I start the year with one of the great songs in the U2 pantheon, and definitely among my favorites. I play it several times every January 1st (as do many radio stations), and it is in my regular playlist for the rest of the year. Over the years since New Year’s Day was released it has been surpassed a number of times in my list, but still, to be there for so long is a definite accomplishment. It came off the War album, which spawned a couple of hits that still resonate strongly today. Since it has been around and popular for so long, it’s one of the most played U2 songs - Wikipedia says it’s the fifth most played live song.
Surprisingly enough, given the theme of the album (its name is War after all) I have always thought of New Year’s Day as a love song. “I want to be with you night and day”. I’ve thought of it as both a song between two people, and a song between the singer and his crowd (as evidenced by the version in Under A Blood Red Sky). So it was interesting to read about Bono using the Polish Solidarity movement as one of his inspirations for the lyrics, as I had not really made that association before now. Also interesting was to note his comment about the piano sounding like ice, so making the song feel like it was in a snowy setting, which matches up with the music video.
“Nothing changes on New Year’s Day”. This is true, but you wouldn’t believe the number of people who have argued this point with me. My brother was probably the first, when he said that yes, the calendar changes. I point out to him and others that this is the whole point - the calendar changes from one year to the next, but nothing else changes. On New Year’s Day and the days following you’re going to see the same old news, arguments about politics or religion or whatever, as you did just a few days before, when an arbitrary number on an arbitrary piece of paper was one digit smaller.
As a rookie guitar player, this is one of the U2 songs I have worked on most. It is fairly slow, which makes it easier to follow, and it also has regularly repeating sections with breaks between them. I cannot do the switch between piano and guitar that Edge does, since I have both no piano skills and no piano, but I have found that the times he switches into piano are the times when I can catch up, as I’m usually behind by the end of one of the guitar sections. And speaking of, when Edge starts into the piano part, with the dum-dumdumdum-dumdumdum section (at about 2:52 on the album version, I’m assuming you know the song here), that’s possibly my favorite part of the song. Listen closely and you can hear that specific part repeated in other sections, especially by the bass guitar throughout the song, giving it the unique rhythm it has. That piano part is such a calming moment within the beat of the rest of the song, a respite (bridge? Is that the right term?) that U2 regularly use in their music.
All in all, New Year’s Day is one of the better and longer-lasting songs that U2 have produced. Although not in my top of the top, I would put it up near there. If I was able to create the playlist for my ideal U2 concert, New Year’s Day would certainly be in it (keep in mind that concert would be three or four hours long, or as long as Bono has any voice left).
My rating for New Year’s Day: 8 / 10