Christmas bonus

Merry Christmas! We have a couple of songs specifically for the day, and not those lame saccharine songs you’ve been forced to listen to for the last month.

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) was a song that U2 covered a few years back, during the Joshua Tree tour I think, when they recorded the song during a rehearsal for a show. The video for the song is the only thing I’ve ever known of it, although it was released on a Special Olympics cd too. It’s enjoyable, fun, light and fast and playful you might say. From the opening moment, when Bono starts the song in a deep and odd voice, there are a lot of laughs throughout the video. From Bono’s weird hat, to the hilarious moment when Bono and Edge are back to back, then Edge turns and looks at Bono and rolls his eyes and looks away, then he steps away just as Bono leans back and almost falls, there are funny moments again and again. I often think of it, even throughout the year, and there are times when it just makes me laugh. It’s got a light and sweet sound, and message. I haven’t heard the original, sung by Darlene Love in the 1960s, so I can’t compare, but I think the U2 version is much better known.

The second U2 Christmas song was by a guy called Greg Lake, this time in the 1970s. I Believe In Father Christmas is much more in the style of U2, some political thoughts in a song. Of course it wasn’t written by them, but they chose to cover it, so presumably they felt a connection to it. Now I said political thoughts, but it’s not really, it is talking about how Christmas has gone from being a religious holiday to a commercial one, which I guess you might call politically correct. It does make sense for U2, the religious theme is very similar to the themes that U2 have played over the years, the ideas of people calling themselves religious but not acting that way, or of the world needing God but not getting the idea of love that God and Jesus brought. So I would call this one of the more religious U2 songs, although not a U2 song. I Believe In Father Christmas is also enjoyable, but in a bit of a different way to the previous song.

I hope you have/had a merry Christmas. I hope you take that in all the meaning I give it, whether you believe in the religion or not (I saw a thing the other day that said you should take everything in the meaning that it is given, not in the meaning that you take it). I hope you had a U2 Christmas if that’s what you wanted, I doubt I will get anything U2 (I write this on December 22), simply because I already have it all. I would be quite surprised if I got anything that I wasn’t already aware of, but I hope you did if U2 was on your wish list.

Do They Know It's Christmas?

I’m not usually a big fan of charity songs. They’re generally lame, have a feeling of being written by a songwriter who writes for musical groups, and also feel like a vehicle for artists to showcase their charity efforts. It is rare that they are any good, and rare that I have any memory of them. Do They Know It’s Christmas is rare because I do remember it, but it isn’t any good. I will confess that I probably knew most of the musicians who performed on the song, but I don’t remember most of them now. Watching them, they all look like a bunch of plastic faces.

There is of course only one line that anyone remembers from the song, and it is Bono’s. “Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” I take this line two ways, and it takes a little messing with the tense to think of it like that. The first way is to say “thank God it’s them,” which implies that you’re wishing punishment on someone. This version requires the thought that God is going to punish someone, so you’re glad you weren’t the one chosen. The second version is the whole line, “thank God it’s them instead of you,” which is to say that you could very easily be in that position, and to give thanks that you’re not, even though you recognize that someone else is. These are somewhat splitting hairs, it may be difficult to follow the reasoning here, but that’s just the way I am.

I made a comment above that these songs are written by a songwriter who writes for musical groups. What did I mean by that? Well, I actually heard this line a couple of weeks ago, and it resonated pretty well with me. You see, there’s a big difference between a band and a group. A band, like U2, is one that writes their own music, writes their own lyrics, does everything themselves. I like bands. A group is one that walks into a studio, has a backing track laid down, and sings the words that someone has written for them. You know the kinds I mean, they are the Backstreet Boys or One Direction or any number of horrible boy bands that every so often my eleven year old sings a line from. Their music is worthless, built to make a quick buck, the group is worthless, put together to fill a specific list of characteristics, and you rarely if ever hear from them again. Can’t stand them. And of course this song wasn’t written by such a songwriter, it was written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, but their claim that they had very little time to write it is possibly a reasonable excuse for it being such a clunker.

News came through today that the video game Rock Band is adding eight U2 songs to their downloadable content (probably already out by the time you read this). I’ve never played the game, but I’ve heard about it plenty. I play a different game, Rocksmith, which is more of a guitar playing kind of game (I use a real guitar). But, I might have to break down and get a new system just to play this game and these songs. Crazy, right?

Covers Part II

Going through the Covers review the other day, it struck me the people that U2 have covered are a diverse mix, but when you really get down to it there are a few that they have covered the most. And there’s a difference between played the most, and covered the most songs. Which is more interesting, played one song from a band 10 times, or played 10 songs from a band one time each? That they would play a song 10 times tells you one thing, about the way they like that song a lot, but the opposite is that they like that band a lot. Like I said, interesting either way.

Roll through the list of bands where they’ve covered more than one song, and you essentially get a list of really famous artists. Here’s the list of artists that U2 have sung more than five of their songs live: Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Lou Reed, Neil Young, Simple Minds, The Beatles, The Ramones, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Thin Lizzy, Van Morrison. No surprises there, right? Every U2 fan has heard them play some or all of these groups, I wouldn’t dare say they play at least one of these in every show, but I would probably be right to say they have played them at least once every tour. The common bands, famous because they are good, played by U2 because they’re well-known.

But it’s when you dig deeper into the list that you find the more interesting connections. As I said at the start, there’s more interest in those songs they play a lot. Take for example Gloria by Van Morrison, one of the most sung non-U2 songs. How did it get into the show? You’d think it was because it has the connection to the U2 song Gloria, which it has been played with a few times, but it really took off when they added it to Exit during the Joshua Tree tour (as seen on Rattle And Hum), which is where it got by far the most plays. But it turns out that Satellite Of Love is the most-played non-U2 song, at least in full and not counting snippets (Send In The Clowns and When Johnny Comes Marching Home win with snippets). Satellite was played almost exclusively on the Zoo TV tour, because it fell in with the theme of the tour, the idea of satellites and TVs and so on. So, theme is the second theme for why they play a song a lot.

And you can keep on rolling down the list like that. So many of the songs are brought in for a guest appearance because of a certain event - like when they sang Michael Jackson the day he died, or several other artists on the day they died. Or they’re in a specific location - they’ve played three different Crowded House songs, all one time each, all as a snippet, and all of them during concerts in New Zealand, where the band is from. They just played a French song, Ne Me Quitte Pas, in the last few shows in Dublin and Paris, an ode to the French. And so on. So that theme would be location.

I bet if I went through the entire list, those would be the primary reasons, but I bet you could find specific reasons for any particular song being sung on any particular day. Maybe someone handed Bono a CD and he was listening to it, and the words just stuck in his head and he heard something during the show, a particular note or series of notes, and it jogged his memory and he switched to those words for a few seconds. Could be any reason. I just know that I like this idea. I have used the songs that U2 have recorded as introductions to other artists (like Woodie Guthrie), and I bet I could use their snippet list as an intro to a much wider variety of music.

Early Songs

One of the things about this blog is that I planned on covering every U2 song that was released, whether on an album, standalone, b side, whatever. The problem with this is that they have a number of songs that were never released, that snuck out into the world here and there in different variations. Some live songs that never got recorded, some demos that were recorded but never released, and so on. This means that there have been a few songs that never made it to my list, or were on the list but fell to the bottom again and again, and so I’m writing about those today.

It is actually quite surprising the number of songs that they have recorded but never released, or have existed in some variation or another. Bono is well-known for playing his latest thing to a journalist somewhere, and they report a title and a feeling for a song, but then it never sees the light of day. Plenty of those over the years. But if you go back to the earliest days, there are so many different titles that we know now, but don’t know what happened to those songs, whether they changed title, changed into another song, or just got thrown to the wayside. The following is a short list of songs (and even shorter reviews) that are now available on YouTube in different formats, all of them from the really early days of Boy or even before then.

City At Night: One of those definitive early U2 sounds, this song is fast, loud, lots of drums. Every box checked. And the Bono voice from the very early days, I don’t know how he managed to sing like that, getting that weird echo sound in his voice, somehow sounding both grownup and a teenager at the same time. Older than his years.

Life On A Distant Planet: Really good bass, from the first note onward. Bono sounding terrible. Ideas there, but not necessarily expressed very well. Makes me wonder if they came up with a phrase and then wrote a song around it. Like maybe they were watching Star Trek or something like that, and asked themselves “I wonder what life on a distant planet would be like,” then started writing something.

Carry Me Home: This one actually has a little bit of difference to the others, and I think it’s mostly the drums, they really do sound different. It’s also the guitar, Edge is doing a sort of start-stop thing throughout the song, and it is interesting, if not effective.

The Dream Is Over: I think this one became Boy-Girl, or maybe vice versa? Sound seems very similar, as does the overall feeling. Not much more than that.

Alone In The Night: Oh boy, check every box again. There are times when I listen to the early stuff that I think they are playing the same musical track over and over, just sped up or slowed down a little, and then Bono is singing words over the top (with words being a very loose term in this case).

So, none of these made it to a release, some of them influenced other things, but yes, these are very late-70s and early-80s sounds. There are a hundred bands that could have sung these songs (Madness comes to mind, they sounded just like this). Nothing that made it, nothing that deserved to. I would have loved this stuff if I was a teenager at this time, I would have been leaping and dancing at the shows.

And by the way there’s one song, Concentration Cramp, that I’ve never heard or found a link to. Any ideas?

Never Let Me Go

Another song from The Million Dollar Hotel, and perhaps I’m using it just as an excuse to bash the movie a little more. The movie was terrible, and I’ll admit that I put this song on the list because of Bono, but I hadn’t heard it before listing it, and that was probably a mistake. One problem was that I never watched the movie until recently, so didn’t really know how bad it was to think about. If only I had known, but too late now.

The song is possibly the one I most associate with The Million Dollar Hotel, the one that I think of the movie as soon as I hear it. It has the talking at the beginning, of course, that’s very much a giveaway. Then it goes into these slow dark horns, which when I hear the note it is playing I think of the song Your Latest Trick from Dire Straits. I should mention that the band is the MDH band, not U2, so again not sure I should even be talking about the song.

The lyrics are really the part that should interest me, because they’re by Bono, the only bona fide U2 connection. Problem is they are so short, just two stanzas, and they are sung slow and dull. Not necessarily his fault, that’s just the way it goes. So I really can’t say that they’re good, but I do kind of like them. They feel like they could be the start of something interesting, if only he could have kept them for U2 he could have developed them somewhere.

I must say that these last few weeks have been a change of context on the blog, and it has been both difficult and refreshing. This month I don’t think even half of the reviews have been specific songs (okay, quick count, 9 out of 19 are songs), and most of them have been rare or obscure (only three have been album releases). So I’ve been digging into music that I don’t listen to often, and trying to come up with something to say about it. That’s a little difficult at times (hence this section of the Never Let Me Go review, right?), but it’s also giving me an opportunity to stretch my thoughts here and there. The other part of this month is the different non-song reviews, those have been much more fun, being able to run a stream of consciousness about a particular topic. Some are fairly specific topics, like yesterday’s look at the Achtung Baby videos, but the ones I like the best are the ones I can range widely across a subject and cover a number of different aspects of it. And that’s actually good news for me, because I am at the point now where the rest of the year is going to mostly be like that. The schedule for the last twelve days has literally just two songs in it (hint: the reason for the season), the rest of it is reviews of different things, including the last twelve months of writing here. Hang on, it may be a bumpy ride.

My rating for Never Let Me Go: 2 / 10

The Fool

I could say a lot about the early U2 music, and I have in many cases, and I will a few more times before the year is out. Today I’m going back to the very beginning, about as early as you can get. The Fool was recorded in April 1978, and is believed to be from the band’s first sessions in a studio. There is nothing to my knowledge that was recorded earlier than this, certainly no studio songs.

The Fool actually breaks one of those early molds that I have talked about for U2. Most of the early stuff had simple music and simple lyrics, but The Fool has a lot of lyrics. Unlike other early songs, there is no repetition of the lyrics, it’s all fairly distinct. There is what seems to be a chorus in there that is repeated a couple of times, with somewhat distinct lyrics within each version, something I have said before that I like and appreciate in their later stuff, so kudos for Bono in getting that in there so early. I don’t know why, if he was able to do it here, he couldn’t do it on many of their other early songs, through pretty much the War era. So much repetition in those songs, if he could write this at 18 why not do the same when he was 23?

The music sounds like a lot of early U2, in fact I think it sounds most like Boy-Girl, which was recorded not long after, and released maybe a year later. You might suggest it was one of those songs that morphed into another, but I would say it is more likely that they didn’t have a big range at the time and a lot of their stuff sounded similar. Not to worry, it all worked out well in the end, right? And there’s a bit of an Edge solo towards the end of the song, they don’t break it up with a bridge but they do switch out to the solo, which helps a little. You hear the drums nice and loud, as they were at the time, but you don’t hear the bass that much, it tends to hide in the back.

The lyrics are good, surprisingly so, Bono keeps them short and punchy in this song. Each line is just four or five words, there’s no rhyming pattern but there are fairly similar sounds from step to step which keeps it going. I read something just yesterday about writing, about how you should vary your line lengths because keeping it all the same makes it boring. In this case they’re not all the same, but they are similar length, but it works because of the speed at which the song is delivered. It makes it rapidly going from one section to another, in some cases the lines meld into one another making it feel like it is longer.

Overall it is not a great song, it’s barely a good song, but it does showcase their early promise. Bono’s voice has that early howling in it, something that developed over the years into a really good sound, but right now you hear all the earnestness in the voice, and all the instruments, and that’s really good.

My rating for The Fool: 3 / 10

Red Light

War is an album that a lot of people love, but I’m not really in that category. I didn’t rate it very highly when I reviewed it, because I felt there were a couple of great songs that have stood the test of time, some songs that were fairly mediocre, and a fairly long tail of poor songs that have quickly disappeared into nothing. Red Light is one of those songs, a song I don’t listen to much, one I don’t want to listen to much, and a song that is fairly competitive as the worst song off the album.

The red light phrase is fairly well-known across the world, especially the red light district of a city, and I think I tend to associate it with Amsterdam more than anything. The song I think is going for the idea of a person being trapped into the life of a prostitute, and the singer is perhaps in love with them, and wants to try and rescue them from that situation, but can’t because they’re not welcome.

The song to me is a little bit of a reversion to the earlier sound in the U2 catalog. It features fairly simple instrumentation and fairly simple lyrics. As I go through the song I’m mostly hearing the bass, and a whole lot of drums, which were a feature of the early days but they also boomed on War, so maybe there is a little bit of progress in the song. There’s also a trumpet playing here and there, turns out that Kid Creole and the Coconuts were in town and some of their musicians helped out on the song in various ways. It is fairly uncommon for an instrument like that to appear on a U2 album in such a prominent way. Mostly when they have guests they’re backing music or short inserts, not leading the song and not showing up throughout. In this case the trumpet doesn’t seem to add much either, it’s not like it is really integral to the song like say when they have the backing musicians on All I Want Is You.

For the lyrics it is quite simple, there are some verses, and then the chorus is overloaded throughout the song. The “I give you my love” is repeated so many times it is irritating, especially at the end of the song when they just ran out of ideas and sang that repeatedly until the song finally faded away, perhaps out of boredom. That is one of those irritations for me, that in the early days they were unable to take an extra step and finish a song, whereas today they would work on it for months to get it just right. I guess that’s a sign of success, that you could push through that problem enough to get to the point where it no longer is a problem. How many bands are never given that chance?

I’m in California right now, just a couple of days for a wedding. I have thought of the song a number of times, I had the idea of visiting the locations in the song, but haven’t had time to do any of that. About the only part I was successful on was the blood-orange sunset, which I actually saw as I flew in on Friday. It was really pretty, I can see why it would stick 30 years later to get into a song.

My rating for Red Light: 2 / 10

Hallelujah

There are songs that are famous from the original singer. There are songs that are famous from someone else. And there are songs that are famous in a lot of different ways. This is a story about one of those third kind of songs. It is a song called Hallelujah, which has been sung by many different people and made famous in a number of different ways. One of those singers was Bono, which is why I am talking about the song today, although it is also because the sentiment of the song is very much related to the whole idea of U2.

Hallelujah was written and performed by Leonard Cohen, which should give you an idea that the original artist made it famous. But actually, it was a guy called Jeff Buckley who really took it to the peak, and a hundred others since then have sung it, including Bono. Buckley’s version is still the most famous, it is still the one that I think of when I listen to the song.

Bono’s version is, well, let’s say not good. I guess being so used to Buckley, Bono’s is kind of wild in comparison. It’s one of those songs that if it was a U2 song, it would be appearing on the b side of something, probably something off Pop, that’s the era it sounds like. Chanted, or spoken word, rather than sung, with weird sound in the background too. I have to say I dislike it, and dislike having to listen to it again for this review. Need to wash my ears out with the Buckley, or with Tower Of Song. Or there’s a video on YouTube that is Bono singing the Buckley version, as an intro to Streets, that’s a much better one to listen to.

The word itself has been used many times by U2, most notably in their own song titled Hallelujah (Here She Comes). I mentioned when I reviewed that song that the Here She Comes part is my trigger from the word Hallelujah, although I would be more correct in noting the mood I am in at the time drives the trigger. If I am in a bouncy mood, then yes, Hallelujah brings on Here She Comes, but if I am in a more melancholy mood then it is the Buckley version of the song that pops into my head.

Not going to rate the song today. Just not sure if it is U2 enough to be worth rating. If I were to give it something then I would be depending on knowing the specific version that I was rating. The original would get maybe a 5, Buckley a 9, and Bono, well, somewhere around 1 I think. It just doesn’t stick in my head the way the Buckley version does, except as a scab you want to pick at. I guess that’s the price you pay when you record a song that’s already famous, you have to do something weird to get noticed. Not like say Still Haven’t Found, which has been sung a bunch of different ways since it was first released. Maybe Streets, try singing that differently and see if you can get as well-known as the original

Bad

Of all the songs in the U2 pantheon, the ones that make the top of the top are the ones that are great songs whenever you hear them. It doesn’t matter if you are listening to them on an album, or one of potentially many live versions of a song. What matters is that excitement you feel the moment you start hearing the sounds of the song, or in some cases the anticipation that builds when you know that song is coming on next.

When I first started listening to U2, I began with The Joshua Tree, and not long after began working my way back through their catalog. On listening to The Unforgettable Fire, there were a few songs that I liked, but the one that stood out immediately was Bad. It is always a good sign if I like a song right away, often I have to listen to a song many times before I “know” it, and only then can I begin to like it. But for Bad it was an instant love, and it was a love that has carried over to this day. I was so happy during the Innocence and Experience tour every time they played Bad (although I wished they had played it more, in fact there are times when I wish they would play it more than once during a single show).

Bad is for me the top of the top in U2 songs. It’s not number one, Streets already has that position, and in reality there are other songs ahead of it too, but not many. Sneak preview of a review I will be writing at the end of the year, with a top 20 in it, you can expect to see Bad very close to the top. I love the song from the album, I love it live in every variation (I actually downloaded the Boston 3 show this year just because I liked that version of Bad so much, with the tributes to Lou Reed in it).

Bad is perhaps the ultimate live song, because it has such a good middle section that can be repeated while Bono goes off on a rant, or off telling a story somewhere, while the band just plays on and on until they get the signal to continue the song. That’s probably why it has all those variations, because it is so easy like that. That’s probably why it is one of the few U2 songs I can play pretty well, because the notes themselves are relatively simple, it’s the combinations of echo that really make this song stand out. I am often surprised by how little Edge is actually playing, when he hits three or four notes and you get ten out of the pedals he is using. I have played around with it, not really good at it, but I think many U2 fans would recognize what I was playing.

I think on this tour I learned much more about the history of Bad that I didn’t know. I knew it was about drugs, but combining it with Raised By Wolves, and Bono’s statements about that song, helped give it much more intimacy. Basically Bono’s friend was at the bombing talked about in Wolves, which tells of him going into drugs to try and forget. Then Bad is a much deeper part of the drug story, the same person’s story. A really interesting connection between the two songs. It was also good to hear Bono talking about that guy coming to their shows in Dublin, having apparently solved at least some of his demons. I wonder if there might be a third song in the future, telling us about that part of the story.

My rating for Bad: 10 / 10

Treasure (Whatever Happened To Pete The Chop)

I love that the title of the song was Pete The Chop, named after a friend of a friend, and when they left the song off the album, the record company said “Whatever Happened To Pete The Chop,” giving the song a subtitle. It wasn’t released until many years later, on the War anniversary version, but it was around for many years in U2 fandom, as bootlegs from live versions, and in myth and legend. Pete The Chop is one of those early songs that I heard of but never heard, that sat in my U2 wish list for many years until finally I heard it.

Edge says that this song is “Stylistically quite different to anything else on ‘Boy’” which I really have to disagree with. I think it sounds a lot like the rest of Boy, musically and lyrically. There are parts where I think of other songs on Boy, but also on other albums. Quite a lot of it reminds me of songs like Electric Co., at least the music does, but also Out Of Control. Then there’s the line “sing it, sing my, sing my song,” which comes back to Gloria, a song that was released a year later on October. So this could very well be one of those songs that reverberate through the ages, bouncing around here and there and giving echoes of itself.

But really, the song is quite similar to many of the others on Boy, and despite the record label liking it and wanting to keep it, I think it was a reasonable decision to drop the song. As I’ve said before this year, several times when reviewing some of the b sides or songs left off, they’ve not made the cut because they sound too much like something else. That’s what I think happened here. You don’t want every song on the album to sound the same, but it all depends on the theme you’re going for. I think that Songs Of Innocence had the best theme of any U2 album yet, going back to that innocence and making the sound just like the old days. But even then, they’re good enough to get the theme floating through rather than making everything sound the same. The theme on Boy, not so obvious, and the sound not too much the same either.

I write this before watching the HBO show tonight. I expect I will talk about that tomorrow, although it may even take a few more days for it all to sink in. I have read several items about the show, some spoilers here and there, and I fully expect to be crying my eyes out as I watch certain points. If you have seen stuff from yesterday’s show (Paris 3), or if you remember the show after 9/11 which I have talked about a few times here and there, then you might be able to guess what I am talking about. Enjoy the show, and come back to see what I have to say about it.

My rating for Treasure (Whatever Happened To Pete The Chop): 3 / 10

Neon Lights

I don’t allow comments on this site, it was a conscious decision given that my previous experiences with comments were rather dubious. In prior blogs I would guess maybe half of the comments were spam, mildly tiresome to deal with, but of the rest, a fairly sizable portion were insulting me, which is one of those annoying things about the internet. If you don’t like something, just walk away, you don’t have to be rude about it. So when I started this project, I decided simply that I wouldn’t allow comments, and if you had something to say to me about it, then there’s a Twitter button at the bottom of every page that you can contact me on. The fact that there have been so few comments during the year is interesting in multiple ways. Am I not writing anything worth commenting on, or is it more difficult to go via Twitter to say something? If the latter, then in theory the worth of the comment should be higher the more difficult it is to make.

Neon Lights is a cover of a Kraftwerk song, it was released by U2 on the Medium, Rare and Remastered fan club CD. I suppose U2 got some influence from Kraftwerk given that they were fairly well known around the time U2 were forming, and also because they spent a lot of time in Berlin during the recording of Achtung Baby, and presumably got some influence from that too. I’ve listened to the U2 cover of this song and the original Kraftwerk version, and frankly they’re both terrible.

Now, why did I make that opening paragraph all about comments? Because if you go on YouTube and check out the song, you will not surprisingly see a bunch of nasty comments. The usual few by people who hate U2 and will put bad comments on anything. A lot by Kraftwerk fans rushing to defend their band against anything (my favorite are the ones that questions the legality of U2 covering it, like they’re lawyers or something). And I realize that you shouldn’t read the comments on YouTube (every time I think of having a YouTube channel I think of the comments and it stops me), but sometimes I can’t help myself.

But it makes me think about the people who have covered U2. There have been a number of those covers, but of them I have heard very few, that is one of the things I don’t go out of my way to do. Why listen to a cover when you can hear the original? Of the ones I have heard, some have been interesting, like the variety of things that have been done to Still Haven’t Found, repurposing it to a completely different song at times. Since I haven’t gone looking, I don’t know about the YouTube comments on those songs. Are there fans who will say that the original U2 is much better? Are there fans out there trying to defend U2’s legal rights? I don’t know. I’d like to think that Bono’s comment at numerous shows about U2 fans looking after each other applies, but that can work both ways. Looking after the band means going and defending them, but defending them isn’t really necessary. They’re big enough to look after themselves. All this may be just to say be cool. Or maybe the ultimate idea is that maybe the world would be a better place if everyone would just mind their own business.

My rating for Neon Lights: 1 / 10

Dancin' Shoes

I recently reviewed The Million Dollar Hotel movie, and this is one of the songs from that. Unfortunately the song suffers from the knowledge of the movie, which was terrible, so I don’t know if I can judge the song fairly. The other part of it is that the song is not by U2, it is technically by “Bono and the MDH band” so it loses points there too.

The Million Dollar Hotel band is a bunch of guys I’ve never heard of, along with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. I must admit to being very conflicted on Eno and Lanois, they have clearly given a great deal of influence to U2, with some very positive results, but then there are times when their results may not have had the effect I might like (Passengers). In general their side projects - in any form, album, single, b side - aren’t as good as when they have been working with U2 as a band. I wonder what that tells us about U2, how they are able to resist the total influence of Eno at times, drag his flights of fancy back toward reality. I might even say that this is the Larry Mullen influence, that it seems, from listening to his talks about things, that he is kind of the rock that the band is held on, and he won’t allow things to get too far away from what he likes. When he gets lost is when Eno becomes in charge, like with Passengers.

So since it’s not a U2 song, I’m not so sure I can review it properly, but here I am. The only part I can review is the singing, and perhaps the lyrics the way they are written, if I assume that Bono wrote them. The singing is weird, in places terrible, it doesn’t sound like him at all. I have in fact listened to this song several times and I am almost convinced that the first verse is not sung by Bono at all. It’s hard to tell, and the credits for the song don’t help much, they imply that it might be Daniel Lanois singing on the song (he gets vocals credits, but along with several other things, and on several songs, so not sure). But the way that the voice morphs into Bono in the second verse, and again later in the song, it just feels like he is singing weirdly. Either way, I don’t like it.

Paris again tomorrow, I guess we call it Paris 3, right? Anticipation is high, last two shows of this leg of the tour, I am expecting there to be a lot about the events in Paris, although I was expecting more about it in the Belfast and Dublin shows too. Seems they have said a couple of times that they want to bring their show, as it has been, and changing it up because of events isn’t necessarily what they want to do. Anyway, we shall see, and hopefully some announcements soon about next year.

My rating for Dancin’ Shoes: 1 / 10

Glastonbury

Glastonbury is a festival of music held every year in the UK, from what I’ve seen and hear it’s kind of like Woodstock over and over, where everyone drinks and fights and gets covered in mud and listens to a hundred bands and gets sick and tired and diseased by the end. So yeah, I don’t know much about it, right? Anyway, a few years ago U2 were supposed to play Glastonbury, but Bono got hurt (seems to be a pattern) and couldn’t perform, so they had to cancel. They went back a year or two later and did a show, and it was big and good and blah blah blah and, well, nothing really outstanding, just a U2 performance at a festival. Now, U2 live is great, but I don’t know, it really seemed like the festival is so hyped that they should have had the best performance of their lives. Maybe it was because the standard response to U2 playing something like this is the people who say they shouldn’t have been there, that it is a festival for the smaller, newer, cooler bands. Again, I don’t know. But what I’ve seen of it wasn’t anything special.

But the interesting thing that came out of it is a song called Glastonbury. Okay, it didn’t actually come out of the festival, but obviously they were thinking of it when they created it. They have never released it, it has only been played live a few times during 360, so you’ll have to jump out to YouTube if you want to see it and hear it.

The start is taken straight from Volcano (wait, it’s the other way round) and the “you are rock and roll” segment in Volcano is in this song several times, the music that is, and the “you are” but the other words are different. So it is clear that this song was a precursor to Volcano, which showed up a few years later on Songs Of Innocence. So for me to say that it was never released, I should say that it wasn’t released in the original form, that it morphed some of it into Volcano. This is the way things work, we’ve seen this a hundred times this year, where a sound or lyric in some partially completed song is taken somewhere else, and the partial song is dropped, never to be heard again.

I must admit that I’m not sure about this song, I don’t really know what the lyrics are about, or what the song is meaning. There are parts that are talking about mountains and sunshine and so on. There are parts about love and so on. Comparing them to a rose. Just bits and pieces that stick out. One line that really shows up is “Under the flower of American dreams,” and I am totally lost on that one. Is it them, the band, dreaming about going to America and making it big? Or something else, I can’t really see it as sinister (somehow the line reminds me of Vietnam). I just don’t know, the song seems to be happy but there’s always an undercurrent of mystery hanging around somewhere.

My rating for Glastonbury: 3 / 10

Angel of Harlem

It was a cold and wet December day, when we touched the ground at JFK…

The ongoing series of phrases that trigger U2 in my mind is easy here, every time I hear “cold and wet” I automatically sing that line, either out loud or in my head. One of the many lines that are easy to remember and just stick with you forever. Actually hearing “JFK” also triggers the line in my head. I’ve only once been to New York and I flew into LaGuardia, but I’m pretty sure I sang that line as we landed there, too. I might have changed the name of the airport, yeah, because I’m like that. (Can you tell how late it is?)

I really like Angel of Harlem, it is one of those songs that keep on giving, it gets changed up time and again and still keeps on coming back for more. We’ve seen it played live with the full band, played acoustically, played by fans getting up on stage during the current tour (and during prior tours; I want to say but I’m not positive that they pulled a guy up on stage to play it in one of my first shows, I remember them pulling him up but I don’t know if it was Angel of Harlem for sure and I’m not going to look it up right now). It is a song that is apparently simple and easy to play, although I’ve never learned to play it myself, but maybe I should just so I can get on stage with them sometime next year? Or maybe teach my son to play it, Bono would love that, right? All we have to do is squeeze in near the e stage somehow.

Again on the versions, you have the live version off the Rattle And Hum movie, where they stop and start while Larry complains and they talk about his feet, then the album version as well. The backing band does a really interesting job, the trumpets and horns and whatever, are they the Memphis Horns? I remember that name, not sure if this was the song but I think it must be, right? Since they were recording in Sun Studios at the time (I drove through Memphis once, didn’t stop, don’t have a song about it).

There’s a whole bunch of info about New York in the song if you unwrap it, but the song of course is mostly about Billie Holliday more than anything else. I don’t know much about Billie, I have seen the picture in Rattle And Hum but I don’t know her music (blues, I guess, given that there’s salvation in them).

I really like the different ways Bono sings the title “Angel of Harlem” itself, sometimes stringing it out, sometimes squeezing it together fast, and then he’ll also run the “of Harlem” together, like “ofHarlem,” and it just sounds neat that way. It’s one of the ways you can tell he has fun with the song, when he starts to twist things up like that, make it a little different just to enjoy it. There’s also the version on From The Ground Up where they play a little tribute to Michael Jackson, that’s an enjoyable piece too.

My rating for Angel of Harlem: 6 / 10

Mercy

Mercy came out of the How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb sessions, it was apparently leaked during the recording and thus never taken any further. Actually they did play it live a few times during 360, and it ended up on the Wide Awake In Europe release in 2010, but that’s it. Listening to it now it doesn’t feel quite finished, like they got to a certain point on it (pretty far along I think), then it leaked and so they stopped. If I was to put a number of it, I’d say something like 85% finished, with some work to do on the lyrics (I think Bono could work on them forever though, and still not be satisfied), and some to do on the music too.

It is a song of opposites, from the very first line which conjures up the idea of the communion service in the Catholic church, but immediately throws a curve into it by asking about the use of religion. It goes on throughout the song, every line being a two-part opposition to each other, like for example “If you were ice, I’m water,” or “we’re binary code, a one and a zero.” This idea of the dichotomy has come in a number of U2 songs I have covered this year, Bono seems like talking about the thought of being opposites, or opposites attracting. He has referred to it in shows as well, in many of his mentions of Ali he has talked about she and he being not quite opposites, but certainly in him wondering what she would see in him since they are different. It makes me think that all of these songs are talking about the same thing, the conflict between two people that somehow keeps them together more than it pushes them apart.

Musically the song is fast, definitely has the sound from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, reminds me of several songs from that era. Most notably I think the early part of the song sounds like City Of Blinding Lights, but I also get a few echoes later in the song from Always, which was an earlier song for the band, and also Falling At Your Feet in some places. I wonder if they took the music from Always and repurposed it to get to Mercy, then repurposed it again to get to City Of Blinding Lights. Just pure speculation on my part, I have no idea what the history of the song is.

Something else interesting about the song is that there is no bridge, and there is no chorus. Now there are parts where the music changes a little, but it’s not that noticeable, what surprises me each time I listen is that at the end of that change I tend to notice the switch, rather than the switch into it. I don’t recall other U2 songs not having a really different bridge section. And as for the chorus, there are a couple of sections that repeat together later in the song, but again they don’t feel like a chorus, they just feel like the verse being repeated. They have enough similarity to the rest of the song that it’s not chorus-like. I don’t know how else to explain both of these things, there just isn’t the differentiation that we see in most U2 songs.

My rating for Mercy: 4 /10

Are You Gonna Wait Forever?

There are songs and then there are songs, and there are b sides and then there are b sides. Few of the b sides I have reviewed have been good enough to make it to an album, which kind of proves the ability of the band to make good choices about what goes on an album. Whether it is because the album has a particular theme, and the song doesn’t fit, because they already have similar sounding songs on the album, because they have a preference for one or another, or maybe just that they flipped a coin and chose one over another. Whatever the reason, they have done pretty well at deciding the songs on the albums, the songs that become b sides, and the songs that get left off, perhaps to be used in a future project, perhaps to be repurposed and become part of a completely new song, or perhaps to be abandoned and never heard again, at least until they need material for a twentieth anniversary album.

Are You Gonna Wait Forever? is the b side from the Vertigo single, and this is one of those songs that falls into the category of really good, perhaps should have made it to the album, but perhaps sounds a little too similar to some of the other songs on the album. It might have been held until later, but it wouldn’t have made it onto No Line On The Horizon, so it was probably a good choice to be a b side.

Musically Are You Gonna Wait Forever? is very good, it reminds me of a few other songs, not the least being Vertigo itself. The start somehow reminds me of Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, although that quickly disappears when the bass kicks in. It is kind of rocky, featuring lots of everything, guitar, drums, bass and all. It feels at times like it should be faster than it is, and really my impression is that when I remember it I do think of it as fast, but then when I play it again it is a little slower. I don’t know why that is, what part of it is causing that feeling.

Lyrics are interesting, I think it is meant to be a love song of some kind, perhaps the kind where the person singing the song has been away for a while, and is returning home with the hope that their love is still waiting for them. The title gives that away, although I’m sure there’s some deeper meaning there (or perhaps not, since it is the better U2 songs where Bono has explored that depth and gotten down to that more interesting meaning than what is on the surface). Just like yesterday with Angels Too Tied To The Ground, Are You Gonna Wait Forever? has the title being sung in an interesting way, again I don’t know why, but it just sounds good as he sings that line (which he does several times).

About the only problem I have with the song is that the title ends in a question mark, so that every time I type Are You Gonna Wait Forever? my writing software tries to capitalize the first word after it, assuming that it is a new sentence, and I have to go back and fix it each time.

My rating for Are You Gonna Wait Forever?: 6 / 10

Angels Too Tied To The Ground

Just the title Angels Too Tied To The Ground makes me think of Wings Of Desire, with the angels flying around. Of course they’re not at all related, Angels Too Tied To The Ground was done during the War album sessions, but only completed and released a few years ago when they did the anniversary War album. It was re-recorded apparently, Bono’s voice is definitely much more modern, but it’s hard to tell about the rest of it, the music itself, whether it is old or modern, if they recorded that fresh too.

Angels Too Tied To The Ground has piano and bass leading it off, and the bass sounds really good throughout the song. I don’t know if I’ve ever decided on when peak bass happened for Adam, I don’t know if I could decide that, but I think that War is when everything began coming together. It is when the band had several years of experience, which gave them more confidence in what they were doing and meant they would try more risky ideas here and there. Some of them paid off handsomely, and of course got them to where they are today. In Angels Too Tied To The Ground I think the bass is the standout. 

You have the drums which sound fairly similar to the rest of the drums off War, slightly militaristic, a little heavy on the snare, a little loud compared to the rest of the music, nothing wrong with them just needing a little toning down, moving to the background somewhat. The piano is there throughout, but mostly does disappear into the background, that may be because Edge is playing and switching back and forth from guitar to piano, which means when he’s playing guitar the piano is of course gone and forgotten.

Lyrically we see what I have said all year long, that the early songs were much more basic than they are now. Angels Too Tied To The Ground follows that same feeling, you can take half the lyrics away because they are just a repeat of the title, and what you are left with is pretty simple. Essentially just a few sentences beginning with “what is it” that somehow end up about being stopped from love, I think. Either some kind of block from the person you love, or certainly at the end talking about surrender with the white flag. A little obscure, I think, it is mostly just the feeling there. I can’t say it is good or bad, just that it is. Like many of the songs from the early albums, the thoughts behind them are not really coherent, just a display of feelings.

I don’t think I have listened to this song enough to like it, and I’m not sure if I ever will. The one part I do like - the part where he sings the title quite quickly - stands out, but the rest of the song isn’t enough to sustain it.

My rating for Angels Too Tied To The Ground: 3 / 10

Native Son

I just reviewed Vertigo a couple of weeks ago, and now I get to talk about the precursor, Native Son. It is difficult to think of what to write about, when I already covered the final version of the song and therefore the music at the very least. There is not much difference between the music in the two, so I guess I could just repeat what I said about Vertigo, but then that wouldn’t be of much use. So I guess I’ll have to find something else to talk about.

In the Vertigo review I said that I felt a little like I had overdosed on the song, hearing it too many times to like it any more. What that means is that by hearing this song, the same song but with different lyrics, should mean that it feels like a breath of fresh air. Well, it does in some ways, but it doesn’t in others. This is another of those cases where the song doesn’t make the cut because it is incomplete. The music may be complete, or close to it, but the lyrics aren’t that good, and it’s clear why they changed the tone of the song and went with the ones they did. I can’t really object too much to the lyrics, they are admittedly half-baked, and if you were eating a half-baked cookie you wouldn’t object that much, because you’d be eating cookie dough.

The music being the same as Vertigo, I’m not going to cover it, with the exception that there is a slight difference at the very start. It sounds a lot like the start to Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, which is odd, since that was a decade before.

The song itself, Native Son, is supposedly about Leonard Peltier, a Native American who has been in prison for many years for killing federal agents. I have to admit that although I have heard the name, I know nothing about the case, whether he is guilty or innocent as some claim. The lyrics do have some feeling now, given all the political rhetoric around guns and police in recent months, they might have given some thought to it, but instead their meaning is lost in time.

Worked my way through the rest of the year today. Up until now I have largely been winging it, randomly picking an item to write about each day, with the exception of days that were set aside for specific items. Today, now that we’re down to about forty days left, I decided that it was time to set them all up. I already had maybe fifteen of those last forty days set, with specific things to write about (including the last ten days of the year, I had those set for quite a while). Today I went through my remaining item list and randomly assigned them to the remaining days, all the way through the end of the year. This helps a lot, and is something I should have done a long time ago, at least for a while ahead of where I was (for example, I could have done a month at a time). Another lesson learned. It helps me set up, knowing when I need to listen to things, watch things, or read things so I can be done with it all.

My rating for Native Son: 2 / 10

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace is one of those songs that everybody knows. Everybody sings along with it when they hear it, at least the first couple of verses. There is a version of Amazing Grace on the Duals album, and it sounds fantastic. Supposedly taken from the 360 tour version from the Rose Bowl, although I’m not sure about that. There’s a bit online that says that they overdubbed the Soweto choir onto the 360 recording, I don’t know why they’d do that, because surely there’s a version that is real, and sounds good.

The start of the song has a little bit of guitar, but that then disappears into the background when the voices take over. It is a powerful song, really well done, and quite emotional in many ways. The music then fades away on the Duals album, while in the live version it rolls into Where The Streets Have No Name, and it really works well as an intro to that. I am surprised at the many different ways that U2 have been able to open Streets, it seems to be well done as a song that can be led into. You are singing away at some song, which is nice and sweet - like Amazing Grace, or Mother And Child Reunion, or Hallelujah - and that song fades and Streets kicks in. Great way to get there.

If you watch Bono on the 360 video, he is out front with the guitar playing, while the rest are faded into the background, and they come back up when Streets kicks off. But the best part to watch is Bono singing Amazing Grace (yeah okay, the best part is Streets, we all know that, but go with me here). Bono playing this, Bono singing it, his eyes closed as he falls into the song, it’s just amazing. There’s a clear set of emotions on his face, it’s the absolute belief in his faith, you might say. It is a feeling that you would love to have if you were in a church, it’s the feeling that you have looked upon the face of God (sorry, Sheldon). If Bono sang that in church I’d be there watching, this is pure joy and belief and faith. Amazing, I already said that a couple of times. Not sure how you can talk about a song called Amazing Grace without saying Amazing a lot.

Twisting around, I mentioned Belfast 1 yesterday, and I was a little critical of it for not mentioning France so much. I might have gone a little far. Today I didn’t get to hear any of the show, I was in meetings at work and kept looking at the time and the meetings kept going and going and I wanted to scream and stand up and walk out, or at least turn on my phone and find a Mixlr. But I didn’t. And then I went and checked Twitter later and there seemed to be quite a lot more France in the show. I would take credit, but it’s more likely that I just missed it yesterday while I was listening and saw more of it today because I could only read about it.

My rating for Amazing Grace: 5 / 10

J. Swallow

Is it J. Swallo, J. Swallow, or Johnny Swallow? An actual person, a nickname, I don’t know and I don’t think I’ve read anywhere about it either. One of those mysteries of time and space, the song of the same title (J. Swallow seems to be most common) appears to have received a bit of a cult history, I think based largely on the weirdness of the name. It isn’t that much to listen to, not very good music and not very interesting lyrics. It was a b side to the Fire single, and it deserves to be a b side, at the very most. I think the band was just messing around (Edge is quoted as saying it was a studio experiment), and needed a b side in a hurry and pulled this out and said it’ll do. And in that day it would do, those were the days when they were a small band, not expected to be showing too much, and not needing b sides to be as good as the a sides.

I don’t get the lyrics at all. Who is the perspective from? Who is Johnny? Who is Paul (if not Bono, and if not, why Paul)? This is definitely an undeveloped song, the music is an experiment and the lyrics are nothing. I can’t tell what each of the band members is doing, Bono sounds muffled, like he is off doing something else and the microphone happens to be nearby. And the rest of them, just noodling around with their instruments, wondering what’s going on.

I listened to Belfast 1 on Mixlr this afternoon, and I think I missed a few bits, but I was expecting quite a bit more about France. It just seemed to blend in a little, into the regular show. There was some obligatory stuff about Belfast, but little about France, at least what I heard. I saw photos from the show later and they did a few bits here and there, some changes of lights and graphics to show the French flag, and that Eiffel Tower peace sign, but I didn’t get too much else from it. In fact I was surprised how little there was about Belfast, given the Irish connection. A couple of comments at the start, a line or two about how Belfast and Dublin went through similar things back in the day, and that was about it that I recall.

I have to say something struck me about the show, or more specifically about the Mixlr.. Now, normally I wouldn’t comment but this was so obvious. I didn’t comment on the woman a few months ago who I could hear on a Mixlr, singing so off-key and loud it was distracting. Normally the crowd disappears into the background, you rarely get interrupted by them, pulled out of the show. Today there were several times during the show (usually during breaks) where you could clearly hear people talking, and frankly they were being pretty rude and insulting. There was one clear and distinct moment where a guy was saying rude stuff about Bono, and my immediate thought was that if you don’t like him, why did you get a ticket? Then later there were several people talking and being rude. I have to stereotype a little here and say that I think this is a British thing, that my experience of British folk online especially is that they can be quite rude and foulmouthed, and it is not very becoming. Just my opinion, and I should say that there are many Brits that I know and like.

My rating for J. Swallow: 1 / 10