television in over 150 countries and the audience was estimated at over a billion people! Talk about an event bringing the world together. As co-organizer Bob Geldof said, “thru the lingua franca (common language) of the planet – which is not English, but rock’n’roll – we were able to address the intellectual absurdity and the moral repulsion of people dying of want in a world of surplus.” Which brings me to another point – it was for good. George Harrison had started the ball rolling over a decade prior, with his Concert for Bangladesh; Bob Geldof and Midge Ure drove it home this day. Rock and pop music can bring about change for the better in the world both by raising money for worthy organizations that help and, more importantly by shining a light on serious problems many might not have known about. Obviously, the African situation – millions starving, droughts, civil wars – was complicated and throwing a few million dollars at it wasn’t going to solve all the troubles. But at least it helped a little, fed some and made people think about the world scene and how they could make a difference more than they had before.

All that aside, the day was about great music first and foremost and boy, did it deliver. I might add that of course a companion show took place closer to home, in Philadelphia. It too had a great lineup, including the Four Tops, Neil Young, Tom Petty, the Thompson Twins (oddly since they were London-based), riding high still from their Into the Gap, and a perhaps less-than-all-that reunion of Led Zeppelin with Phil Collins on drums. But still, for a non-stop tops show, the London one was it. No doubt to the delight of Princess Diana and not so much for Prince Charles (now “King Charles”) who were in attendance.

It kicked off at high noon with the Royal Coldstream Guards playing a little royal salute and part of “God Save the Queen” – the one Elizabeth would approve of, not the Sex Pistols one – before turning over the stage to Status Quo. No disrespect to them, but that would probably have been my cue to try to get to the snack bar to pick up a bite to eat and some drinks, because after that… it was a pretty jam-packed list of great music I liked, starting with the Style Council. Geldof’s own Boomtown Rats were up next and brought down the house with “I Don’t Like Mondays”. That awed Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp who said “you would follow (Geldof). He has just great charisma. He’d make a frightening politician.”

Spandau Ballet were on themselves soon after, but not before a brief appearance from Adam Ant and a longer one from Ultravox, the other organizer ‘s (Midge Ure) band. They kicked off their set with my two favorite songs of theirs, “Reap the wild Wind” and “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes”. It was barely 2 PM when Elvis Costello came on to do a “little northern folk song”, which turned out to be “All You Need is Love.” Next up, Nik Kershaw, one of the more promising newcomers from the New Wave who was hot at the time but seemed to close to disappear from the scene not long after. Stylish Sade came on and then a super-pairing of Sting and Phil Collins. They cranked through eight songs including “Roxanne” and “In the Air Tonight” before dueting on “Every Breath You Take.” As Phil no doubt ran offstage to catch the Concorde – remember he also appeared at the Philly show later in the day – Howard Jones was on. Unfortunately, he did just one song, and honestly, “Hide and Seek” wasn’t one of his best.

No time to worry about that, because then Bryan Ferry, fresh off the release of his first post-Roxy Music record, Boys + Girls, was up with a new guitarist … David Gilmour of Pink Floyd! Continuing in the stylish vein, Paul Young appeared, joined by the great voice of Alison Moyet for one song. By the time he’d cleared off, I might be getting a bit hungry, but I wouldn’t have been going anywhere because it was U2. More than anything else, their short-ish but express train-energetic set of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and a long take on “Bad” with bits of other tunes worked in was probably what made them rise from popular to contenders for “biggest band in the world.” Remember, they were on in a great time slot and about a billion pairs of eyes were watching Bono & Co.

Speaking of bands who were at the top back then, next up – Dire Straits, who brought Sting back out to help deliver “Money For Nothing.” By the time they were done, the sun would have been dropping in the sky a little. It was nearly 7 and coming on were some ’70s favorites who’d not been making much impact lately on my side of the ocean. But let’s hope no one looked away or dashed to the bathroom, because Queen put on their performance of a lifetime.

Following that was an unenviable task, but David Bowie tried and put on what Rolling Stone said was “arguably his last triumph of the ’80s”. He was in turn followed by The Who. There are people around who like The Who more than I do, but it’s always been a band who knew how to put on a power-packed, entertaining show, and in this case they played one of their (to me) under-rated songs, “Love Reign O’er Me.” It brought to mind a hypothetical question – if you had that time machine, could you take modern equipment like digital cameras with you? Hope so, because I’d want momentos of the day and would have tried to record a bit of the Who for our friend Max from Power Pop Blog.

Not many could properly come on after Queen, Bowie and the Who … but Elton John could. And he did with the longest set of the show, six songs and over half an hour. Interestingly, he brought George Michael on to do “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” which they put out as a single in the ’90s. Also unexpected, he finished with a Marvin Gaye cover, “Can I Get A Witness?”. No chicken suit for Elton but a pretty great set nonetheless, all the more surprising since we now know his mental state and addictions in that period.

Well, it would be almost time to go home with a headful of magic and music, but before doing so, Brian May and Freddie Mercury of Queen came back to sing “Is this the World We Created?” (I wondered if that was scheduled or a  last-minute kind of encore for them after seeing how well their own set went over), and a grand finale. And for a British rock show, what could be more fitting that than The Beatles? Sadly we didn’t get a reunion of ¾ of the Fab Four but did get Sir Paul doing “Let it Be” with a little help from his friends, including Bowie, Pete Townshend, Moyet and Gedof. Sure, Paul’s mic was wonky and the sound for it wasn’t great but hey… after that day, who’s complaining?

Live Aid ’85. The Show of Shows, and one I rather think, regrettably, will never be matched. It’s hard to imagine these days how one could get 30 or more top name acts together for a big concert that would appeal to over a billion people and have a lasting generational impact. I was there, via the TV screen. If I had a time machine, I’d have been there with 71 999 others at Wembley Stadium.

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 14 – Turntable Talk 10 : Achtung, It’s The Poetry Of Bono

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. Briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columns from other music fans and writers, sounding off on one particular topic. To kick it off in 2023, our topic is They’re a Poet Don’t You Know It... we look at a song that made a great impact on our contributors for its lyrics.

Today we have Lisa from Tao Talk. There she showcases a lot of fine modern poetry, so a category about lyrics and wordsmiths should be right down her alley…

Poetry in Lyrics – Achtung Baby (album) by U2

This is another one of those daunting prompts from Dave, like the one asking us to choose a favorite year in music. Lyrics are probably what leaves the lasting impression in music for me, with many exceptions. Also like other prompts Dave has given us, the song I wanted to use came to me immediately, “One” from U2’s Achtung Baby. Yet dissonance percolated for me, as the album is permeated with the “it’s complicated” poetry of love. Yes, I could have gone for the low-hanging fruit of the plea for world peace in “One” and called it good; but I was in the mood for a fermented cornucopia to sip and pass the bottle.

When Dave gave me the OK to use a whole album of lyrics instead of just one song, I had a very specific purpose in mind. Since we are supposed to be looking for poetic lyrics, I decided to choose favorite poetic lines from each song on it and compose a found poem from them. It took some time to listen to them while reading the lyric list found on the internet (the included ones I have from the CD are too small for these eyes to read anymore) to make sure they were accurate (some tweaks were needed.) Then I spent some time choosing my favorites. It didn’t take me long to see that many of them are presented in couplets. I also noted that about a third were proclaiming the most positive aspects of feeling in love, including excitement, anticipation, freedom, ecstasy, adoration, and timelessness. The other two thirds express varied emotions evoked from it, including anguish, embarrassment, resentment, discouragement, confusion, wistfulness, blame, and existentialism.

I’ve broken up the couplets in some cases and arranged the lines with positive aspects first, then the more complicated aspects. At the end, I kept the section from,Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” intact as I didn’t have the heart to break it up.

Her skin is pale like God’s only dove
Screams like an angel for your love

I’m ready for the shuffle – ready for the deal
I’m ready to let go of the steering wheel

We’re free to fly the crimson sky
The sun won’t melt our wings tonight

Time is a train – makes the future the past
Well, my heart is where it’s always been
My head is somewhere in between

The night is bleeding like a cut

Standing in the station
My face pressed up against the glass

Well, you left my heart empty as a vacant lot
For any spirit to haunt

Love is clockworks and cold steel

You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without

You gave me nothing – now it’s all I got

In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim

Sunrise like a nosebleed

Love is a temple – love the higher law

If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel
On your knees, boy!

You ask me to enter – then you make me crawl

Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head

To touch is to heal – to hurt is to steal

In dreams begin responsibilities

I disappeared in you – you disappeared from me
She wears my love like a see-through dress

I gave you everything you ever wanted

Between the horses of love and lust
It wasn’t what you wanted

And a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle

You bury your treasure where it can’t be found
But your love is like a secret that’s been passed around

your face of melting snow

Ah, the deeper I spin
Ah, the hunter will sin for your ivory skin
Took a drive in the dirty rain
To a place where the wind calls your name
Under the trees, the river laughing at you and me
Hallelujah, heaven’s white rose
The doors you open I just can’t close

youtube link for “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses

When I look at the above nuances of the greatest force in existence and remind myself that Bono and The Boys have spoken to each one, through the lyrics and the word made manifest in the music, I have take a moment to give a prayerful thanks to each one of them.

Thanks again, Dave, for inviting me to write to the prompt and for giving me some leeway in the parameters.

Song and Source information:

Achtung Baby

Copyright: Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

If you want to read more about this iconic album, here are three first class reviews:


Achtung Baby Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Rolling Stone’s

Achtung, Baby

Elysa Gardner

Spectrum Culture’s

David Harris

Revisit: U2: Achtung Baby

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! . 

November 21 – ’80s Live, Part 2 : Red Rocks Rocked By U2

Young readers might be surprised to learn that there once was a time when U2 weren’t a particularly “big” band. In the early-’80s they were just one of many post-punk rock acts out there struggling to get any widespread attention. But in a few short years, they’d elevated themselves to status of worldwide superstars, and that began in 1983. Early in the year they put out their third album, War, which was their best-received one to that point and opened the door to the American market for them with the singles “New Year’s Day” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” A major tour followed, which led to the next step up for them – their first live album. And that one, Live Under A Blood Red Sky, arrived this day 39 years ago.

Some called it an “EP”, others a “mini-album” while most consider it just a regular album, but no matter what the terminology it was a great-sounding record which helped win them more fans and draw attention to what would become their legendary live sets. The record was a trim eight-song, 35-minute effort containing seven of their relatively well-known songs from their existing albums (including the singles off War plus “I Will Follow” from their debut album, Boy) plus a somewhat obscure b-side off a standalone single, “Party Girl.” Although widely thought to be a recording of their concert from Red Rocks in Colorado that summer, in fact only two songs were taken from that show. One was recorded in Boston while five were drawn from a German show. The Red Rocks idea likely comes from the striking cover photo, showing Bono silohuetted “under a blood red sky” and from the video of the same name they released a few months later that was essentially the whole Colorado show. Regardless of the origins, the record seemed seamless…and powerfully impressive.

At the time, Rolling Stone took note and gave it 4-stars. They suggested that it “gives ample evidence of why people are calling U2 the best live band of 1983” and highlighting something not often commented upon – the bass. Producer Jimmy “Iovine’s approach uncovers U2’s secret weapon – the versatile, elastic playing of bassist Adam Clayton.” Later reviews generally concurred; allmusic gives it 3.5-stars, Pitchfork 9 out of 10 and Entertainment Weekly an “A-”. Pitchfork consider it “a key document in understanding U2’s meteoric rise”, an album made when “U2 aren’t yet an arena band but they carried themselves like one”. They noted their talent got more attention two years later when at Live Aid “only Queen and their monumental performance…came off better.”

Although they did put out a single off it, “I Will Follow”, it didn’t make it into the top 40 anywhere, although by reaching #81 in the U.S. it did better than the original, studio release of it. However, the album was eagerly bought up, actually being a #1 hit in New Zealand and #2 in Australia and the UK. Curiously, it somehow only went to #48 in their own Ireland! As it stands, it’s triple platinum or more in the U.S., UK and Australia.

Big fans might want to look for a 2008 re-release of Under A Blood Red Sky. It contains the original album plus an expanded DVD version of the Red Rocks concert, adding in some nine extra songs.

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.