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