It astounds me that this is a song. Essentially Bono took a couple of lines from the bible and the band turned them into a song, supposedly within an hour at the end of a recording session. This leads to talking about his religious knowledge, but just to be able to do this at all, from a couple of lines from any book, is just incredulous. If I could do that, I think I could be famous.
The song is very short, apart from the chorus it is virtually just word for word the first two lines from Psalm 40: “I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.” There are slight differences to the song (“He lifted me up out of a pit”, “and made my footsteps firm” are the substantial ones), but really those could just be from a different interpretation of the bible that Bono was using, or simply making the words fit the tune better. Either way it is an amazing piece of work, whether in terms of lyrics or religion.
I once had a discussion about U2 and religion, where the other person didn’t believe they were that religious. I used 40 as one of their prime examples, along of course with many others. Sooner or later one of these posts is going to cover religion and U2, something which has been covered in many different ways.
40 is to me a magical song. In the 2011 World Series I remember walking out of game 4 with the crowd chanting “Derek Holland” and “Napoli”, the names of the two heroes of that game. As far as I recall, the only other time I’ve walked out of an event with the crowd all singing together is at the end of a U2 concert, which of course ends with us all singing “How long to sing this song” over and over. It really is a magical and communal feeling of all being together in this one moment. I suppose that is the feeling that some people get when they are in church. Of course it is also slightly bittersweet, because the playing of 40 is often the last song in a concert, and I never want the show to end.
Having said all that, talking about ending a concert with 40, my favorite version doesn’t even do that. That version is from the B side of the Electrical Storm single, and is a live combo of Bad/40/Where The Streets Have No Name. In it, 40 is only a snippet of the whole song, but you hear the crowd start to sing along with Bono, you get a slightly sad moment of feeling that the concert is over, then it starts rolling into Streets (and you still hear the crowd singing “How long to sing this song” in the background) and then you ramp back up into the joy of the show continuing. Like I said, magic happens around this song.
My rating for 40: 6 / 10