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.

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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

Writer: HEWSON, EVANS, CLAYTON, MULLEN
Copyright: Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
https://www.lyricsondemand.com/u/u2lyrics/achtungbabylyrics.html

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

Allmusic’s

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.

October 20 – Boy, That Was A Good Debut

On this day in 1980, one of the biggest bands ever arrived on the scene, and Boy , how! That was the day U2‘s debut album, entitled Boy, was released in the British Isles. It came out early the next year in North America.

Although Bono was only 20 at the time, U2 had gotten to be musical veterans with a reasonable following in their homeland (Ireland, of course) by that time and had modest success the prior year with an EP called U2 – 3 . But outside of Dublin, they were almost unknown. This album quickly changed that.

With their characteristic sound of their early days- big, edgy guitar riffs, catchy melodies, Bono’s earnest, powerful voice – the masses soon took notice. They quickly rode to the forefront of a sort of offshoot of both punk and new wave, rather “post-punk”, a field shared at the time by fellow UK-ers Simple Minds and The Alarm.

Boy was recorded earlier in ’80 in Ireland, using up-and-coming producer Steve Lillywhite, who was essentially the in-house producer for Island Records. He’d already had success producing records for Siouxsie and the Banshees and Peter Gabriel and not only got the best of the band’s power and passion, but utilized a lot of unusual techniques to give the record atmosphere, ranging from a glockenspiel on the hit single, I Will Follow”, to breaking glass. They re-recorded two of the three songs that had been on their initial EP for it, “Stories for Boys” and “Out of Control.”

While it was a breakthrough album for them, it wasn’t a smash on the order of what they’d be enjoying later in the decade. At home in Ireland it got to #13, and it had little impact on the U.S. or UK charts although it did draw some localized airplay and notice from people with their ears to the ground. Curiously, it did best in Canada, where it got to #4 and was soon certified platinum.

A few noteworthy publications did give it a listen and review it back then though. The NME called it “honest, direct and distinctive” while Melody Maker figured it was something “more than just a collection of good tunes.” Over here, Rolling Stone gave it 3.5 stars, gushing over “I Will Follow “ (a “beguiling, perfect single…with tinkling percussion and mantra-simple chorus of dogged affection”) but thinking the rest of the record just not bad. None the less, they saw a bright future for the band with its “smart, bass-heavy trance pop” and “ringing accents of the versatile guitarist who calls himself The Edge.”

Years, and about 3 and a half million copies later, everyone knows Boy and most fans like it a lot. Uncut would later rank it as the 59th best debut ever and Rolling Stone would grade it among the 500 greatest albums of all-time, thinking it “too ingenuous for punk (but) too unironic for new wave,… big-time dreamers with the ambition to back it up.” Seems time has proven them right.

Although Boy is their first album and well-known, your copy might be a bit different from your neighbor’s. While it was originally put out, in Europe, with a picture of a young boy ( a friend of Bono’s little brother, Peter Rowen, who’d later show up on the cover of War), the record company worried that more conservative America might accuse them of pedophilia with a small child on the cover, so they put it out with a blurry quartet of B&W photos of the band members instead. Also, there have been slight variations in the track listing depending on the format and date of issue; many copies for instance have a prior U2 single, “11 O’clock Tick Tock” added in, a bonus not on the original British LPs.

October 8 – Song Won U2 New Hearts They Desire-d

Bono got to sing from the rock & roll pulpit on this day in 1988… that was when U2‘s “Desire” hit the U.S. top 40. It gave the public their first taste of the band’s shift in direction that was Rattle and Hum, the album which came out a few days later.

Guitarist The Edge at the time said of that record “music’s become too scientific, it’s lost that spark and energy it had in the ’50s and ’60s,” suggesting “that missing quality was something we were trying to get back into our own music.” To do that, they went to a new producer, Jimmy Iovine, after recording a couple of very successful albums with Eno and Daniel Lanois (The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree) and looked to the U.S. both geographically and musically for inspiration, visiting the sites where much of the old Blues and R&B music they loved had been made.

Although “Desire” was built around an old “Bo Diddley beat” rhythm and The Edge fashioned his guitar work on it somewhat after The Stooges, the song actually was one of the minority on the album to be recorded back home in Ireland. They had the idea for the song early on in the recording process, cut a demo of it there and then re-recorded it in an L.A. Studio. However, they liked the grit and power of the demo better, and ended up keeping that, although they did do some re-mixing of it in California, which resulted in the alternate “Hollywood Mix”, utilizing back-up singers Edna Wright (of Honey Cone) and Alexandra Brown, which is used in the Ameri-centric video.

The song’s lyrics seem a mix of the band’s drive – the “Desire” to succed – and potshots at American life, gun culture and televangelists for example. Bono said “on one level, I’m criticizing the lunatic fringe preachers ‘stealing hearts at a traveling show’, but I’m also starting to realize there’s a real parallel between what they do and what I do.”

Perhaps there is. The band certainly were able to steal a few hearts with their traveling “Joshua Tree” tour that some of the album was culled from. The song – and later the whole Rattle & Hum album – proved to Americans, among others that the success of The Joshua Tree wasn’t a fluke. “Desire” was a worldwide hit, getting them gold records in the States, Canada and New Zealand and going to #1 in Britain (their first there), Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Ireland (where it was their fifth chart-topper) among other places. In the U.S., it was helped along by being used in Miami Vice, and it reached #3 but was #1 on the speciality Mainstream Rock and Alternative Rock charts. It was their first on the latter chart..but that’s no surprise as it was only the fourth #1 song in the chart’s history, Billboard having only begun it weeks earlier.

September 7 – The Turntable Talk, Round 6 : If It Sounds Good To You…

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! As by now, regular readers know, that’s when I have several interesting guest writers sound off on one topic related to the music that we look at here daily. This is our sixth round of it, and if you’re new here, I recommend taking a look back at some of the earlier topics we’ve covered like why the Beatles are still relevant, or “did video kill the radio star?”

This time around, we’re calling it “Shock Rock.” But wait, there’s a twist – it’s not about Marilyn Manson and his contemporaries…unless our writers want it to be. Rather, its more about what some would call “guilty pleasures.” Songs or records that you like that would “shock” most people. Ones that go against the grain of most of what you listen to. I once asked a well-known radio DJ who loved new music, alternative and artsy rock if he had a musical guilty pleasure and he responded that he’d always liked “Moonlight feels Right” by Starbuck… a ’70s piece of laid back yacht rock with a xylophone solo! (Hey, we like it too!) Not his usual fare, but a song that he loves regardless. Maybe the heavy metal types have a soft spot for a bit of late night opera. Or an “all-60s rock” person loves Bruno Mars too. You get the idea.

Today we wrap up this topic, with a few thoughts from yours truly about, “shock rock.” As always, I thank the others who’ve taken the time to contribute and let us see their darkest musical secrets, LOL.

Our guest contributors in the past week have shared some of the music they love that would surprise many who know them… a “country” artist hard-rock officinado Deke likes, a song by a rapper that appeals to “power pop” Max, for instance. I think it all highlights how music is a personal thing and it’s unfortunate that we’re so quick to label music to make it fit one easy-to-define genre or box. I’ve been guilty of that at times, but it’s something driven by the music industry itself. Look at Billboard magazine and you’ll find their Hot 100 that lists albums of all sorts based on sales and times streamed and so on…but also an array of weekly charts like “country”, “alternative rock”, “mainstream rock”, “urban contemporary” and on and on. Radio follows that largely and it all ends up making it rather easy for music we might love to slip through the cracks unnoticed. And there’s also the personal memories – many people have a song they love merely because it brings back memories of a great date when they heard it in the car, or a song that was playing in the hospital lobby as they went in to give birth to a baby. Songs that otherwise might have elicited yawns would then bring back a flood of good memories…and make that song important to them.

I don’t know that there are many examples of music that I like that would be surprising to many who know me. I have a definite love of Beatles, ’70s “AM pop” that I listened to as a kid, ’80s alternative/new wave that I listened to as a young adult and intelligent singer/songwriter types with a smattering of country, old standards and new music thrown in for good measure. One type of music I really tend to dislike though is opera. The booming, over-dramatic voices tend to grate on me, even if they are technically great. It doesn’t help that they’re generally in a foreign language so I can’t tell what’s being sung, but even English attempts tend to make my ears displeased. So one song that I like a lot might “shock” some people is “Miss Sarejevo”. People know U2 is one of my favorite bands, but also that they’re known for jangly guitar rock with political statements. Not arias worthy of tuxes and tails. So mixing them with Luciano Pavarotti was a risky proposition. Even Island Records thought so. So much that they originally put the song and its album out under the pseudonym “The Passengers”…they felt if they labeled this left-field album by Ireland’s most popular act as “U2”, it might kill of their career! To top it off, Bono and the Edge performed the song for the very first time as guests of Luciano Pavarotti in one of his operatic concerts, with a full orchestra replacing their usual guitars and drums. Only in later years did Bono get to tack the song on with various compilation albums clearly labeled “U2”. Yet surprisingly, it worked.

At least it did with me. The booming Italian voice kicks the song into gear and provides a great counter-balance to the understated delivery of Bono and the band; perhaps a fine metaphor for the emotions in war-torn Bosnia at the time, which the song was about. I’d be hard-pressed to sit and listen to a whole Pavarotti show, fine as his voice might be, but somehow I find this track very listenable. Many U2 fans didn’t, even if Bono himself has called it his favorite song in their catalog .But  that’s the beauty of music.

My friend, radio DJ David Marsden often says “there are only two kinds of music. Good and bad.” And if something sounds good to you, makes you feel more deeply or improves your day, whether ifs rock ( mainstream, alternative, classic…), pop, country, jazz, folk, opera, ambient country-rap… you name it. If it makes you feel better…that’s Good Music.

April 2 – The Tree Began To Rattle Across America 35 Years Ago

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”, a song they’d played frequently for the past year or so) . 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 finished 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.

The ’87 tour 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 3.25 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.

It looks quiet in the U2 camp in terms of touring for 2022, but they are keeping busy nonetheless. They are putting out a special edition EP for Record Store Day later this month with their oft-forgotten ’82 single “A Celebration” and a new song; as well they are apparently in negotiations with Netflix about having a TV series about them.

March 17 – Have A Pint & See What The Hype Was About

An Irish tale for the most Irish of days. If you were in Ireland on this day in 1978, you might have been downing a pint and finding out what all “the hype” was about . What more appropriate day for U2 to begin their ascent to world-domination than St. Patrick’s Day. And that was basically what happened that day when they won a talent contest which earned them a chance to record.

By that time, the group was whittled down to the four members we know, and were using the name everyone knows. They’d begun two years earlier, when Larry Mullen, the drummer (only 14 at the time) had decided having a band would be fun and put a note up on the bulletin board in school suggesting that. Six others came out – Paul Hewson, Adam Clayton, Dave Evans and his brother Dik, as well as Ivan McCormick and Peter Martin. Martin had a guitar and amp, but couldn’t play at all, so he was out. McCormick dropped out after a rehearsal or two (wonder what he thinks of that decision these days?), leaving a quintet that decided to call themselves The Hype.

The Hype began playing a few shows around Dublin, largely in schools, in ’77, being inspired by and playing largely punk. Lots of Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks covers, largely because they didn’t require gigantic amounts of skill on the instruments from the young musicians who were more or less learning on the fly. Soon, Hewson was beginning to take charge of the group, and had the nickname Bono Vox. Dave Evans became The Edge, depending on who you ask, either because of his angular facial features or the jagged way he played the six-string. Eventually, by the summer of ’77, the band was building a following, but Dik Evans quit to go to college. He’d form a new band there, Virgin Prunes, who actually put out two albums and at times opened for his brother’s band in the early days.

Fast forward to St. Paddy’s Day, ’78. Harp Lager, one of the great Irish brews, and a newspaper were holding a talent show at a pub in Limerick, the city which would give us The Cranberries a decade later. The prize was a decent 500 pounds (likely akin to about $4000 today) and, more importantly, some studio time to make a demo that Columbia Records would listen to. The Hype, which had just changed their name to U2 (liking the ambiguity- is it a jet plane? a reference to two other people? an invitation- “you, too”?) won.

They went into the studio a few weeks later and recorded some material, but by all accounts, it wasn’t very good. They were nervous, ill-prepared and likely felt rushed with limited hours to use the facility. Nothing came out of that, directly. However, they did get a boost and kept playing and their improving stage show got the attention of Paul McGuinness – what a perfect Irish name – who had connections in the music business. He became their manager, and soon got them more studio time that summer. In August, they recorded three original tracks- “Lose Control”, “Stories for Boys” and “Boy/Girl.” With McGuiness’ help this time, they signed with CBS (Columbia) and they put out the three songs as a 12” single, entitled U2-Three. The initial pressing of 1000 sold quickly and evidently some more copies were made, and it rose to #19 on their home Irish charts. CBS didn’t release it anywhere else though, and it would seem didn’t have a lot of faith in the band. That was the end of their association with U2. If you’re looking online for a vinyl copy of that single, there are some around for as little as $20. The decision not to carry on cost CBS…. well, more than $20!

Of course, U2 soon signed with Island Records who quickly got them back into the studio, where they re-recorded “Stories for Boys” and “Out of Control”, and had them as a part of their debut album, Boy. The other track, “Boy/Girl” more or less disappeared into the ether and was seldom even performed by the band live.

So, if you’re a fan of Ireland’s biggest band, top o’ the mornin’ to ya and take a moment to give a thanks to the brewery called Harp and a man called McGuinness from the land of Guinness.